what I am

I knew I wanted to help people, to be in healthcare. I remember being a small child, having medical textbooks and laypeople books on medicine taken away from me, because it was apparently somehow inappropriate for a child to be looking at electron microscopy photos of sperm and other such human structures. I ate all that I could find about medicine and such up. I have vivid memories of being a small child of less than 5 years old, desperately sad that I had lost my Fisher-Price medical kit. My mother always thought I would be a doctor, or somesuch. I chose respiratory therapy instead.

I remember being in the end of junior high school, the age when they made us take computer-based courses to see what we were most interested in. I didn’t need a computer based course to tell me what I was most suited to. I knew I wanted something medical, something with adrenaline, something exciting, something where I saved lives and fixed equipment and did a little bit of everything. I knew nursing was not it for me… I was not into the task-based system, I preferred very much to be thinking on my feet, solving problems, to be the one-of-a-few, the few like me.

I have worked in several different configurations. The one-of-none, the one-of-a-few, the long-term-care situation, the acute-care critical-care situation, the one-of-many, where I had years and years of experience to draw on, and the one-of-none, where it was just me, my pulse oximeter, my stethoscope and myself to survive throughout the weekend.

School, practicum, was gruelling and the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Officially the most difficult thing I’ve ever put myself through. That said, it was worth it, infinitely so, to be able to have the coolest job in the world.

I remember being a young kid — I didn’t understand the chest pain and shortness of breath that, to me, became associated with games of ‘tag’ and other things where I had to run (soccer, etc.) I grew to hate sports, gym class, all of these things, because I intimately associated them with chest tightness, burning sensations, a tight barky cough, the taste of blood, and feeling like I was going to die. I had a friend at the time who had asthma, and she encouraged me to get what she called an “asthma test.” I followed her instruction, and thus began my foray into the world of respiratory therapy.

My initial spirometry showed that I was indeed asthmatic, and that my parents’ claims that my distress had more to do with being “out of shape” than anything else were incorrect. I wanted to know, most of all, I wanted to know what else it was that they did not know, I wanted to know everything.

I joined a student shadowing program. I shadowed respiratory therapists. I found every single individual stitch of what they did completely fascinating. In the words of my supervisor, I “talked the talk”, and despite the fact I was being paid essentially minimum wage to restock gear, I was so happy I could have died.

I’m a few years out of school, but not so much as to be one of the 20- or 30-years-out crew that nothing ever flusters. I enjoy where I work, because the endless variety and complete independence I get kind of caters to my more cowboyish nature. I have been told by my manager (a nurse) that respiratory therapists tend to be introspective, self-analytical, very cognizant of their own failings, and 100% accountable. I don’t find this at all to be a bad reputation to have as a professional.

I enjoy my professionalism, my professional-ness. I enjoy having physicians come to me and ask me advice. I enjoy giving them advice, knowing that I (now) have the skills and ability to do so in a non-threatening non-intimidating fashion, to be able to teach the baby physicians, the noobiest of the noobs, to teach the nurses, to teach… really, whoever wants to learn. I love being able to show what it is that respiratory has to offer, that much as we may not come with eight or twelve year long university degrees, we do come with an incredible depth of knowledge, and we are more than willing to share.

I love being the ambassador of my craft. I find this to be a uniquely rewarding experience; helping professionals otherwise unfamiliar with what I do to understand that I am not here to usurp them, but rather, to offer guidance so that they may better perform their jobs.

I enjoy specializing. I enjoy being a specialist. I enjoy especially being a specialist in life support, specifically in ventilation, in this esoteric art that only an RT can appreciate. I enjoy, although less joyfully, the unique role I play in the ethical discussion of who is best suited to have their lives supported — to be a willing and robust participant in what is uniquely both the extending of life, and the prolonging of death.

I hope to blog in this place once a week, if not more. I hope to share my stories and the stories of friends like me, the stories of other respiratory therapists, the stories of the (arguably) most unknown health profession on earth. I hope to share the perils and pearls and pitfalls, the ethics and ethos, the ideology, the guiding principles, the heart and soul of the respiratory therapist.

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