Cecilia the Respiratory Therapist

Interviews with working professionals most affected by the world’s current state.

My name is Cecilia and I am 42 years old.

Q. What do you do professionally, Cecilia?

I’ve been a respiratory therapist for 18 years.  I work mostly in the emergency room at a hospital in Illinois. 

My team treats patients with many different respiratory illnesses like asthma, COPD and any condition that eventually affects the lungs, like congestive heart failure and kidney failure.  

We give oxygen and aerosolized breathing medications, draw blood from the artery,  and perform techniques to help with breathing and many other procedures.

When a patient’s breathing is more severe, we use machines to breathe for them.  Some of those are machines with a big mask over the face, but for the most critical patients, we intubate (tube in the trachea), and place them on a ventilator which is essentially a life support machine. 

We also perform CPR which means we attend every single code blue for the patients throughout the hospital. 

Q. How has your work been affected by the COVID-19 most recently?

I am working with PUI (patients under investigation) as well as COVID+ (confirmed).

At the start of COVID-19 in Illinois, we began preparing by having informational meetings and alerting our community. Wash your hands, social distancing, limit ER visits for true emergencies.

Before, the ER would fill up with non-emergency patients, which caused longer wait times for everyone.  As news of COVID-19 spread and stricter rules followed, the ER got less congested.

Now, there are no visitors allowed unless a patient is dying. Only one parent allowed for a minor patient. 

Q. When did the gravity of this situation hit you?

When it got eerily quiet, everywhere.  This is when things changed. 

From a respiratory standpoint, patients are told that we will NOT nebulize medications and create aerosol particles unless absolutely necessary, as recommended by the CDC. You can understand the danger of inhaling possibly contaminated aerosol particles.  

For everyone’s safety, we have to wear proper PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) around every patient until we get negative test results back.  So, we had to change the way we treat patients, and the community also had to adjust. It is truly something we’ve never seen before. Unfortunately, it feels like the calm before the storm.

Q. How have these changes affected you personally?

I‘ve had a hard time sleeping. I’m nervous.  

My kids need me.  I have a son with asthma.  My mother has had half a lung removed.  My father has heart failure and diabetes.  I voice my concerns to my family and beg them not to go out.  I take extra precautions at home and at work, but still worry that I’m going to bring it home and expose my family.  

We’re losing money too…

We try to go on vacation during spring break every year.  We were driving to Florida this year.  For so many obvious reasons, we had to cancel it.  My kids are devastated.  

I am thankful that I still have a job, and hopefully, my husband keeps his.

At the end of the day, our health and safety is most important. We are all healthy and well and I keep focusing on that. My hospital has done a good job of providing PPE and emailing updates daily so far. I hope that this continues. You can’t help but to compare our country to Italy, and how they’ve run out of PPE and are buckling at their knees. 

It makes me crazy that people aren’t practicing social distancing. 
This sh*t is real and it’s here.

Q. How are you managing anxiety and uncertainty? 

Fortunately,  I have my friends, family, co-workers, and the community for providing words of encouragement and support. My brothers, sister, and daughter are also in the medical field and are working on the front line, so I know I’m not alone.

I can’t emphasize the support from our community enough, it is what keeps us going. I needed a can of Lysol to spray my work shoes, but the stores were all sold out. A random neighbor I’ve never met gave me one. People have gifted my team food at all hours. I am truly in awe of the support we’ve received.

All I can do now is wear my N95 mask and report for duty.

Resources:

20 Ways to Support Nurses and Healthcare Workers on the Front Lines

Preppi is donating masks – fill out form

Help Shield Our Heroes

NY Times: (Video) Respiratory Therapists on the Front Lines

Free and Low fee Therapy for those on the front line

Published by Michelle Lozano, A-LMFT

Chicago-based therapist and author

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