Intubation: Step By Step

Learning intubation technique can be challenging. Fall is the time of year when new students commonly begin to learn how to intubate. My first intubation was one of the first times I literally held someone’s life in my hands. I was nervous. The anesthesiologist teaching me tried to not look too anxious as I awkwardly grabbed my laryngoscope blade, fumbled while opening the patient’s mouth, and cautiously maneuvered the endotracheal tube into the trachea. It felt like time stopped until the tube was in place, after which the three of us (me, my teacher and my patient) all took a deep breath. Since then, over the last almost 37 years, I’ve intubated thousands of people in the U.S. and, as an international volunteer, eight countries.

So I thought it would be helpful at this time of year to discuss a step-by-step approach to intubation with the commonly used curved blade. Intubation, like a dance, is composed of steps that flow naturally from one to the next. The trick to a smooth intubation is to allow each step to blend seamlessly into the next. The text and illustrations below are excerpted from my book Anyone Can Intubate, as well as from my upcoming book on pediatric intubation, which I’m busy writing. Continue reading

Tips To Teaching Intubation

To teach intubation skills on living patients, even those that have practiced on a manikin, can be challenging. With fall comes the new crop of trainees eager to learn how to intubate. There will also be a new group of instructors teaching their first students to intubate. It’s important to anticipate the common errors so we can safeguard our patients. Here I describe the all of the barriers, physical as well as psychological, that interfere with your student’s learning of the intubation technique. I offer tips on how to help your student conquer those barriers, while keeping your patient safe. Continue reading

Avoiding Difficult Intubation Of The Easy Airway

It’s extremely easy to make any otherwise routine intubation difficult just by failing to properly position the patient or to use optimal technique. We’ve all done it. Let’s see how to avoid this pitfall. (All illustrations by Christine Whitten MD, Anyone Can Intubate). Continue reading

Positioning The Head For Intubation

Positioning the head and neck for intubation in the sniffing position can make intubation easy, or extremely hard. Many years ago our operating room administration decided that the bath towels we were using to position the head for intubation were a potential danger for shedding lint. So one night, in their infinite wisdom, the towels were all summarily confiscated and when we arrived the next morning there wasn’t a single towel to be found, ever again. It may be an exaggeration to say that chaos ensued, but it felt like that.

The reason this event is so memorable is that for the next several days our anesthesia providers had trouble intubating. We likened it to an expert golfer who, when suddenly faced with a new set of golf clubs of slightly different weight and length, suddenly has to relearn the game. It made us realize that how we position the head in the sniffing position often sets us up for either an easy or for a more difficult intubation if you don’t realize what’s happening during the positioning. Continue reading

The Bougie: Use Wisely To Avoid Rare But Serious Complications

Inserting a bougie to assist with difficult intubation

Inserting a bougie to assist with difficult intubation

One of the simplest and most valuable devices to help with a difficult intubation is the bougie. The primary use is a difficult intubation, when you cannot see the larynx well but are able to predict where the glottic opening should be based on anatomy. However bougies must be used with care to avoid patient injury.

The bougie is an endotracheal introducer that is made of a braided polyester base with a resin coating, giving it both flexibility and stiffness at body temperature. The standard size for intubation is 15 Fr, which is 60 cm long. There is a 10 Fr pediatric version which can be used for endotracheal tubes as small as 4 to 6mm. A bougie will retain the curvature given to it, making it very useful for anterior airways. I highly recommend that you have a bougie in the room whenever you intubate because it is a quick and easy aide when the unexpected difficult intubation occurs. However, like so many of our tools you you have to use it wisely or you can seriously hurt your patient. Continue reading

Using Straight Laryngoscopy Blades

Intubation by direct laryngoscopy depends on using the laryngoscope blade to give you a clear field of view of the larynx by shifting the tongue and other pharyngeal structures out of the way. As you might imagine, the patient’s anatomy, pathology, or position can sometimes make this visualization difficult. Laryngoscopy blades come in different shapes to help manage these various situations.

My padawan students often struggle with using a straight blade, such as the Miller blade, as opposed to a curved blade, such as the MacIntosh blade. Let’s talk today about how and then when to use a straight blade.

Photo of Laryngoscopy using the straight blade showing the larynx.

Laryngoscopy using the straight blade showing the larynx.

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