Phaneuf v Moser, aka What Not To Do With An Unconscious Guy

Video of Dion Phaneuf’s hit on Simon Moser at a Canada/Switzerland match at the IIHF worlds is making the rounds today. Phaneuf delivers a solid hit, Moser gets up. Once on the bench, Moser passes out, and Hockey Expressen says it was because he “swallowed his tongue”.

STOP.

That doesn’t exist. Some freaky people can do freaky things that involve freaky tongue gymnastics. Granted. In this case, however, what the video shows is poor management of an unconscious patient. Let’s watch, shall we?

What do you notice there? An unconscious guy that some dude is holding upright while his head flops back. That makes my inner paramedic cringe in horror. While you can’t technically swallow your tongue, it can block the hell out of your airway. Especially if some Swiss dude is holding you upright while you’re unconscious. The thing about unconscious people is they can’t do a little thing we like to call “protecting your own airway”. ie. keeping things out of there – your tongue, vomit, etc. In fact, the most common cause of airway obstruction in unconscious patients is the tongue. And here’s why:

Throat Anatomy

Your tongue is huge. When you’re unconscious, you’re not in control of voluntary muscles like the ones in your tongue and lower jaw. So if you’re upright, on your back – or in any position that lets gravity take over – your tongue is going to slide back and occlude your airway. You don’t swallow it. To wit:

Sneaky bugger.

So how do you keep this from happening? Well, if there’s no chance of a spinal injury, you’d roll them onto their side into something called the recovery position:

The right thing to do with an unconscious dude/dudette

The patient needs to be on their side, head extended, limbs positioned to keep them stable. The point of this is that the tongue won’t slide back, and vomit will drain out, not down. If there is a question of spinal injury, then someone will hold c-spine (a hand on either side of the head to maintain the head, neck and spine in a straight line) until the patient can be secured in full spinal precautions (which the Slovakian paramedics in the video have on their stretcher), and you can still roll them onto their side. Carefully.

So what should the Swiss trainer have done? Get Moser on the ground. You can pass out from trauma, or you can pass out from things that deprive your brain of adequate oxygen – things like hyperventilating, vagal nerve stimulation (remember Bush choking on a pretzel?), low blood pressure, and standing up too fast (ask any skinny girl about this). Moser was not immediately knocked out by the hit, so it’s possible one of these things took him out. Best way to get blood (and thus oxygen) to the brain? Get the brain on the same level as the heart and it won’t have to pump so hard. If the loss of consciousness was due to some kind of head pathology (like bleeding or concussion), lying him down is about 500% better than trying to haul him upright and letting his head flop around.

Take home points:

- Your tongue will block your airway given half a chance.

- Unconscious people can’t protect their airway.

- The recovery position is good.

- Protect the c-spine if there’s any question of injury.

- Slovakian paramedics have jazzy red jumpsuits and it takes four of them to run a call.

- Everyone should take CPR. Stat.

Jo

ps – the recovery position is also ideal for people who’ve passed out drunk. Nobody wants barf in their lungs. Scientific fact. Nobody.

About Jo Innes
Who am I? I'm a paramedic turned ER doc with truly sub-par rec league hockey skills. And I have absolutely no problem sharing my opinion with you. You're welcome.

3 Responses to Phaneuf v Moser, aka What Not To Do With An Unconscious Guy

  1. Those are some jazzy red jumpsuits.

    I was wondering how it was possible to swallow your own tongue, because I’ve heard the phrase before. Now I know! I also had no idea the tongue was that huge… that’s crazy!

  2. Dirty Dangle says:

    Was actually trying to find out what the deal is about swallowing your tongue and am very happy with this response…

    How well did the Finnish medics handle Phaneuf making Olesz choke on his tongue in the 2004 World Juniors?

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