General Question

Jeruba's avatar

Do EMTs and other healthcare workers know that some people choke lying flat on their backs?

Asked by Jeruba (52851points) January 21st, 2022

I’m one of those. I’ve trained myself never to sleep on my back. Even lying awake, a few minutes flat on my back and I’m struggling for breath.

On a slope is okay, head and shoulders elevated.

I’m terrified of the possibility that I might be taken unconscious on a stretcher or in an ambulance, flat on my back, and be unable to change position or tell anyone. Do EMTs watch for this reaction?

In an ambulance, someone should notice, right? But how about on a gurney left in a hall?

And how about in a hospital bed? It doesn’t take long, less than a minute, for me to be gasping.

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17 Answers

snowberry's avatar

Maybe a medic alert bracelet would be the solution for you?

zenvelo's avatar

EMTs and other first responders know that one of teh firts things one does for an unconcsious person is to check the airway.

They will place a person on their side if they can, and use their finger to clear anything out of the mouth. They will thump their back or do Heimlich if necessary (and not injured) to dislodge anything that might be stuck.

Jeruba's avatar

@zenvelo, thanks, but do they also check in 5 minutes to see if the person is choking without any obstruction other than their own swallowing mechanism?

The situation I’m envisioning has nothing to do with choking as a precipitating emergency. Any cause that could get me landed on my back on a stretcher or whatever (as, for instance, a fall) then has the potential to choke me because of the back position.

gorillapaws's avatar

In my CPR training I was taught to place victims in the recovery position and monitor for vitals if they were unconscious but still breathing. I’m not an EMT.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

I can state that medical professionals know it’s possible to choke lying on your back. Psychiatric hospitals teach this, because they must take precautions in case they put a patient in restraints. It’s common knowledge in medical circles.

However, I cannot reassure you that you would be consistently monitored should you be unconscious in a hospital bed. I’m sorry not to be able to say they would check you often.

zenvelo's avatar

@Jeruba That is why they don’t place you flat if you are just sleeping. Last few times in the hospital my bed has been at an angle with my torso, neck, and head elevated.

Jeruba's avatar

Thanks for the helpful responses. It’s the gurney-in-the-hall scenario that scares me most. I’ve seen a hall full of them, with everybody lying flat and nobody apparently monitoring anyone.

I know the actual hospital beds are likely to have the head elevated. I didn’t know about the recovery position, but that’s helpful too.

chyna's avatar

I’ve seen many, many patients being brought in from ambulances and in all cases, their heads are elevated.

JLeslie's avatar

@Jeruba I can understand why it worries you, I have similar worries about being put on my right side. It not only hampers my breathing, but also after a short time causes very bad pain in my neck and can last for a long time.

I can tell you that when I went into the emergency room after my accident they screwed up all sorts of things. Luckily, I was conscious, but that didn’t mean there were not some mistakes made that caused me additional injury that should not have happened, and I could have been very seriously hurt when they left me alone on a bed without the side railings up. None of us knew yet that I had extreme vertigo and if I turned the slightest bit left or right or tried to sit up I was out of control trying to regain stability. I easily could have fallen to the floor if I had shifted at all.

I don’t remember if they kept me flat on my back initially in the hospital, but I am pretty sure in the ambulance I was flat on my back, because I remember looking up at the ceiling. The EMT was right next to me watching me the entire time. I felt like his sole job was to watch me.

I have printed out instructions if I am ever unable to speak for myself and given a copy to my husband and sister and it is in my phone in the medical app, and that app does not require my password to unlock, but I think @caravanfan once confirmed for me that hospitals don’t bother to look at the medical information we put in our phones. I don’t understand why they don’t check people’s smart phones in the ER since almost everyone has a smart phone. You will see it on your password screen in the bottom left corner if you have an iphone, it says “Emergency” and then you go to “Medical ID.” The app icon is white with a pink heart to enter the information. But, again, I’m not so sure medical personnel check it, maybe EMT’s know about it. Here is a good youtube about it, I have very complete information in mine.

You can get a medical alert bracelet, I think people mentioned that above.

Also, if your city or county uses the vial of life program, I highly recommend it. Where I live you put a sticker on your front window and the EMT knows you have a vial in your refrigerator. I think the EMT’s check for a vial no matter what it is so common here. The vial looks like a huge prescription pill bottle, and it has a paper in it where you fill out basic medical information so the EMT’s have immediate information. We pick up the vials for free at the police department. This is a general website on the vial of life program, but you can check your county website too. On this website for the general program in the US it looks like you put the info in a ziploc bag and keep it on your refrigerator. If your county or city does not already do the program it would be great to inquire about starting it. This website is my county’s website, I just googled “Lake County Vial of Life” and it came right up, maybe check your city or county.

kruger_d's avatar

I would think anyone unconscious or immobilized would have an oxygen monitor.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

ABC EMT
The basics of EMT supplies is summarized by ABC: airway, breathing and circulation.

The ABCs are the golden rule for EMTs and medical professionals because your heart and lungs are the single most important organs for keeping you alive.

Jeruba's avatar

Thanks, @Tropical_Willie. That’s comforting. Once we get to the ER, though, what about those piled up gurneys in the hall?

@JLeslie, vial of life program: great idea. Never heard of it, but I’ll look into it.

JLeslie's avatar

@Tropical_Willie But, if you’re struggling to breath will they try turning you before more extreme measures?

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Not an EMT, so I can’t say what would happen next.

jca2's avatar

I’m guessing if you’re in the ER and they’re rushing to treat you, if they’re going to spend time looking for your phone and figuring out how to unlock it and look for medical information it would take away from life saving measures and not be expeditious for the staff.

JLeslie's avatar

@jca2 Medical info isn’t locked unless the phone owner sets it to be locked.

True that there needs to be hands available to look at the phone. If the medical personnel are rushed or feel you will die in a minute and no time to hope to find information in the phone, then yes, they have to just do their best.

Ikara's avatar

Yes, and it is mentioned in even the most basic first aid and CPR training.

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