An Open Letter From a Respiratory Therapist

Jennifer Brady, side-by-side picture

Written by Jennifer Brady, RRT, Respiratory therapist for UnityPoint Health

Last night, I cried on my way to work. I’ve definitely had shifts when I cried on my way home. But on my way in – that was a first. I know health care workers are all feeling the weight and the erosion. The increased workload and overtime. Trying to stay upright in the relentless COVID-19 tsunami that is our lives.

If you work in health care, in any capacity, it is tough right now. But this message goes out to the respiratory therapists. As part of the hospital backbone, we are essential and critical to patient care.

My fellow respiratory therapists, I see you.

I see you as you are paged to the ER to do a stat blood draw on a young, healthy woman who showed up with blue lips. Well, healthy until she got COVID. I see your pulse pick up as you run the results of the lowest oxygen level you've ever seen on a conscious patient. You reassure her as you place her on your equipment and start at 100 percent oxygen. You are there by her side during the transfer to the ICU. You are there when she codes in the elevator. You are kneeling on her bed doing chest compressions when she is wheeled into the ICU. You are there when time of death is called.

I see you taking relentless calls, doing endless assessments and treatments, managing constant equipment setups, troubleshooting and rolling in the next level of oxygen and life support devices. Despite our best efforts, you see people deteriorate in a matter of hours or days. You see their rising panic, hold their hands, see them cry about their special needs son at home who also has COVID. You listen to them when they tell you they are the only caretaker, there is no one else who can help.

I see you always being there to transfer people to the next, more critical care floor. You are the one noting the patient's preferences. How they need an additional oxygen mask when they are even repositioned. You remember how they like their blankets tucked and need a sip of cold water before going on their oxygen equipment. You watch the cards and well wishes fill the room, hear the sweet voices of their children and grandchildren and make a cameo on their Facetime, in all your PPE gear.

You are there when they code twice in one shift.

You are there, taking them off life support.

You are there, cleaning up the ventilator next to the body bag.

So many stories, and respiratory therapists hold them all from their admission and (too many) tragic ends. You remember the names of the family who will mourn them. You remember how much they enjoyed walking to work and how much they missed their dog. You know who knit the blanket that was brought in for their bed.

And we cry on the way to work, afraid of what we will find. Wondering if they made it another 12 hours.

Respiratory therapists, you are not alone. I know what you are feeling and experiencing and send you continued strength and hope. Keep saving lives.