Without evidence of benefit, an intervention should not be presumed to be beneficial or safe.

- Rogue Medic

Up to a Maximum of X Times vs. Titration

Over at Ridin’ the Bus, Gertrude was writing Who’s teaching the teachers? Well, my answer is that the teaching jobs are often as political as the desirable EMS jobs. Squad Y is a bunch of people friendly with So-and-So. Squad B is a bunch of people friendly with Whojamacallit. Whether these are 911 jobs, critical care jobs, flight medic/nurse jobs, or anything else does not matter. There is more of an old boy network involved than a critical examination of the qualifications of a job candidate. Teaching is no different.

The current teachers are not necessarily those who excelled in medic school, or EMT school, when they attended. They might not have learned things all that well, when they were in school. The instructor may have modified his understanding since then, but that does not mean that it was for any medical reason. A lot of what is taught is pure speculation.

I described this in several posts A, B, C, D, and E. I reference it in several others. We are poorly educated. The educators often do not know what they are doing well enough to be teaching it.

An excellent example of this is cardioversion. I have never seen anyone else do a good job of teaching cardioversion. That does not mean that it does not happen, but it is not encouraging that I do not see it taught well. ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) encourages us to just review the material, since the students are already supposed to be familiar with everything. How many nurses going to their first ACLS class have any experience with cardioversion? This is not something that you learn to do well from a book or a blog. You learn it by using the paddles, turning on the synchronizer, and delivering shocks to a mannequin or to a patient. Too many people learn, during their first cardioversion, that they never really understood cardioversion.

Anyway, the topic of Gertrude’s post was the rules that are taught to us. Her example is when a student asked her for the maximum number of times a patient can be suctioned.

Think about this.

Why do we suction patients?

We suction them because there is something in the airway that may interfere with ventilation. It may be a potential obstruction. It may be a partial obstruction. It may be a complete obstruction.

As long as we do what we can to maintain oxygenation, there is no maximum. For the complete obstruction, there is no reason to pause and ventilate in between suction attempts, or to limit the length of suctioning, unless there is the possibility that you have cleared, or partially cleared, the obstruction.

One of the other instructors had given them a number. What is a good number for this? 3? 5? 23? The patients weight in kilograms, divided by their SpO2 percent, multiplied by the number of synapses actually transmitting information in that instructor’s brain?

How about until the portable battery runs out? But remember there are other ways of creating suction – a large syringe, a bulb syringe from the OB kit, scooping things out of the airway, gravity, a vacuum cleaner in the residence. Who really cares how you do it, if you are able to provide the airway the patient needs?

Why do we feel the need to have a number? A limit on what we can do?

People like externally imposed limits. The idea of being responsible for making intelligent decisions is something that many people flee from.

“Responsibility? Just tell me what I have to do to avoid getting in trouble.”

“As long as I follow the protocol, I won’t get in trouble.”

Of course, if the protocol does not apply to your patient, or if you follow the wrong protocol (because you ignored assessment in favor of memorization of protocols) you might kill your patient in your devotion to keeping out of trouble.

Maximum of 3 NTG (NiTroGlycerin, overseas GTN – GlycerylTriNitrate).


Most likely because the AHA wants you to switch the patient to IV NTG as soon as possible. Not exactly common in the prehospital setting, but a very good idea. NTG is a drug that needs to be titrated. A maximum number prevents titration, so people teaching these maximums should not be teaching. Titration is adjusting the dose based on the response of the patient. Almost all EMS drugs need to be titrated.

Does a response mean that you stop? No, but you take that information into consideration in your continuing doses. Sometimes it will mean to stop. NTG + Syncope is more than a subtle hint to stop NTG. After blood pressure returns, then you may resume cautiously (perhaps after running a liter into the patient) or you may decide not to give any more, but initially your response should be to stop.

Atropine is not a titration drug. Fast push, a minimum adult dose of 0.5 mg and a maximum dose of 0.03 mg/kg if stable, 0.04 mg/kg if unstable. With atropine, you may get the opposite result of what you want, if you give it slowly or if you do not give enough. Another non-titration drug is adenosine. Also fast push. Maximum of 3 doses – 6 mg, 12 mg, and another dose of 12 mg. Glucagon is another drug not generally titrated (many places do not even carry more than one dose).

