The Silent Partner on the Front Line during the Pandemic
By DeLoise Gambrell
A Respiratory Therapist is the other professional in the trenches, and on the frontline risking their lives alongside the doctors and nurses who are keeping patients alive who have contracted COVID-19. Oftentimes we do not hear about Respiratory Therapists, they’re the silent partners in this fight to heal the patients stricken with CoronaVirus. It is my intention in this article to educate those who are unaware of the role of the Respiratory Therapist and to say thank you for all that you're doing for your patients.
The CoronaVirus is a respiratory disease, which affects the upper respiratory and lower respiratory tracts. The nose, sinus, and throat are part of the upper tract, and the windpipe and lungs make up the lower tract. COVID-19 can cause Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome or ARDS. It causes damage to the lungs such as scarring. This damage causes fluid to leak into the lungs making it difficult for oxygen to transfer from the bloodstream.
Through a questionnaire, I had the opportunity to ask several Respiratory Therapists questions about what is a Respiratory Therapist, their role, and to help us understand what it means to be on the frontline during this CoronaVirus Pandemic. They also answered questions about what they want the general public and elected leaders to know about the seriousness of the virus. Finally, I wanted to know how they de-escalated from the day to day routine and seeing the growing numbers of deaths from COVID-19.
A Respiratory Therapist, RT, is a certified medical professional that provides specialized care to help patients with chronic cardio-pulmonary illnesses. Many have associate, bachelor, and master’s degrees in respiratory care. Their role is to work in collaboration, as part of the patient’s team, alongside nurses, doctors, and other healthcare providers to treat, care, and help improve the patient’s outcome. They administer respiratory medication, operate ventilators, and review and test the patient’s lung capacity, among other duties. The use of a ventilator helps to get more oxygen into the bloodstream.
I asked what made these dedicated professionals decide to become Respiratory Therapists? The majority agreed it was their desire to help people suffering from cardio-respiratory illnesses, and the ability to save lives. One question asked, what does it mean to be an RT during the COVID-19 pandemic? The overwhelming answer was scary, yet rewarding. One RT said it was the most unexpected, scary, and very demanding time in their life. Another RT answered it’s unbelievable, and heartbreaking to not be able to do as much as you can to save a life. Sadly, the answer to this question by one brave RT said it meant being there for a patient who is ill and without family present.
I wanted to know the emotional, physical, and mental issues that they faced during this time. Many answered watching patients die, especially without family. They all agree that staff shortage and long working hours caused physical exhaustion. Another question put to them was how do you as an RT prepare yourself mentally each day before work in such an environment? They responded praying, listening to music, just do it, and happy to see their dedicated co-workers beside them. Others responded making sure they take proper precautions, and most importantly to eat well and take care of themselves so that they can be effective in doing their jobs. I asked what do they do to deescalate after their shift? Some answered that they relax by hiking, counting their blessings, listening to music, spending time with family, and reading.
I inquired about what they wanted the general public or elected leaders to know about the virus. The majority said to take this virus more seriously, to educate yourselves about the virus, stop making it political, and follow the CDC’s recommendations.
I want to end this article with a thank you and a word from Tosha Lawson, a Respiratory Therapist whom I had the pleasure of speaking to in a telephone interview. She agreed to share her thoughts about being an RT during the early stages of this pandemic. “This pandemic is scary for everyone involved, patients, family, and health care workers. We, as Respiratory Therapists, do everything we possibly can for our patients. We never neglect any patient even though we are afraid of the virus, and its uncertainties. A typical day would start with a shift of 8-9 therapists, geared up in bunny suits, N95’s, face shields, head, and shoe coverings. We see every patient and do everything required as a respiratory therapist. This is our job, and we do the best that we can as dedicated RT’s.”
To the silent partners on the frontline, saying thank you doesn’t seem sufficient enough to express our sentiments for what you are doing to save lives. Thank you for sharing your experiences and educating us about what you do, and how you are doing it. BE SAFE