Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What is A Respiratory Therapist

This is a question that I have frequently heard before coming to Tenwek. My typical response is I work with individuals who have breathing problems whether be it COPD, CHF, Asthma, or Croup. I also explain how I work with ventilators and in the ICU. Normally I am explaining this to nonmedical personnel. Here at Tenwek things are different I am explaining my role to everyone as I am the first RT they have had for more than a few weeks. The role of an RT is unknown to all  aside from the American medical mission staff. The explanation I give is the same as what I gave in Canada but I am also elaborating on the teaching role. It also brings up the question of what is my role at Tenwek? This is a challenge as over the next few months I wish to be helpful and busy  however when I am not being replaced by another RT when I leave in march so I need to make sure that I do not take over any tasks wich would cause the nurses and physicians to lose there skills/knowledge.
Despite all of this I am being received well and each day is busier than the last. I have been told by the ICU charge nurse that the ICU is to be my home. He is quite excited that I am here, it has been a slow week in ICU with no vented patients and he was telling me today that he is hoping we get one soon so I can share some knowledge with the staff (he did say that he does not wish any one to get sick enough to need a vent though). I have also ventured out to pediatrics and medicine where I am seeing various patients. Pediatrics is challenging as that is where I have the least experience as well as different pathologies - I have a patient who probably has pertussiss (whooping cough) a toddler presenting with croup like symptoms (including steeple sign on CXR) but has not improved in the last week despite inhaled epi and dex. A definite challenge - if this child was at the misc we would be calling for PICU transport. Challenges here that will definitely increase my skills and knowledge- I have read more textbooks and articles in the last few days than I have in the last year. Another challenge here is altitude - Tenwek is some where between 6000 - 8000 feet above sea level.  This has a slight effect on  ventilation (related to Boyles law  for all you keeners).  Normal oxygenation levels are slightly lower here for example my SpO2 is normally 97-100 today I checked and it was 94 a new normal.
My Life at Tenwek has been more than work (though this is large part) and I am sorry for all non-medical people who got confused and bored in the last paragraph. I am also getting used to living where I can’t call for take-out and the TV usually has something on to watch. It is a slower pace and I am enjoying, howver I am looking forward to meeting my roommate (she is on retreat this weekend) as it will be nice if it wasn’t so quite in the evenings. Part of my living arrangement includes a house helper. A local lady who comes 3 days a week she cooks, cleans, does laundry and even does some local shopping for produce. The idea behind this is that it frees up more of my time for mission work whether at the hospital or elsewhere. It also allows me some consistent contact with the local culture. I am not quite used to the idea yet but it is nice to come home for lunch break and have a hot meal on the table.
I hope to be able to post some pictures soon of my apartment and Tenwek but the sun has not shined long enough for me to take some nice pictures.


  1. I love checking in on your blog. Looking forward to the photos! Here's hoping any days of discouragement are quickly forgotten by all the amazing stories and experiences you will have. Keep us all posted.


  2. Redefining the role of a Respiratory Therapist in a culture where there isn't one and may likely not be one once your time there is over is going to be an interesting challenge. Perhaps you should consider part of that role to be setting up a program to look for other Respiratory Therapists to transfer into that role on somesort of revolving basis (maybe three month stints?) Just a thought. So excited for you!!

  3. Looking forward to seeing pics! :)