>One week out of the year, we celebrate my profession, and this is that week. National Respiratory Care Week. Not many people know what I do. Or understand it. I have been asked on several occasions if it requires college. Ummmm, yeah, it does. I have been asked, while delivering an inhaler to a patient, if that is all I do all day at work. Ummmm, nope. Even nurses get confused. So in honor of RC Week and my profession, I thought I would sum it up as best I can.
- I have resuscitated patients anywhere from as young as 22 weeks gestation to 99 years old. The most difficult are always the ones I relate to my own life. The child Evan’s age who decided to help his dad by getting his own medicine…and took the entire bottle. The 6-month-old drowning victim. The 34-year-old woman who died of breast cancer, and while we were breathing for her and doing chest compressions, while her body was still warm, her 8-year-old daughter and husband were brought into the room to say goodbye. I can still hear that one: the young husband wailing, while the little girl draped herself over her mother screaming “Mommy, don’t go!” Fresh tears still spring to my eyes, years later.
- The coolest moment for me was when I participated in a code of a patient fresh from open-heart surgery and I literally held his heart in my hand. This also had to be the scariest. Runner-Up? The day we delivered a baby in the ER parking lot in the backseat of a Chevy Equinox.
- The most rewarding experience of my life was when, at a time I was having horrendous personal issues, I met a little blue-eyed, blond-headed 2-year-old boy and found out from his mother that I was the one who resuscitated him. Suddenly everything had a new meaning after that encounter.
- My proudest moment? Evan had to sum up what I did for his class at school during a Career Day. He really didn’t have the words, at such a young age, but wrapped it up to one sentence, according to his teacher: “My mommy saves lives.”
- Yes I give inhalers. I also give breathing treatments. And manage oxygen. And life support. When a family decides they have had enough, I am the one who has to “pull the plug”. I have seen countless deaths, but I have also seen real life, in all of its glory.
- My hands hold within them the rhythym of human breathing. I can take one look at a total stranger and determine immediately the size of their trachea and about what amount of air they need per breath.
- I can intubate with the best of them.
- I am horribly out of shape, but yet for some reason, when a code is announced, can manage to run from one end of the hospital to the other without getting winded in the slightest.
- I’m the one who eventually sees you when you have done something remarkably stupid. Example: the 23-year-old who trashed his lungs and eventually died after being on a ventilator for a month–all because he tried to get high by putting Jagermeister in his baby sister’s nebulizer and inhaling it.
- When I ask you if you smoke and you tell me no, I already know if you’re lying to me. I don’t ask to be judgemental. I ask because I need to know how best to treat your lungs.
- Seeing me walk into a room is never a good thing. My presence means someone is not breathing well. Or not at all. Or their heart isn’t beating, or is at risk of stopping.
- I have gotten hurt for the sake of my patients: the 500-lb. man who had me straining my back to help lift him to a chopper so the National Guard could transport him since he was too big for the ambulance, the ICU bed that was rolled over my foot because I couldn’t move since I was breathing for the patient.
My job is beautiful and amazing. Heartbreaking and soul-crushing. It can boost you up and also wear you down. It is exciting at times and boring at other times. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world.