The nightclub was packed when you pulled up front. The bouncers were waving frantically from just beyond the entrance as they stood over an unconscious male who was sprawled on the sidewalk. You and your partner grab the usual equipment: the airway bag, monitor, drug box, and portable suction unit. And it’s a good thing you included the suction. When you approach the patient, he’s unresponsive, frothing at the mouth, and barely moving any air.
Time to get to work.
Drug overdoses are just one example of patients who are unable to protect their airways. There are dozens of others, from cardiac arrests to those with head injuries. Any unresponsive patient is susceptible to airway obstruction, so you had better plan ahead a keep that suction unit handy.
Five Good Reasons…
In an effort to reinforce the necessity of suction, here are five good reasons you should bring your portable suction unit on every call.
1. How else are you going to remove secretions?
The only way to remove the secretions other than gravity - especially if the patient is unconscious – is via your portable suction unit. This includes:
- Blood: Internal and external trauma can cause blood to pool in the mouth
- Vomit: Especially dangerous if inhaled due to the low pH of gastric juices; have the appropriate tips on hand
- Mucus: The elderly are especially susceptible, since many have lost the ability to effectively swallow or control their gag reflexes
- Sputum: Common in CHF patients and those with other types of lung disorders
2. The best way to prevent aspiration:
In order to keep the patient from inhaling secretions, the safest and most expedient treatment is suctioning the oral and nasal airways.
3. Assist with intubation:
The only way to visualize the cords in the presence of secretions is by the removal of said secretions, which can only be accomplished through suction.
4. Protection against pathogens:
Blood, mucus, and gastric contents are prime sources of infectious disease. Protect yourself and your crew by keeping these dangerous secretions to a minimum, and always wear protection.
5. The patent airway:
Your number one priority in patient care is to keep that airway open, and the easiest way to achieve that is by keeping it clear.
Make Good Choices
It’s easy to see why having your portable suction unit on hand at every call is a smart move. But to insure you have an efficient, reliable unit, there are a few considerations when choosing for your agency. Here are a few considerations:
The type of system in which you work
- Rural vs. Urban
- Number of personnel on hand to carry equipment
- Nature of your backup responders (ALS vs. BLS)
Your proximity to an appropriate facility
- Long transport times will require extra power
Everyday use vs. mass casualty situations
- The scenarios will dictate the style of unit
- Consider alternative power sources if you rarely return to base
Portable suction is a necessity, not a convenience. So be sure to include it with all your first-in equipment and choose an appropriate unit that meets your needs.