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Thursday, May 1, 2008

What's it like to be intubated?

As I was looking at my blog statistics, and checking the recent keyword activity that landed someone on my site, I noticed one person had typed in the query, "What's it like to be intubated."

I remember waking up from a surgery once, and this person pulling something out of my mouth. I had no idea until I went to RT school what had actually transpired at that moment: I was being extubated.

So because I was medicated, I had no memory of being intubated, and had no memory of my time on the vent during the surgery. Thankfully, I must add, I have no memory.

Fortunately, I think that is the case for most people who are intubated. I think that we keep them sedated enough that they do not remember much. However, on occasion, we do have to intubate people under emergency situations where there is no time to medicate the person, and usually that person gags and groans during the process. There is no doubting the this is not a pleasant procedure to have done.

Which is why Succiconine is such a great drug, because it paralyzes a person just long enough to get the job done. And then, while the patient is serving time with a ventilator doing all the breathing or assisting with it, a patient is sedated enough with some good meds to allow the person to rest comfortably. And, while the patient is often awake, the meds are good at causing amnesia.

Lots of times I have to communicate with a person on a vent. Of course they can't talk, but you get pretty accustomed to lip reading after a while. Then, a few days after the patient is over the hump and is extubated, you ask them if they remember being on the vent, and they will tell you they have no memory of it. That's not always the case, but most of the time it is.

Occasionally, a patient remembers everything. Some patients are awake, alert and orientated the entire time they are on a vent. It's these people where you can learn the most from of what it's really like to be intubated.

It doesn't always suck either. I remember this one chronic end-stage COPD patient who was extremely short-of-breath. She told me she felt like she was suffocating. The next time I saw her she was on a vent, and she looked at me with eyes of joy. She smiled. She took in a deep comfortable breath. That vent was her savior.

That patient did not want to get off that vent.

I like to explain to my vent patients, if they are at all comprehensive, that they have not been placed on a ventilator permanently, it's just short term until their lungs get better. It's more or less to allow their bodies time to get over the hump. That's the case most of the time. And, usually, the person is off the vent in a day or two.

While I can honestly say that I have experienced much of the things I do for patients on a daily basis, I have never been on a vent; and I have never been suctioned.

One of my co-workers and good friends and fellow asthmatic was placed on a vent once, and she said she remembers the whole thing. She remembers being awake and alert and looking out the window and seeing a Burger King, which sucked because she was starving. And, she said, that wasn't even the worse part. The worse part was getting suctioned. She said there is absolutely nothing worse than that.

That in mind, a fellow blogger who used to be an RT, and who is unfortunately a victim of severe persistent asthma, was placed on a ventilator recently. I thought his story was very inspiring, and I would like to link you to his blog: The Bay City Walker.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the plug!

I send you a separate email about steroids.

Anonymous said...

Steve completely rocks, doesn't he? Most healthy people I know aren't as active as he is.

Wendy said...

An interesting and informative post. Don't think I have heard much about how the patient feels when on a vent. It's good to get the inside story, especially if my hubby may be on one day - at least I'll know somewhat what he is feeling.
Don't think I want to go there, however.