“Ok, Push the Roc…”

This isn’t a story about Sisyphus, but rather something very different.

There’s a saying in the EMS field that “Air goes in and out, blood goes round and round, any variation on this is bad.” It really reduces medicine to a very critical base level. If those things aren’t happening, your patient is in very bad shape. They may have broken bones, be in acid ketosis or have a variety of other major medical issues, but if they’re not breathing or don’t have a pulse, none of that matters. I’ve mentioned CPR previously and plan on writing a longer post on it in the near future (especially in light of Damar Hamlin’s collapse on the field). But today I want to talk about something that can only be done by experts and that’s intubation.

Before starting as a tech, I was aware of the general concept of intubating a patient, but had never seen it done, let alone assisted in any way. At a VERY general level, a patient is sedated and essentially paralyzed while a tube is inserted through their mouth and into their trachea. Once this is done, the patient is either ventilated by a machine or by the use of a bag-valve mask (BVM).

A patient may be ventilated for a variety of reasons, for example, they may be unable to maintain a patent (open) airway and the ability to breath on their own, or in a very recent case, the doctors made a decision to sedate a patient who was moving too much to be placed in the CT scanner. Given his risk factors, this meant that he’d probably lose his ability to maintain his own airway, so he was intubated as a precautionary measure.

I mention all this because there’s something important to to understand. Once a patient is intubated, basically the medical folks are breathing for them. The first few times I watched or assisted, this fact didn’t really register with me. Since then I’ve come to realize how important of a factor this is. In the recent case, the decision wasn’t made lightly. The patient actually was breathing fine, but the doctors couldn’t evaluate for other, possibly life threatening, injuries until he had been scanned. So they made the decision to basically take away his own ability to breath for a short period of time. That’s a pretty heady decision.

Roc is short for rocuronium, one of the common drugs used to help temporarily paralyze the patient. Its name sticks out in my head. There’s generally at least one or two other drugs all administered in a very short sequence (basically to relax the patient and then inhibit things like the gag reflex) period of time, generally under a minute and then the doctor has less than a minute to get the tube in. Once the tube is in, then either a BVM is temporarily attached to the tube, or a ventilator is attached immediately. In either case, we’re now breathing for the patient.

As a tech, obviously I’m not the one pushing the drugs or inserting the tube (I’ll get to that in PA School) but I’m often involved with squeezing and releasing the BVM to provide airflow. I also get to watch all this.

As for the actual placement of the tube, it’s definitely an acquired skill. Since Albany Medical Center is a teaching hospital, often it’ll be a resident or similar attempting it the first time around. Only once have I seen a failure (which was very quickly followed up by a success by a more experienced provider). Even this part is fascinating since they will use a tool known as a Glidescope. This is essentially a curved plastic piece with an LED light and camera at one end. This goes in first to help restrain the tongue and epiglottis. The image is displayed on an LCD monitor. Once it’s in place the actual tube is inserted. All this can be watched if you’re standing in the right place (which often I am.) I have to say it’s rather amazing to see all this. And to watch an experienced provider do a tube is amazing. They do it so quickly.

In any event, I have to say, it’s pretty amazing to watch as the providers take over the “air goes in and out” part.

In a future post I’ll cover the “blood goes around and round” part, which is something any of my readers can (and should) learn how to do anywhere they see someone in cardiac arrest.

Standard Disclaimer: my writings do not reflect the views of my employer, the Albany Medical Health System. In addition, any errors in the above descriptions are my own and nothing here should be taken as medical expertise or advice.

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