Friday, January 22, 2010

Why Respiratory Therapy?

MJ of Life, Interrupted posed this question to me on my Blogger's Block post earlier in the week. I thought it was an excellent one and will try to answer here.

When I was 16 my first job was at the local hospital. I was a "trolley girl". What that meant was that I worked in the kitchen preparing patient meal trays, delivering trays to the floor (on a large trolley cart) and cleaning up after. After a year I was promoted to the snack bar where I prepared milk shakes, sandwiches, burgers and such. There was the funniest and nicest woman who always came in, dressed in colorful uniforms. Her name was Amy and she worked in the Respiratory Therapy department. I decided, upon high school graduation in 1979, that I'd try to get a part time job within that department. Little did I know what I was getting into.

This was a small hospital and Respiratory Therapy was still in it's infancy as a profession in my home town. The department manager was a Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) and he personally over saw the work of his "assistants". I was trained on the delivery of different therapeutic modalities, how to initiate and monitor the ventilator, and how to procure arterial blood gases (ABG's). At that time, ABG's were drawn using reusable needles and syringes which we sterilized ourselves. This was in the era prior to AIDS. I was also trained in CPR. It was a badge of honor to respond to a Code and become covered, head to toe, in blood! Gloves? Nah. Not way back then.  I worked the evening shift (3pm - 11pm), usually by myself or with one other assistant.

I really enjoyed the work and continued to work part time through my 1st year of college as a biology major. My dad kept harping on me on my choice of major saying that the only thing I could do with a biology degree was teach. Regardless, I enjoyed the sciences and really didn't know which direction I was going to go.

I ruminated on this as I continued to work. It was during this time that I met the very 1st patient to have a severe impact on me. His name was Jeremy and he was a tiny little baby. He had Cystic Fibrosis. Oh he was so sick. Whenever he was admitted we would do round the clock therapy on him. (even though we had no night shift, one of us would stay to continue his treatments). I got to know his parents (very young). I didn't know that much about this disease process but quickly learned much in Jeremy's short little life. He died at 6 months of age and his death affected me dearly. Could I have done anything that would have helped prolong and improve the quality of his life? I don't know. I just knew that, eventually, I was going do something in his honor. I thought maybe I might study genetics. I really didn't know. After all, I was just a small town Respiratory Therapy "Assistant" studying the sciences at Marymount.

Shortly thereafter I met a young doctor, from the University of Kansas Medical Center, doing a rotation in our small town Emergency Room. I was smitten. We went out a few times and he told me tales of life in the big city and the big city medical center. I learned that there was actually a degree program for Respiratory Therapy and that I could major in RT. Hmmmmmm. Intriguing. I decided it was worth checking out.

I took a trip to Kansas City and met with the dean of the School of Allied Health. I learned my credits were transferable but I needed a few more courses under my belt. These courses were offered at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. They were interested in accepting me because the training I already had. I decided that this was the path for me.

A few short years later I was graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Respiratory Therapy and passed my boards to become a bona fide RRT. (Little did I know that a 4 year degree in this field was a rarity and only recently the push is on for therapists to obtain this degree.) My 1st job, after graduating, was to work for St. Luke's Hospital in KC. I adored this job. I was exposed to so many aspects of respiratory care. My favorite was working in the Neonatal Intensive Care. I got to go to high risk deliveries to help stabilize the premies, run the ventilators and other oxygen delivery devices, performed all kinds of therapy. It was very difficult work but I absolutely adored it. St. Luke's also provided me with the opportunity to become a member of the Life Flight team. You know, those medical helicopters you see at the scene of accidents transporting the patient to the nearest trauma center. It was enjoyable but I still loved the babies best.

To be continued....

Thanks MJ, for this suggestion. It's been fun going down memory lane! Be sure to grab your well deserved button at the top of my blog!


Pelican Joe said...

I'm number 100! I'm number 100!

Doctor FTSE said...

Pelican Joe . . have you heard this one?

"Only 1 person in 100 understands binary arithmetic. The other 3 haven't a clue. (Or should that be the other 11?)"

I'm number 5! Oops . . sorry! Number 101!

Pelican Joe said...

Let's see:


Boy, we keep this up, I'll have to break out my old assembler books!

MJ said...

I am CRACKING up over the video - I actually have tears running down my face!!!

Wow, it's hard to believe that you were able to do all that as an "assistant" - goes to show how things have changed over the years!

NICU is one of the HARDEST areas - but can be so fullfilling :o) Our RTs go to each delivery - which is soo nice. I remember having Ducky and looking at the RT saying TAKE HER she needs O2.

Thank you for the honor of choosing one of my topics!

Anonymous said...

Hi! I envy people who figure out what they would like to do at a young age and go for it. I was (sometimes still am) clueless as to what I would really like to be when I grow up!

BTW - no, your blog is still not loading in my little box...I'm not sure why!

Julie Schuler said...

Oh my goodness. Bless you and your work. I get palpitations just thinking about all that responsibility. I can only imagine I would faint dead away in many of the situations you've been in.

Willoughby said...

I have a huge amount of respect and admiration for the work you do. I can't imagine how many people's lives you have touched.

I have a special place in my heart for RRT's because when my daughter was in the NICU, the respiratory therapists were amazing! They were always so patient in explaining everything to us. Between some very dedicated RRT's and NICU nurses, they got her off the vent, through a difficult stage of CPAP and onto a nasal canula so we could finally bring her home. The doctors wanted her to get a trach, but the respiratory therapists and nurses told us to hold our ground and insist on giving her more time. I can't tell you how much their input meant to us.

Corrie Howe said...

I've enjoyed reading your story into your career. I'm looking forward to reading more.

I love the movie. Did you make it? I went to the site and bookmarked it. I bet Jonathan would love this.

Life Laugh Latte said...

What is better than hearing people's life stories? Fabulous. Holly

Betty said...

Oh Polly , you're so special!
I admire your work you do, and your carrier.
Look forward to reading more.
Beautifully written story!
love and hugs

gayle said...

So very interesting!! Can't wait to read more!

蚵仔麵線Jeff said...



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