What is a tracheostomy tube?

Six weeks after the birth of my little boy Vince the doctors performed a tracheotomy, because his oxygen levels were not good enough when breathing on his own. I remember, after he was brought back to the ICU, I was completely shocked when I saw a metal tube protruding on his neck, which was fastened around tightly with a white band. Vince was asleep, but he was giving out a strong slurpy sound, and I didn’t understand why the nurse, after stabilizing the bed, stuck a long tube into Vince’s metal thingy and suctioned secretion out from there. It was a terrible sight, and then they informed me after the second suctioning that in time I would learn how to do that. I remember being paralyzed, knowing this was not only some procedure after surgery, but that things would be like that from now on, suctioning secretion from my son’s neck every two minutes with a growling, noisy machine.

The official name of the metal thingy is tracheostomy tube (or trach), and now I know a lot of varieties exist. Luckily we managed to get rid of the metal version during the years, and today we use a plastic one (Vince currently has the Duratwix PED/no cuff, size 5). This little tube goes into the trachea under the Adam’s apple, thus reducing the airway. This is why with it it’s easier to breathe for those who have some sort of respiratory weakness. All kinds of devices can be attached onto a tracheostomy tube – a speaking valve, a cough machine, and so on – but you can read about these more in detail under Devices.


Before my son was born, I had never heard of a tracheostomy tube. I knew there were people who lived with some kind of device on their neck if they couldn’t breathe on their own, and I even saw a man once who held a microphone to his neck so he could speak, but I had never heard the expression tracheostomy tube, or what living with one would mean. I only write about my ignorance, because in the past five years we have met a lot of people and a thousand times have I talked about what the most important things are to know about a tracheostomy tube, for example when going to the playground, or during grocery shopping. The one sentence I always say at the end of my review after seeing that people still don’t understand, is this:

“You know Vince breathes here (and I pointed at my neck), not through his nose or mouth.”  It is always very sobering, and then there is silence.