PORTSMOUTH — During the pandemic, perhaps there is a group of essential workers in the hospitals that may have been left out and yet they are right in the thresholds of folks that have contracted COVID-19.
The group is that of respiratory therapists. These workers are so essential in the fight against the virus because trouble breathing becomes one of the major issues once someone has contracted the virus. It is not that people don’t appreciate these workers, but it seems that the nurses and doctors are what people think of first when thanking the medical field. Next week, Oct. 25-31 is Respiratory Care Week and what better time to focus on these unheard-of heroes during the pandemic.
Wesley Bender BSRT, RRT, RCP is a member of the respiratory therapy professional community. He works full-time at SOMC and is a Clinical instructor for Shawnee State University’s RT program. He serves on some committees of the Ohio Society for Respiratory Care (OSRC), which Bender said is a group that has been working on changing and advancing the profession, especially this year and they work on promoting the profession.
“Here in Portsmouth, when we first started with COVID-19, we didn’t see a whole lot of patients, specifically at SOMC, where they had stopped all surgical procedures and outpatient pulmonary labs as well as sleep studies, which put a lot of our people back in the hospital and they could be trained in case there was a surge,” Bender said. “Now, as we are starting in the second surge, we are still seeing completing of surgeries and our outpatient are open, but the volume is not great and there are still people needing pulmonary work and sleep studies.”
Bender shared he is seeing a pretty large amount of COVID patients and they are being pulled into the ICU with patients.
“We also have some COVID units that are at times, very large and that demand respiratory at that.,” Bender said. “We are becoming quite busy and we are seeing very sick and critical patients. We’re seeing a lot of high flow nasal cannula, a high flow volume to deliver oxygen. We are seeing failure at that, which means requiring intubation and then they are usually in the need of ECMO (extra core membrane oxygenation) which is like a heart bypass machine that takes the blood out of body and placed back in the body to be recirculated. And because oxygenation is one of the biggest issues with COVID, we see COVID pneumonia, which is people who are developing COVID, kind of recovering and suffering the complications of pneumonia. It is hitting a lot of our in-stage COPD patients, we are seeing people in the hospital for months on end. In this area, we have a high volume of people with COPD and it’s kind of scary for them because they have this disease and then have COVID on top of that.”
Bender added, “Sometimes as a respiratory therapist we are used to getting in the thick of things, you never know what situation you are going to be involved in and might think, ‘am I going to contract this virus?’ We are just doing our job and we are provided with the protection and trying our hardest not to be exposed. One of our hardest things we do is aerosol-generating procedures, that is everything we do, and we are taking extra steps as far as a respirator therapist. At times, it can get kind of scary and when your job is to fix breathing and you can’t fix it, it is hard.”
As for teaching people who are entering the field of RT, Bender says they teach donning and docing for dressing down in the beginning but are more tedious than ever and the university (SSU)has made measures as far as health science courses that are kind of hard to do hands on lab on an online format. The students themselves are back in the lab and wearing the protective gear, along with their professors. As far as people backing away from this field, he said that the program manager says they have seen an influx as far as high interest from students. “It is probably due to respiratory therapy being on the forefront right now. As all of this has evolved, there will be changes in the field as the virus continues and can change also.”
When asked about their clothing as to how they protect those they come home to, Bender says that SOMC has allowed them to wear the surgical scrubs that they put on when they go to work and they change back when they are leaving in a way to protect their families.
Reach Kimberly Jenkins (740)353-3101 ext. 1928
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