Thrive by IU Health

November 18, 2021

Breathing. It is all in a days work.

IU Health Arnett Hospital

Breathing. It is all in a days work.

Breathing. It’s something you don’t think about until you have trouble breathing. And when that happens, you want specially trained medical professionals to help you feel better and breathe easier. That’s where respiratory therapists come in.

Respiratory therapists (RT) care for patients who have trouble breathing due to asthma, emphysema, bronchitis, pneumonia, cardiac failure, sleep disorders or other illnesses and emergencies. They care for patients of all ages including premature infants with underdeveloped lungs and elderly patients with diseased lungs.

Over the last 21 months, respiratory therapists added COVID-19 to their list of illnesses they treat. COVID-19, a contagious, respiratory illness, is caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 that spreads through fine droplets through the air.

Monica Brown

“Most people think respiratory therapists spend their day giving breathing treatments, but that is only part of what we do. You can find a respiratory therapist in just about every part of the hospital. RT’s respond to all traumas in the emergency department. We are present for all conscious sedations and cardioversions. We assess patients that are having trouble breathing and set up BiPAP/CPAP or other high flow devices. We draw and interpret arterial blood gases. Assist doctors with intubations, set up and manage the ventilators. Assist doctors during bronchoscopies. Assist with all C-sections/high-risk deliveries and manage any high flow O2 devices in the NICU,” explained Monica Brown, a respiratory therapist at IU Health Arnett Hospital.

A typical day in the life of an RT includes:

  • Diagnosing lung and breathing disorders and recommending treatment methods.
  • Interviewing patients and doing chest physical exams to determine what kind of therapy is best.
  • Consulting with physicians to recommend a change in therapy, based on evaluation of the patient.
  • Analyzing breath, tissue and blood specimens to determine levels of oxygen and other gases.
  • Managing ventilators and artificial airway devices for patients who can’t breathe normally on their own.
  • Responding to emergency situations and urgent calls for care.
  • Educating patients and families about lung disease so they can maximize their quality of life.

A day filled with caring for COVID-19 patients on top of their usual array of patients creates a challenging environment. Patients may come to the emergency room because they are having trouble breathing. The patient then may be sent to a floor for inpatient care. If their illness worsens, they may go to the progressive care unit or intensive care unit. The respiratory therapist follows each patient on their journey. When you multiple it by several patients with similar issues, it becomes a lot to handle.

“We tend to get really close to our patients as we see them throughout all the stages of their illness,” shared Brown. “It can be lonely for them due to some of the visitor restrictions we have in place, especially early in the pandemic. We get to know them; we get to know their families. We get to know their likes and dislikes and the things that are important to them in their life. When our patients don’t make it, it really takes a toll on us.”

Respiratory therapists have been in high demand with the pandemic. Extra-long hours and extra shifts have become the norm. The stress and strain are wearing on the team.

This pandemic is still not over and neither is the struggle felt by our respiratory therapists.

Parting thoughts from Brown, ‘Just take care of one another. We owe it to each other to do that. Be compassionate and be considerate. Wash your hands, use hand sanitizer. If you’re sick, and need to go out, wear a mask. Get vaccinated. That’s it. You’re not the only person on this planet and we need all of us to make the world go around.”

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