Thursday, April 2, 2020

Just Breathe

There’s a letter to the editor in today’s Columbia Flier that I hope everyone reads.

State Should Recognize Respiratory Therapists

Written by a local respiratory therapist, the letter explains how crucial this particular specialty is right now during the Covid-19 pandemic. She doesn’t want recognition for herself, but for her colleagues-in-arms, whose work she is championing. It’s true that we read a lot about ventilators but we don’t read about the specifics. There are people behind the machines.

We tend to think of generic medical workers:  doctors and nurses. If we’ve watched hospital shows we might know about cardiologists, pediatric specialists, whoever is featured in a disease of the week episode. Respiratory therapists? Maybe not.

The letter closes:

Most will not know what a respiratory therapist does — until they need one.

Although the author of the letter will very likely never see this, I wish I could tell her (and her husband, also a respiratory therapist) that I already know. My father had COPD, also known as emphysema. In every one of his multiple hospitalizations he was cared for by a team that included respiratory therapists. He was on a ventilator at the end of his life. I am keenly aware of what that entails.

Years ago I had elective surgery and the other person in my hospital room was there because of an auto collision. She hadn’t worn a seat belt and threw herself low so as not to go through the windshield. The impact placed the steering column into her ribcage. I remember the care she received from respiratory therapists to make sure her lungs were functioning appropriately and she was getting a healthy amount of oxygen.

PSA: Always wear your seatbelt.

When my youngest daughter was eighteen months old she was hospitalized for pneumonia at Howard County General. Her oxygen levels were dangerously low and they weren’t able to bring them up sufficiently in the pediatric ER. She spent the second Easter Sunday of her little life in a big oxygen tent. All throughout her stay respiratory therapists were in and out, checking on her, administering and fine-tuning treatments.

Respiratory therapists are amazing, friends.

If, as the author of the letter hopes, Governor Hogan makes a point of recognizing Respiratory Therapists for their work in this crisis, it would be well deserved. Do you know the Governor? Know someone who does? Perhaps you could pass her letter along.

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