Part two of our discussion with fan favorite Matt Siuba (@msiuba), Cleveland Clinic intensivist, on complications in critical care and how to prevent and manage them. Today we focus on respiratory failure after extubation, and unintentional self-extubation.
- When considering extubation of borderline patients, extubating to high flow nasal cannula or CPAP/BiPAP is often a good compromise. This is probably at least a little better than waiting for them to struggle before applying the support, plus it’s easier to assess their course. They can always come off if they look stellar.
- Set up for extubation success by first optimizing volume status, sedation strategies, mobility, and other good liberation practices.
- If concerned about pulmonary edema, a trial of a “tube compensation” mode alone (versus pressure support with PEEP) may be a good “strict” trial, as compared to more primitive ZEEP or T-piece trials.
- Post-extubation stridor is not always predictable, although known airway trauma should raise suspicions. If severe, or even borderline, patients should be promptly reintubated. If more mild, a trial of a couple hours on medical therapies and NIPPV is reasonable. Try steroids (dexamethasone 10 mg IV or so).
- Cuff leak tests are not very predictive and as likely to mislead as help. Visual inspection of high-risk airways for laryngeal edema may be helpful, although remember that a large tube in a small airway may never have a leak (and always visually look tight), yet may not be at risk for narrowing after tube removal.
- Self-extubation should prompt emergent preparation to oxygenate and reintubate, although you can assess their stability before actually doing it. Remove the tube if still stuck in the mouth. Stop sedative drips that suppress breathing.
- If agitation precludes oxygenation, consider antipsychotics. Dexmedetomidine may be useful in this situation, but takes a good 30-60 minutes to get loaded, so you may need another agent as a bridge. Don’t use a loading dose of dex, but starting at a higher rate (>0.6) is smart.
- A patient intubated primarily because of agitation will usually do fine after extubation, whether intentional or accidental. The main problem is that agitation precludes a clear, easily-interpretable SBT.
- “Extubation hesitancy” is a common error in the ICU. Clinicians are overly hesitant about failed extubations but not worried enough about prolonged intubation courses from the failure to try. Accept that a 0% chance of reintubation means leaving people on the vent for too long; acknowledge risks, plan for fallbacks, and don’t take failure personally; optimize the circumstances; but in the end, try. Risk need not be zero, it should just be lower than the risk of continued mechanical ventilation. “Not everybody is going to be ready every day, but you should treat every day like it’s extubation day.”
- The immediacy of the psychological feedback when a patient self extubates gives it primacy and power in our minds. It’s easy to see its harms, while it’s harder to see the harms of the oversedation that prevents it. “Overcautious” is really “overmedicalizing” and is not a safer flavor of risk.