A Letter to the Respiratory Therapist

Dearest RT,

I have often said that we are the red headed step children of the health care industry. Not yet able to enjoy the respect that comes with longevity of similar careers like nursing, we are still after decades of existence a bit of an enigma to everyday people. Some might have noticed our name yelled during episodes of their favorite hospital drama. After all the business of saving lives is complete the heroic MD yells with deep conviction

“Call respiratory and tell them to bring a vent!”

As he clutches an endotracheal tube that is nowhere near secure in a patient that isn’t even being bagged. As if we’re off somewhere slamming down doughnuts as we wait for vents to be called for.

What everyday man often doesn’t know is we would have been there from the word go. Nor do they know that in many cases it us who often secures the airway , initiates “life support”, and then asks that the MD get called so we can tell them what we did. Little does the everyday man know how hard we work to cover anywhere between 10-25 patients per therapists per shift while having to be prepared to drop it all and see about the emergencies (and quasi emergencies whenever summoned.) We are often unappreciated, misunderstood, and unfortunately mistreated by those whose team we’re supposed to be on. Yes, red headed step children.

Notice I said “often” not always, as there are those times, hospitals, and situations where all the stars align and therapists are truly made to feel a part of the team. Our experience and knowledge are valued. People actually know our names instead of yelling “RESPIRATORY!” down the hallway behind us. I have been fortunate in my now almost 12 year career to have enjoyed these circumstances and I’m truly grateful for these times.

When it’s bad though, it’s really really bad. I have worked in places where therapists have been reduced to the role of nothing more than a button pusher or knob turner having their clinical skills and knowledge completely disregarded by people who often don’t fully understand the purpose and action of therapies they’re requesting then being told or shown by their own management that we have to “take one for the team.” To understand this I have to go back to the point that the general public and alas some healthcare professionals have no clue, or worse, no respect for what we do. I don’t pretend to know how to change this other than to keep doing what we’re doing. Do it well. Do it consistently, stay educated in the field and stand our ground in the face of adversity and ignorance. Combat ignorance with education and open dialogue, and maybe…just maybe, things will change.

I write this letter from a place of appreciation and love for everything this career has done for my life and the many wonderful people it has placed in it. My patients! The reason why I can do what I do in the first place. The good ones, the mean ones, the in-between ones, but especially the pleasantly confused ones whose shenanigans make my night whiz by. The nursing staff who I’ve saved lives side by side with, cried with in tragedy, and even laughed with in tragedy (cause you gotta laugh to keep from cryin’ right?). The MDs, who don’t let their egos get in the way of what is best for a patient, who once they understood that I knew what I was doing allowed me to DO MY JOB! The unit secretaries, radiology, lab techs, pharmacy, environmental, hospital security without you guys there is no us, because we are ALL critical to lives of the patients we care for whether we know, or are told that or not.

I’m in the process of stepping back from this career that has been a defining part of my life since I was pregnant with my son and into one as a writer. Eventually, (if all goes well) I won’t be practicing much if at all. However, everything I learned while a therapist will carry me in to the tough business of the written word. After all what can thicken your skin or grow you as a person more than dealing with life, death, and every manifestation of the human being on a daily/nightly basis? I promise to one day write our story that people may continue to come to better know and understand who we are. I promise to tell our story to the best of my rotten ability!

To all my fellow RTs:

Your name is NOT “respiratory”. Your knowledge and experience matter even when those around you would make you feel that it doesn’t. Go forth, give nebs, save lives, be as BRILLIANT as you are, and smile because you are somebody!

With Love,

Stacey Rose RRT, RCP

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