Everyone now knows what a Respiratory Therapist is…
Happy Wednesday y’all! I have known I wanted to do this post since I started my blog but I want to do it right. There is so much I want to say and speak to today. So be patient.
In 2004, I graduated high school and knew I was destined for college in the fall and I wanted to do something in the medical field. I was dabbling in the direction of a dietician or a physical therapist. I job shadowed both and found that they were both too boring for me. Ha. I found out the college I was attending had a Respiratory Therapy program and knew I had found my future career choice. Fast forward several years.
In 2008 I was a brand new grad out of school and got hired by my dream hospital choice. I have never looked back. I have now been at this same hospital and worked there in the same position for 14 years. So so crazy. I primarily work in the ER and I have always loved the fast paced lifestyle where you have to be ready for whatever comes thru those doors at any minute. I am a true blue trauma junkie.
My question for you is, did you know what a Respiratory Therapist was before COVID? I think a lot of people probably didn’t. We are there for asthma attacks, premature or high risk infants, cardiac arrests, level one traumas, post op patients, COPD patients, overdoses, anyone who has to be on life support we are running that breathing machine. So there are so many instances where we show up to the party. That is why it’s a fun and challenging career, you are always stretched and it’s addicting almost. The adrenaline high that you get when you have emergency situations. The horrific traumas where there is blood and your doing everything possible to save someone’s life. Isn’t that strange to feel as though it’s an addiction. I truly love my job. I have always felt so lucky to have picked such a cool career.
January 2020. This little virus over in China called COVID was being talked about. There have been other viruses like Avian and Swine and we never really had a huge presence in the hospital in our small town world so I wasn’t worried in the least. I even remember saying, oh it won’t make its way to our little neck of the woods. Boy was I wrong.
When we first started gearing up it was photo worthy and kind of crazy, we would take selfies and at this point we still weren’t seeing true COVID positives. Swabbing was just getting started and vaccines were not available yet.
We didn’t really start our surge in Arkansas until the start of Summer. From then on, it was all a blur and the start of a downward spiral for healthcare workers. From Summer of 2020-January 2021 when vaccines started becoming readily available it was absolute hell.
Now I am recounting my experiences of being in the ER and on the COVID floor units, I didn’t work in the COVID ICU and don’t want to take any credit for my good friends/coworkers who spent a lot of time in there.
Days in the COVID ER began early and sometimes just didn’t stop. We are the horrible healthcare workers who draw arterial blood gases or ABG’s. We drew a whole lot of COVID positive ABG’s to determine their oxygen status. I mean we are talking about a respiratory pandemic here soooo as you can imagine this was our patient load. On bad days, we would run out of high flow oxygen setups and have to get creative on what oxygen device we would use for who. We were pulled in so many directions, you just had to make yourself take a deep breath and do one thing at a time and try to stay calm. We were also the ones who did the majority of the COVID swabs and had to walk them to the lab. If any patient who needed to be placed on life support was COVID positive then we would have to get extra gear on called a PAPR. It isn’t something quick you can throw on. It had its own filter system so you didn’t have to chance the exposure. So if a patient needed you quickly, you can just waltz in, you have to take the time to dress out safely to ensure your safety too. Hairnet, booties, n95, gown, face shield, double gloves….check check check.
I can still remember the faces of so many of my patients. The ones who lost their lives, the ones who made it home and the ones who are dealing with lasting effects from having COVID. When patients would come in the ER they would be terrified, once there was some info to look up on the web people would be googling their symptoms and knowing if they had to be placed on bipap or the ventilator that the odds of them making it home were slim. We would pat their shoulder, hold a cold rag on their forehead, tell them slow their breathing down and breath thru their nose to get that oxygen. Let’s FaceTime your family so you can tell them your going on life support for awhile to give your body a break and rest. When in your heart, your pretty sure that’s the last conversation they will have. How do you hold someone’s hand and know you are the last one to see their eyes open and talking knowing they are going on the breathing machine and they won’t be coming off of it alive. Not saying we know the end outcome, only God knows when it’s someone’s time. Just going by the statistics we had been seeing, the odds were stacked against most of these patients at that point. They were so sick and the virus had ravaged their body. That stuff sticks to your soul. I won’t ever shake it. We lost some really good people and my heart still hurts for their families. I would say, half of my coworkers ended up being prescribed an antidepressant or anxiety medication within the last two years. The hospital offered counseling services. Several of some of the best RT’s I know left and went to work somewhere fresh and less stress. This took a toll on us. We will never be the same again.
I want to stress that I didn’t work nearly as hard as some of my other coworkers. I worked part time hours and didn’t take on as much as others. Some of my coworkers spent more time at the hospital in those months than they did at home and they are the true healthcare heroes.
Nowadays, around the hospital things are starting to feel slightly more normal. I can’t decide if they are almost back to normal or it’s our new normal. We are still wearing masks, guessing that maybe a forever kind of thing. I know our hearts will forever ache for those patients we lost and the pressure we felt during those long months. Coming out on the other side now I can say, I don’t regret my career choice still. I am thankful to have done as much as I could and I will continue to push forward and be at the bedside helping others. It’s my passion and a huge chunk of who I am. This is some armor I wear now and I’m proud of all of us. If your ever considering a career in Respiratory Therapy reach out! I would love to tell you more!