The Respiratory Therapist is There…

It’s October, so that means it’s time to celebrate Respiratory Care week. Respiratory Therapy is a career that is often unappreciated or sometimes even completely unknown. I made it almost completely through nursing school, before I discovered this beautifully wonderful field that lets me be a “diaphragm and up” kind of gal. As most RT’s say, we are here for the PEEP not the Poop.

You just give albuterol though right? How important can you really be? That’s a pretty common opinion.

Again, this is a career field that has been living in the shadows of nursing and radiology for what seems like forever. Thanks Grey’s Anatomy and ER., trust me, nurses don’t put patients on ventilators. When chaos strikes in the hospital, the first thing you usually hear is someone frantically yelling for respiratory.

So what do we really if we are more than just “neb slingers”?

We are the airway. We know every aspect of the airway, the anatomy, the physiology, how to maintain it, and how to intervene when its been compromised. We are our patient’s life-line for their next breath, and we will do everything within our power to make sure they are able to take that breath.

We are there in the emergency room to treat and comfort the terrified asthmatic or COPD patient having an exacerbation. They feel like they are dying, they can’t catch their breath, they feel like their heart is beating out of their chest. We give them the sweet relief they so desperately need with that liquid gold bronchodilator. We also know what to do next, if that liquid gold isn’t enough. In their moment of panic, we are the only person they want to see. What a privilege that is.

We are there when the cystic fibrosis patient we have taken care of for years has to decide between going on a ventilator and possibly never coming off, or taking their last breaths.

We are there in the ICU when a patient’s heart stops or their lungs fail. We take over breathing for the patient. We keep oxygen flowing into their body. We control every aspect of the ventilator that patient may need to breath for them while they recover. We know how to control each and every setting of the machine perfectly so the patient ventilates properly. We know when they are ready to begin coming off of the ventilator, and are in charge of the process to slowly wean the patient off and then we pull out their artificial airway.

We are there when your patient wakes up from open heart surgery, and we help them come off of the ventilator quickly once they are alert. Once they are breathing on their own again, we are responsible for their pulmonary rehab and prevention of post-operative pneumonia. We provide therapies that aren’t always pleasant like IPV, but very effective. We give encouragement and support so they will be compliant, decreasing any post-op complications.

We are there in the emergency room when EMS brings in a gun-shot wound, a motor vehicle crash, or a pediatric drowning. We are at the head of the bed, checking and maintaining that airway and assessing the patient’s needs.

We are there when a patient’s body can no longer go on, and we are responsible for removing the life support. We are the people the family associate with the death of their loved one, often times that’s a heavy burden to bear, but we are there and we do what the patient needs.

We are there when it’s time to determine if a patient is brain dead. We assist in the testing process. We are there when the family hears the news their loved one is gone, and if they are an organ donor, sometimes we stay with them all the way to the OR, keeping the lungs viable.

We are there when a baby born early, makes their grand entrance into the world. We are the ones that make sure the baby’s lungs are ready to work on their own, if they aren’t we take over and insert an airway, and supply ventilation.

We are there when a baby has had moments of not breathing, and we attach a monitor to alert the parents to intervene, so they can still take their baby home.

We are there when the doctor told you that you need a bronchoscopy to look inside your airway and lungs to find what is causing your respiratory problems. We take biopsies, samples, and maintain the scope and suction for the physician.

We are there when your ventilator dependent child is ready to leave the hospital with A LOT of new accessories. We teach you how to manage it all yourself at home, but we are still there for you when you need help. We are never far, and you’re never out of our mind.

We are there the first time you get to take your child home with the ventilator, and what an honor that is to see such joy.

We are there when a quadriplegic patient needs to cough, because they no longer have the ability to do that on their own.

We are there when no one else is, and your patient is breathing their last breaths.

We are called “respiratory” more times than not, names are rarity. Sometimes we are called “nurse”.

We see people on their worst days, and on their best.

We help those who can be saved, and those who can’t be saved die with dignity.

My name is not “respiratory” but it’s a name I’ll proudly answer to.

October 20-26th is respiratory care week this year, let a RT know they are appreciated.

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