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Critical Language Defined



Clear language is needed to cultivate a fearless FONA mindset. Specific language provides the framework for a shared mental model, so that when someone says “CICO!” everyone in the room knows what it means & knows what needs to happen next.


The reason for this is clear. Time is brain. Poor communication leads to critical delays in the performance of FONA, and bad outcomes related to failed airways are never caused by a failure to intubate, but rather a failure to oxygenate.


CICO defined

So what is the language of FONA? Just remember CICO (ky-koh). The can’t intubate & can’t oxygenate situation. We define it for you here.

When CICO is declared by the team a series of well rehearsed reactions should occur that will lead to FONA being performed.


How many attempts before declaring CICO?

The answer is always BEFORE critical hypoxia occurs. This means you may have time to attempt restoration of adequate oxygenation with all of your three upper airway options, or you may bypass all of them if the situation mandates it. You can still use the time between declaring CICO and the actual incision to try to bridge with a supraglottic or FMV. Work in parallel not in series.

The most important thing to remember is that time is brain. Declare CICO when it becomes clear this is the best option, and don’t get locked into feeling you have to attempt oxygenation with all your upper airway option, or that you have to attempt something 3 times before moving on if you judge the situation to requires it.


are we CLEAR?

Now you know the critical language of the failed airway, and how to declare that it’s time for action. Because miscommunication should never be the reason that FONA is not performed when the clinical indication for it is “crystal clear.”

dive deeper
Curated FOAMed & references are here for you when you want more

Spend five minutes to the ABCs of Anaesthesia talking about when to call CICO. This is a great place to spend a little more time thinking about defining your end point during a failed intubation so you can move rapidly to FONA.

CICo part of the vortex approach

CICO is part of the critical language used to identify the need for an emergency surgical airway. No one has thought more about this or is more thorough than Dr Nicolas Chrimes at the Vortex Approach. We highly recommend you add him and his website to your airway learning network.

Effective communication in airway management
Using the power of language to cultivate a fearless fona mindset

“The contribution of human factors to adverse outcomes during emergency airway management is well established. Effective communication is a core non-technical skill that contributes to minimizing such error. The language used must aid rather than hinder communication.” – Nick Chrimes MD

N. Chrimes1,* and T. M. Cook2

1Department of Anaesthesia, Monash Medical Centre, 246 Clayton Rd, Clayton, VIC 3168, Australia, and 2Department of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care Medicine, Royal United Hospital, Combe Park, Bath BA12 3NG, UK


For in person learners, locate any of the posters below within the installation to continue your training. Then snap the QR codes embedded within them to access the learning space and look for integrated hands on training opportunities.

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