Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Bridles Are for Horses - Not Patients

This post is about nursing interventions with nasogastric tubes from  many decades ago and filtered through my aging nervous system so don't count on relevance. It's foolishness of the highest order for entertainment purposes only. With the advent of PEG tubes and a more enlightened attitude, hopefully bridlers are extinct.

Nasogastric tubes (NG tubes) were handy little devices. They were used post operatively and connected to low intermittent suction to decompress and keep the operative area clear after gastric surgery. Another use involved feeding patients that were unwilling or unable to take nourishment and this is where the problems showed up.

NG tubes were dangerous devices in the hands of an inexperienced practitioner and complications related to wrongful placement were sometimes devastating. The most common misplacement was in the lung via the right main stem bronchus  (It's more perpendicular and bigger than the left bronchus) We always added a dash of methylene blue dye to feedings  and if your patient coughed up blue mucous, it was a sign of trouble. The pleural regions are not known for their ability to assimilate nutrients and likewise there is little gas exchange across the stomach wall. It's best to respect these barriers and that's the understatement of all time!

Skull fractures involving the cribiform plate invited the disaster of  the NG tube winding up in the brain as shown on the right.  Old time physicians hated to come clean with mistakes and I can just hear an old blow hard doc from the1960s coming up with a clever explanation that the NG tube in the  X-ray  could be used as a ventricular shunt, "after all it did course straight up the ventricle. Now we don't have to worry about complications like  hydrocephalus."

Blogger, Skeptical Scalpel has a fascinating post about an internal jugular vein cannulation by a misplaced NG tube. I think the person that accomplished this amazing feat  blunder would have to fess up to the mistake. Who in the world ever heard of  gaining vascular access via the nose? That phony excuse is just plain unbelievable.

Nurses commonly inserted NG feeding tubes and were responsible for keeping them in place. Post op patients were usually very cooperative as a result of vitamin "D" (Demerol) and did not tamper with their NG tubes. Placement of these NG tubes was also a short term affair of just a couple of days. It's much easier for a patient  to put up with a short term nuisance than a long term festering aggravation.

Having an NG in place for a couple of weeks is a miserable experience that I have had personal experience with. Occluding a nostril for the tube results in forced mouth breathing that makes your throat dry as the Sahara dessert. Dried mucous referred to as snot in less formal arenas dries up around the tube and picking it off results in red sore nares.

Tubes like Foleys are out of the patient's view. NG tubes of yesteryear were a bright red in color and were like the matador's red cape to a bull - always annoying and always in sight. It's no surprise that patient's liked to remove their NG tubes. I always figured these poor  old souls were trying to communicate something to us - they did not want tube feedings and their feelings should be respected. Leave the NG tube out and place a glass of water within reach.

Old nurses from the greatest generation had other ideas and I learned never to argue with these gallant geezers. All too often their interventions reflected their  rigid, authoritarian personality and not the reality of the situation. They did not tolerate fools like me and their answer to patient self removal of NG tubes was a brutal but effective trick called NG tube bridling. Somehow these determined oldster nurses  always prevailed when imposing their idea of therapeutic intervention.

Bridling involved inserting the NG tube via the right nostril until the tip of it was visible just below the uvuala (that funny thing hanging down between your tonsils.) I've been criticized for not writing clearly for non-medical folks, so that crude explanation is one of my lame attempts to be more broad based.

The old battle axe of a nurse then grabbed the NG tube from the back of the throat with a Magill forceps and gracefully pulled  yanked  the tube out the mouth. Some of these old Marquise de Sade nurses had tiny hands which meant they could skip the forceps and yank that bad boy NG  tube out with their fingers. Once pulled all the way out via the mouth the NG tube was looped around and reinserted in the left nostril into the stomach.

The end result was the NG tube anatomically anchored because the loop went completely around the ethmoid bone and maxillary sinuses before it's descent back to the stomach. Pulling on the end of  the NG tube resulted in excruciating pain which was an effective deterrent to removal. From my perspective, bridling was the stuff of nightmares with the poor patient yanking his nose and maxillary sinuses loose along with the offending NG tube.

I always tried to empathize with the patient. Dying patients just wanted peace and quiet on their lonely journey and before the hospice concept arrived this was rare. I always found a way out of the bridling NG tube business and only wish I could have had more influence on bridlers.


  1. O, my stars!! I had never heard of this ~ it sounds cruel and inhumane!!
    {Can we do it to the dump?!?!}

  2. Not much shocks me anymore, but that did.

  3. Sometimes I complain about modern advances in nursing that are beyond my understanding, but care today is light years ahead of what I practiced. The low pay, exposure to constant suffering tended to make old time nurses hard hearted and bitter. Makes me glad I took the foolish route!

  4. Alas, bridling is unpleasant, but suturing an NG tube to a nares with 3-0 silk is worse.

  5. It's a toss up. I don't know which is worse suturing or bridling. Pulling on a sutured in place NG tube brings to mind a barbaric image of the poor patient shredding his nose in the process. I hope both of these crude practices are extinct.