Intubation During Cardiac Resuscitation

Intubating patients during cardiac resuscitation is often challenging because of the circumstances surrounding the intubation. Excitement and apprehension accompany this life saving effort. If you don’t intubate often, you’re likely to be nervous. Even experienced intubators get excited in emergency situations, but we control our excitement and let the adrenaline work for us, rather than against us.

Step one, therefore, is to remain in control of your own sense of alarm. The leaders, which includes the person in control of the airway, must stay calm. If you appear panicked, the rest of your team will follow your lead.

Step two is to quickly assess the situation. Is the patient being ventilated? Ventilation takes priority over intubation. Is there suction available? Without suction you many not be able to see the glottis, and you won’t be able to manage emesis. What help do you have? The intubator almost always needs some assistance in having someone hand equipment, or assist with cricoid pressure, among other tasks. As I tell my students, intubation is a team sport.

Finally you need to assess what position the patient is in, and how can you optimize that position. The patient is often in a less than optimal position while chest compressions are in progress. You usually find the patient in one of two awkward positions: on the ground or in a bed. This article discusses techniques to better manage intubation during cardiac resuscitation, especially with the patient in an awkward position. Illustrations are copyright from Anyone Can Intubate, 5th Edition. 

Intubation On The Ground

When the patient lies on the ground, you must get down on the patient’s level. One technique is to kneel. Mechanical advantage is more difficult from this position. You must rely more heavily on your arm strength to lift the head rather than your upper back and shoulder muscles. The natural tendency to lean forward and bend your arm will make it hard for you to balance. The weight of the patient pulls you forward when you try to lift (Fig 10-1: note figure numbers refer to the book Anyone Can Intubate)

Illustration showing one technique to intubate a patient on the ground. Kneeling behind the cardiac arrest victim during intubation allows the intubator to ergonomically lift the patient's head with the strength of their back and shoulders, not just their arm. It provides the distance needed to use binocular vision to see the larynx.

Kneeling behind the cardiac arrest victim during intubation allows the intubator to ergonomically lift the patient’s head with the strength of the back and shoulders, not just the arm. It provides the distance needed to use binocular vision to see the larynx.

Instead, keep your left arm and your back as straight as you can, leaning backward. Tense your lower back and thigh muscles to form a firm base of support. Lift upward (Fig. 10-2). Position your head and shoulders over the patient’s head to improve your center of gravity.  Straddling the head with your knees allows you to steady the head, steady yourself, and improve your angle or approach. A folded sheet under the head can lift it into the sniffing position.

You can also sit to the patient’s right side, facing the feet. Your hips should be level with the back of your patient’s head. Bend your knees slightly to allow you to maintain balance while shifting your weight to optimize the position of your outstretched left arm doing the laryngoscopy. This position gives you good leverage without pressing on the upper teeth. You will need to twist your back to pass the endotracheal tube with your right hand.

Illustration showing one technique to intubate a patient on the ground. Sitting to the right of a cardiac arrest victim during intubation allows the intubator to ergonomically lift the patient's head and see the glottis.

Sitting to the right of a cardiac arrest victim during intubation allows the intubator to ergonomically lift the patient’s head and see the glottis. You can lean backward to counterbalance the weight of the head.

Intubation in The Bed

Unfortunately, having the patient lie in the typical hospital bed is also awkward. Look at the contrasting approaches in the suboptimal figure 10-4 and the more optimal 10-5.

Most hospital beds have a fairly high headboard that prevents easy access to the patient’s head (10-4). Have someone remove the headboard while you prepare your equipment (10-5).

If you can’t easily reach the patient, pull him toward you. Small individuals like myself will have more effective control because you don’t have to lean forward.

You’ll often find the patient on a soft hospital mattress with the hard cardiac arrest board under his back. Because the backboard allows effective CPR, we take this position for granted. We often fail to notice that the patient’s head now hangs fully extended off the back of the board, forcing you to lift the patient’s head much higher to straighten the airway.

Illustration showing optimal vs suboptimal positioning of a patient in a bed for intubation during cardiac arrest.

Optimal vs suboptimal positioning of a patient in a bed for intubation during cardiac arrest.

Head Position

CPR often places the patient’s head in hyperextension as the head falls backward behind the CPR backboard under the patient. If you don’t correct for this, your view will be extremely anterior, making it difficult to see the glottis and to pass the tube.

Illustration of how head hyperextension impedes intubation because it makes the larynx appear very anterior. You can compensate by lifting the head into a sniffing position.

Head hyperextension impedes intubation because it makes the larynx appear very anterior. You can compensate by lifting the head into a sniffing position.

You must get the head into a sniffing position. Lifting a heavy head high during CPR is difficult. Use pillows to put the head in the sniffing position and decrease the lift needed.

Use your helpers. Don’t hesitate to ask for help in lifting while you place the tube. your helper must not move the head during laryngoscopy, or else tooth damage could occur. Cricoid pressure to push the larynx down can also help, as can pulling back the cheek.

Illustration showing Optimizing head position during resuscitation may entail having a helper assist you in holding the head up. Your help must not move the head in order to avoid tooth damage.

Optimizing head position during resuscitation may entail having a helper assist you in holding the head up. Your help must not move the head in order to avoid tooth damage.

Chest Compressions Hinder Intubation

CPR means that someone is rhythmically and forcefully pushing on the patient’s chest. The patient and bed are both moving up and down. Moving targets are hard to hit at the best of times.

In emergency situations, I often choose a Macintosh curved blade. In my opinion, its broader flange is more forgiving of less than perfect placement,  awkward positioning, and moving target: conditions common in the emergency intubation. It also makes balancing the patient’s head easier in those circumstances.

I usually get in position, visualize the larynx, and try to pass the tube. If movement prevents intubation, I say the command “stop CPR.” Pass the tube. I then say the command “begin CPR.” This attempt should take no longer than 15 to 20 seconds, usually less. If you have any difficulty passing the tube have your associates begin CPR again. Remove your blade, and ventilate the patient. Ventilation is the priority. Try again.

Video Laryngoscopy

Video laryngoscopy is another technique that can help in awkward positions. since my hospital has acquired Glidescopes I routinely bring one of ours to emergency intubations and I use it primarily rather than try direct laryngoscopy first. Video laryngoscopy makes difficult intubations faster, and reliably easier during cardiac arrest situations. It also makes intubation easier and less stimulating during emergency intubations for respiratory distress in the fragile patient.

It’s important your your helpers to clear a space for the video laryngoscopy monitor. Remind them that you must be able to see it during the key moments of the intubation — helpers have a tendency to step to the side of the bed to help, pushing it out of the way at inopportune moments.

Ideally the video laryngoscope you bring with you to an emergency is fully mobile. However I have intubated on the floor using a pole mounted glidescope on wheels by having  another provider tilt the screen lower to the ground so that I could see it. The monitor ended up being on its side, but the view was clear and allowed me to see what I needed to see.

Don’t Delay Compressions But Do Provide Ventilation

Never delay CPR for an extended period because of an intubation attempt. If you have any difficulty passing the tube have your associates begin CPR again. Remove your blade, and ventilate the patient. Ventilation is the priority. If you have to place a device such as a laryngeal mask airway to ensure ventilation until you are in a better position to intubate, don’t hesitate to do so. This is far from ideal as cardiac arrest victims are at high risk of potentially massive emesis, but ventilation is key.

Following intubation, suction the tube and trachea carefully to remove any possible secretions and blood aspirated during the resuscitation.

May The Force Be With You!
Christine Whitten MD, Author, Anyone Can Intubate, 5th Edition

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s