Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Why I Do what I Do – Mary’s Story

I love what I do as a Respiratory Therapist, but the work has its difficulties. Most of my time is spent in the ICU working with the sickest of the sick. What I say here may offend some people – which is not my intent. I also need to state that I value life highly and am against euthanasia of any kind. Now that that is clearly stated I will explain why. I operate machines that breathe for people, people who without such machines would die. Now this may sound like a good thing but not everyone who goes on a breathing machine, in my opinion, should. I distinctly remember one Christmas in Canada where we had a 90 year old fellow with MS on a ventilator. We kept him alive with machines over Christmas and when the patient’s family realized he would not recover the machine was removed and he passed. Placing him on a machine did not prolong his life but his death. I, and my, co-workers all have many similar experiences and many of us have said if this happens we don’t want to be put on machines in certain situations. RT’s are often the first ones in the ER to ask the difficult question – how aggressive in this individual's care do we want to be? If this patient gets worse will they go to ICU? Why – will they get better?
This is the work that I do and given that it is easy to ask the question – why? Why - Because some patients have a high chance of getting better and without the care that I can help provide they would die. To illustrate this I will tell you Mary’s Story.
                I met Mary a week ago. She had been at Tenwek two weeks ago when she had a C-section for twins, at the time she suffered from pre-eclampsia (dangerously high blood pressure that can happen during pregnancy). After the C-section, for healthy twins, she was doing much better and was sent home. She returned with severe shortness of breath and dangerously low oxygen levels despite oxygen (Spo2 60s on NRM). Her chest x-ray showed pulmonary edema. We tried her on biPAP, a tight fitting mask to help her breathing (I used the servo 900C as my biPAP machine as my VPAP can’t give 100% O2) with no success so she required intubation and ventilation.  On the ventilator her oxygenation improved some but she required the maximum my machine would give her (I wish I had APRV). I checked on her over the weekend, with medication (lots of lasix) and time she slowly got better. After five days on the ventilator, she recovered and we weaned her off support from the ventilator, and just before we did rounds where the decision to take out the breathing tube would have been made – she made the decision for us and pulled out the tube herself. She did well breathing on her own and was discharged to the ward.
                So this is why I do what I do. This young lady would have not recovered without the care an ICU can offer.  She would have left two babies without a mother but now in a few days she will be able to go home to her babies and return to her life.

I cannot take the credit for her life although I worked hard, without God’s hand on this lady she would not have recovered. 

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