The COVID-19 pandemic shed some light on a profession I am grateful to be a part of. As respiratory therapists (RTs), we are involved in supporting the cardiopulmonary health of an individual from the moment they are born until their very last breath. In an acute care setting, we are in charge of providing oxygen therapy, airway management, and managing ventilators along with many other responsibilities.
When the state of emergency was announced, we knew that our role would be relied on and we were up for the challenge. What I did not anticipate was that what was my practice one day, may change the very next day as we continued to rapidly receive updates on new standards, developments, and research. We tend to fear the unknown, and with COVID-19, there were moments where the lack of understanding of this virus presented challenges on how we provided care to these very sick patients.
As RT’s we are used to jumping into stressful situations without a second thought, however with COVID-19, our own protection needed to be first consideration to ensure we didn’t expose ourselves and those around us. Every intervention - a bronchoscopy of the lungs, a bedside tracheotomy, an aerosol-generating procedure - had to be revised to ensure it was safe not only for the patients but the health-care workers as well. We began assisting physicians with life-saving intubations during “Code Blue” (resuscitation) calls. This certainly added an element of stress and anxiety to a job that at baseline is associated with a high level of stress. We had patients on ventilators that didn’t respond the way we would expect them to and we would spend hours at a single patient’s bedside trying to “fine tune” their ventilation to the best of our abilities.
Putting aside the medical aspect of the job, the emotional aspect was taxing when dealing with patients who were in critical care with no loved ones by their bedside due to visitor restrictions. Needless to say, I went home heavy-hearted, mentally and physically exhausted. Being someone who leans on family and friends during difficult times, it was hard to be isolated from them when I went home in order to protect them. However, despite the difficulties, the one aspect of COVID that was truly heartwarming was the community support and the teamwork that developed amongst the different professions.
The constant need to learn and execute new knowledge and protocols kept the days exciting. As a team, the RT’s in our department are extremely supportive; we are great at bouncing ideas off of each other and working as a team. We did a great job in educating ourselves to remain up- to-date about the current best practices and it truly brought out the best in us. We have always been a dynamic, versatile group, and I am so proud of the work we have done and continue to do. I love my job and my ‘peeps’!