Emergencies can happen anywhere. Wherever humans go, medical emergencies will follow, regardless of time of day, year, or location. It would be nice if every EMS call occurred indoors, under well lit and environmentally stable conditions. But that's usually not the case. In fact, some medical emergencies are the result of the patient being exposed to extreme weather, which affects not only the patient, but also the rescuers and their equipment. And in the case of vital tools like your portable suction unit, they, like you, had better be up to the task.
As homeothermic (warm-blooded) individuals, humans have the ability to regulate our body temperature, under normal conditions. Our bodies usually function within a narrow temperature range (within one degree on either side of 98.6° F), known as steady-state metabolism. But even homeotherms cannot withstand long-term temperature extremes. Excessive exposure to cold and heat wreak havoc on our bodily systems, and can cause death at the extreme ends of the thermometer.
As the temperature drops, our blood is shunted to main organs, which explains the pale skin, blue lips, and waxy texture of tissues as they freeze. Eventually, as the core temperature drops, the heart slows to the point where it can no longer oxygenate the body and if left untreated, death ensues. The ranges of severity of hypothermia are as follows1:
- Mild hypothermia – 95.0 - 89.6° F
- Moderate hypothermia – 89.6 - 82.4° F
- Severe hypothermia – 82.4 - 68.0° F
- Profound hypothermia – 68.0 - 57.2° F
- Deep hypothermia – <57.2° F
Heat-related emergencies can be just as dangerous, and can range from minor to severe. The signs and symptoms of heat emergencies are as follows:
- Heat cramps – painful muscle cramps, usually affecting the legs or abdomen
- Dehydration – thirst, nausea, headache, hypovolemia, excessive fatigue, decreased level of consciousness, physical weakness
- Heat exhaustion – weakness, fatigue, tachycardia, headache, dizziness, wet clammy skin, nausea, collapse
- Heatstroke – decreased level of consciousness, delirium, tachycardia that converts to bradycardia, hypotension, rapid shallow breathing, dry or wet hot skin, loss of consciousness, seizures, coma
In heat emergencies, when the body is exposed to extreme temperatures, heatstroke sets in once the body surpasses 104 degrees, damaging the brain, heart, kidneys, and muscles. As with hypothermia, if left untreated, the organs will fail and the body will die.
As an EMS professional, you are tasked with treating a range of temperature emergencies. When these emergencies are the result of ambient conditions, like your patients, you too will be exposed to extreme temperatures, as will your equipment. Tending patients during blizzards or in the extreme heat of summer can tax you and your equipment. And when it comes to your portable suction unit, it will behoove you to choose a model that can withstand such extremes.
The best way to ensure your portable suction unit can stand up to extreme temperatures is to select one that is durable, with a tough outer shell that will protect the inner components against excessive heat or cold. The unit must be designed for prehospital use; rugged enough for the rigors of emergency response, yet technologically sophisticated enough to provide powerful suction. The unit should be weather-resistant, able to withstand inclement weather, while providing reliable negative pressure for those critical suction scenarios. The unit must lightweight and portable, easy to stow in an airway or trauma bag for scenes located off roadways. And finally, it must have a reliable power source, so that it will always be ready when needed.
Few portable suction units can live up to the demands of extreme weather emergencies, so choose wisely and choose the best.
Prehospital Trauma Life Support, American College of Surgeons, Committee on Trauma, MOSBY JEMS, Elsevier.