Vol State graduates are working on the front lines of the COVID-19 battle. Respiratory Care professionals are especially important. Kim Christmon, Director of the Vol State Respiratory Care program, recently had an opportunity to talk to one of her graduates, Evan Blair, about her work with COVID-19 patients in a local hospital.
How has your role been beneficial in-patient care? I am a part of a team that works in the isolation critical care team at my facility. Many of these patients that we see in our unit have trouble breathing, which makes my role as the respiratory therapist vital. My role consists of placing these patients on oxygen, giving breathing treatments if needed, having the patient lie on their stomach to help them oxygenate better, and in more serious cases, I am there to assist with placing a breathing tube and putting them on a ventilator. To treat patients that need mechanical ventilation requires specific knowledge of the ventilator settings and how these settings affect the lungs.
What does it feel to be on the front lines of the COVID-19 response? How have your days been different than before?
To be honest, it’s hot and it’s frightening. There is now only one entrance/exit to the hospital and everyone has to check in and get their temperature recorded. I go to work in different clothes than I work in, and then I change into hospital scrubs. In our negative-pressure isolation unit, I am the only Respiratory Therapist during my shift; and while I know my co-workers are just a phone call way, and despite the amazing nurses and physicians on my team, I feel alone. Upon entering the unit, I am in the yellow zone, I put on a mask and a first pair of gloves that would be my ‘hands.’ I put on a white suit to cover my clothes and shoes as well as a hair cover. I wear all these things all day, except when eating or using the bathroom. Upon entering the patient care area, the red zone, I also wear a face shield and second pair of gloves that I change between patient visits. It has been difficult to adapt to all the PPE that is required to keep me safe, and my hair is soaked from sweat by the end of every shift. This virus makes me fearful because I see firsthand how quickly some of these patients deteriorate. It isn’t just the elderly, but people of all ages. I am fearful that I may unknowingly bring it home to my family.
How has it affected you mentally?
My anxiety is at an all-time high, and I am physically and mentally exhausted by the end of each shift. I don’t rest well anymore, as these are some of the sickest patients I have ever worked with. I find myself reliving my shifts in my dreams, waking up anxious and soaked in sweat, trying to figure out what more I can do to help these patients.
Do you believe your education equipped you to be able to help the patients?
Absolutely! I wouldn’t be able to do my job without my knowledge from the Respiratory Program at Vol State. When going through school five years ago, I couldn’t imagine standing where I am now in this isolation unit, but it is because of my instructors that I can maneuver through each situation.
Do you feel like the hospital has given you all the equipment and safety precautions you need to keep you safe?
I feel like our facility has gone above and beyond to make sure we have the equipment and PPE that is needed. Our administrative team had a plan in place well before Tennessee had any COVID-19 cases. They were prepared to have certain areas of the hospital set up as negative pressure units so that the air would not cross-contaminate other areas of the facility. Having a plan early allowed us to be prepared for any potential scenarios.
Do you feel like the staff work in teams, and does that help you care for these very sick patients?
Our staff has always worked well as a team, but over the last two months everyone has taken teamwork to the next level. Everyone does things that aren’t necessarily in their typical daily duties, and that makes it easier to care for these patients, knowing you have these people to lean on when you need help.
Do you feel that your role is appreciated?
I 100% feel that my role is appreciated. I have worked with some of the nurses and doctors for years, but never as closely as I do now. I feel like my opinion matters when it comes to what we do and how we treat these patients. They help me where they can, and I help them - we are one cohesive unit.