Human Suction Machine


Third in a series

The term free air may conjure filling stations of old, where you could pull up to the compressor and inflate your tires. Free air in a chest means that it’s not in the lungs where it belongs, keeping us alive; it’s outside the lung lobes but trapped within the chest cavity. Princess wouldn’t be able to breathe against that potential complication. But by inflating her lungs as I closed her ribs, followed by chest tube suction, we would eliminate this problem. As I set down my instruments I asked Amos to switch off the oxygen. That’s when our sleeping patient immediately began to struggle, inhaling only small amounts of air. The color of her gums was quickly turning a pale purple. We had no pulse oximeters in the ‘80s. Visual monitoring told the tale. Princess’s blood oxygen was dropping like a stone.

We had to remove the trapped free air – right now. I heard a moan and glanced at my normally steadfast assistant and saw a look of horror. “No need for panic, Amos” I said in my most soothing tone. “This shouldn’t be difficult,” whereupon I hefted our 15# patient with both hands and popped the end of her chest tube into my mouth.

My first suck produced nothing so I rotated our poodle, as though she were a pig on a spit, and sucked again. I was immediately rewarded by a mouthful of air – most gratifying. I turned Princess again and sucked – a bit more air. We were on a roll. I tipped her horizontally, vertically, upside down, and at every angle possible. As the free air moved above the horizontal, the tip of the chest tube tapped into a different pocket. When my repeated sucking finally gave up nothing I set our patient back on the table and – she breathed just like a normal dog. As I gazed admiringly at the natural beauty of her lovely pink gums, I breathed the words, “Sorry for the drama, girl.” Then I looked at Amos and saw a young man who was nearly comatose himself. I barked, “Amos! She’s fine!” My faithful nurse recovered his composure quickly.

Next week: A message from the other side?
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Dr. Jeff Nichol is a residency-trained veterinary behaviorist. He provides consultations in-person and in groups by Zoom (505-792-5131). Each week he shares a blog and a video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at Post pet behavioral or physical questions on or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.