Some titration drugs:

Oxygen – titrate to adequate oxygenation.

Dextrose 50% in Water – titrate to adequate saccharinity.

Dopamine and dobutamine are given as drips, the dosage formula is for calculating a starting dose and for understanding the maximum dose rate, which does not mean that you stop, only that you stop increasing the dose rate.

NTG – I have given over 50 sprays (over 20 mg) to a single CHF patient on one call and the blood pressure never dropped below 200 mm/hg systolic. Maximum of 3? Not a chance.

Albuterol (Salbutamol overseas)- if the patient is not able to breathe adequately, we continue giving albuterol, but we add other beta 2 agonists, maybe some magnesium and methylprednisolone. There are some who will even tell you that you may not give albuterol to a tachycardic or hypertensive patient, since it is not completely selective for beta 2 and might make things worse. Yes, it will stimulate the heart to work harder, but if it opens the airways, the pressure and heart rate will come down in spite of that stimulus. If it doesn’t open the airways, the side effects are not the patient’s primary concern, not even a secondary concern.

Fentanyl/dilaudid/morphine – no minimum dose and no maximum dose. Only the response to treatment matters. No maximum of 6 mg, or 10 mg, or 20 mg, or even 100 mg of morphine (about 60 mcg/100 mcg/200 mcg/1 mg for fentanyl; 0.75 mg/1.25 mg/2.5 mg/12.5 mg for dilaudid). Anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar and/or incompetent.

Midazolam/lorazepam/diazepam – no minimum dose and no maximum dose. Only the response to treatment matters. No maximum of 5 mg, or 10 mg, or 20 mg, or even 100 mg of midazolam . . . .

Diltiazem is a slow push medication that has standard doses (0.25 mg/kg for the initial dose and 0.35 mg/kg for a repeat). If you are giving it slowly it isn’t just to minimize the side effects, but also to observe for side effects that would discourage you from continuing with the dose. Diltiazem is often given to little old people, who may not give much warning before dropping their blood pressure significantly. I like to keep them sitting up and talking to me while I slowly (over 5 minutes, not the recommended 2 minutes) push the diltiazem. If they are sitting up, the part of the body most likely to show signs of decreased perfusion is the brain – sooner than a repeat blood pressure, sooner than skin sign changes. If the behavior changes in any way, I stop and I do not give any more until after I have satisfied myself that this is not a sign of an adverse reaction. I can always give more later, but most likely it is an adverse reaction.

Naloxone – no minimum dose and no maximum dose. I like to give 20 mcg to 40 mcg at a time. Response is what tells me when to stop.

These are just some of the drugs that are only appropriately given when titrated.



  1. I love it when you get riled up!you made some points that I intend to expand on. I have to give it some thought so it doesn’t sound like a drunk monkey wrote it though.

  2. If I could teach a drunk monkey to write, I could teach airway management to a sober one. 🙂

  3. But make sure the monkey realizes there’s a max of ten times…

  4. If I teach someone to manage an airway, they’d better not spend 10 times trying to get an airway. Suctioning is something that needs to be repeated. Intubation attempts are different. You make reasonable attempts. If you are unsuccessful, you move on to an alternative airway. Still, no absolute rule on intubation attempts – medic judgment should determine the number of attempts.

  5. Ah, but you said “airway management”. Is suction not one of the most important components of airway management?Semantics, but “managing an airway” and “securing an airway” conjour different images in PC’s mind.

  6. You are corect. They are different. I do not believe that any airway is completely secure. I had forgotten what I wrote. I was thinking I had written “teach a monkey to intubate.”

  7. The monkey will have it easy – he’ll use a King Tube (boy,…that oughtta open a few cans of worms,….)

  8. TrekMedic251,I have no problem wit the Monkey King using the King LT – as long as the use of opposable thumbs is not the pinnacle of MK’s achievement.An airway that works is a good thing, but not if it is used inappropriately. Nothing wrong with using the King LT for the first attempt, instead of even trying intubation – if it is based on good assessment and judgment.Or the second attempt, or third, or fourth – as long as it is the right thing to do for the patient.It isn’t the airway, but the appropriateness of the airway management.There are many ways to skin a monkey. 🙂

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