The triad of hypothermia, acidosis, and coagulopathy in critically injured patients is a vicious cycle that, if uninterrupted, is rapidly fatal. During the past 7.5 years, 200 patients were treated with unorthodox techniques to abruptly terminate the laparotomy and break the cycle. One hundred seventy patients (85%) suffered penetrating injuries and 30 (15%) were victims of blunt trauma. The mean Revised Trauma Score, Injury Severity Score, and Trauma Index Severity Score age combination index predicted survival were 5.06%, 33.2%, and 57%, respectively. Resuscitative thoracotomies were performed in 60 (30%) patients. After major sources of hemorrhage were controlled, the following clinical and laboratory mean values were observed: red cell transfusions--22 units, core temperature--32.1 C, and pH--7.09. Techniques to abbreviate the operation included the ligation of enteric injuries in 34 patients, retained vascular clamps in 13, temporary intravascular shunts in four, packing of diffusely bleeding surfaces in 171, and the use of multiple towel clips to close only the skin of the abdominal wall in 178. Patients then were transported to the surgical intensive care unit for vigorous correction of metabolic derangements and coagulopathies. Ninety-eight patients (49%) survived to undergo planned reoperation (mean delay 48.1 hours), and 66 of 98 (67%) survived to leave the hospital. With the exception of intravascular shunts, there were survivors who were treated by each of the unorthodox techniques. Of 102 patients who died before reoperation 68 (67%) did so within 2 hours of the initial procedure. Logistic regression showed that red cell transfusion rate and pH may be helpful in determining when to consider abbreviated laparotomy. The authors conclude that patients with hypothermia, acidosis, and coagulopathy are at high risk for imminent death, and that prompt termination of laparotomy with the use of the above techniques is a rational approach to an apparently hopeless situation.