IN 1908 the mortality for bowel obstruction at the Massachusetts General was 60%. With the introduction of nasogastric decompression tubes and the parenteral administration of fluids, the mortality fell to 20% by 1940.2,3 In 1964 Zollinger4 stated that the mortality for strangulation obstruction had not altered in the last 20 years. In 1965 Leffall et al5 found a 30% mortality for strangulated intestinal obstruction and in 1966 Lo et al6 showed a 24% mortality for all types of small bowel obstruction. Mortality is usually highest in those cases presenting with gangrenous bowel and peritonitis.
Intestinal gas is composed of 75% to 80% nitrogen7-9 and cannot be absorbed because the body is already saturated by the same percentage of nitrogen from breathing air. Attempts to wash out this nitrogen by inhalation of 85% to 100% oxygen at atmospheric pressure were not very successful.8-10