If you’re a seasoned EMS professional, it’s intriguing to look back over your career and compare your current perspective to how you felt when you first entered the field. Think back to when you were a rookie paramedic or a green EMT. Sure, school prepared you for the responsibilities you would face in the field, but nothing compares to the experience you gain by running calls on real patients.
The longer you work in EMS, the more street smarts you acquire. You quickly realize that “real life” is not as it appears in the textbooks. For one thing, you’re working under extreme conditions, such as dark roadways, with cars whizzing by, or cramped residences, clogged with furniture and family members. Real calls don’t always go smoothly. The patient may not respond to therapy, a piece of equipment may be broken or forgotten on the truck, or you may simply lack the manpower to effectively stabilize and package. Much of EMS is making due with what you have, which is why the most proficient professionals are masters at improvisation.
Let’s face it: There are just some things that can’t be taught in a classroom. And when it comes to one of the fundamental lifesaving skills utilized in the field, experience can make a world of difference.
Classroom instruction taught you that suctioning a patient is a relatively easy task. Set up your equipment, flip it on, and get to suctioning. But this seemingly simple skill provides a vital link in the lifesaving chain. So never take it for granted. Here are four facts concerning suction tips that you may not have come across in school.
1. It’s Not One Size Fits All
You may think that a standard rigid suction tip is suitable for every emergency. But think about the various bodily fluids you may have to remove. They are not all the same, nor are they merely fluids. A regular suction tip is fine for sputum, but what about that trauma call where the patient’s face has impacted the windshield? Blood, tissue, teeth, and possibly bone may impede the airway, and it will be your job to clear it. And should this situation arise, you had better have an array of catheters to choose from, especially a large-bore evacuation tool, for nothing else will do the job.
2. Have Extras on Hand
Even if you’re utilizing the appropriate-sized tip, there are still instances where it may become clogged. Even the largest catheter is no match for chunks of tissue, so have backup catheters on hand in your airway bag, should this situation arise.
3. Keep the Suction Close!
Even the most well-supplied portable suction unit is no good to you if you leave it behind on the truck. Get in the habit of bringing the unit on every call. Today’s suction machines come in many forms—some of them small and light enough to fit snugly into your airway bag, ensuring it is a standard part of your ALS assemblage. When the patient needs suctioning, he or she usually can’t afford the extra minutes it will take you to run back to the truck, so save yourself (and your patient!) the time by simply keeping it with you at all times. As they say, “It’s better to have and not need than to need and not have!”
4. Maintain the Unit!
Your portable suction machine is one of the most important tools in your EMS toolbox. Nothing else can take its place, so it had better be ready when you reach for it. Keep it clean, keep it charged, and keep it well-supplied. It’s the only tool capable of clearing that clogged airway.
The longer you are in the field, the more experience you gain. So practice good habits, be thorough when it comes to your equipment, and never stop learning.