Patrick Houston and Krithika Balasubramaniam
Patrick Houston and Krithika Balasubramaniam, MGH respiratory therapists

"This is what we signed up for" - Respiratory therapists at the centre of COVID-19

Patrick Houston and Krithika Balasubramaniam, respiratory therapists at Michael Garron Hospital share their emotions, how they and their colleagues have prepared for COVID-19 and why they are confident in the strength of their team.

Ventilators are in high demand during the current COVID-19 health crisis, and so are the respiratory therapists who operate them.

Respiratory therapists are responsible for caring for anyone who has breathing issues in the hospital (whether they are non-invasively or mechanically ventilated), with the goal to oxygenate, ventilate and ultimately wean a patient off so they can breathe on their own. Serving all patient populations, respiratory therapists work literally everywhere in the hospital – including the ICU, Emergency Department and Special Care Nursery – and their skills are at the centre of the COVID-19 crisis. 

Patrick Houston, respiratory therapist at Michael Garron Hospital is honest about the challenge he and his team is facing over the next few months.

“We have been identified as one of the highest risk teams here at the hospital,” says Patrick. “We’re involved in all the intubations, and work directly with people who have COVID-19.” 

Understandably he and his team feel a great deal of anxiety.

"The emotional stress can feel overwhelming at times," says Krithika Balasubramaniam, respiratory therapist. "It's incredibly important to take care of ourselves, as well as each other, so we can provide the best care possible to our patients." 

But both Patrick and Krithika are confident in the strength of their team. 

"Our team is our biggest strength, and we will get through this pandemic together," says Krithika. 

"We talk regularly with each other to help alleviate fears and anxieties,” says Patrick. “If there’s anything positive to be drawn from this situation, I would say that it has pulled our whole team together. We work really well together and we’ve all got each others’ backs. Because ultimately we want the same thing for ourselves and our patients – to get through this situation with no long-term ill effects.”

The respiratory therapist team has spent the past few weeks preparing for the challenge, partnering with the hospital leadership team, the Respiratory Therapy Clinical Resource Leader, physician partners and Infection Prevention and Control.

“We’ve been practicing protected code blues, mock codes and intubations involving Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and how to do it safely,” he says. “Our goal is to minimize transition to the entire health team. Our biggest worry is that we see a situation like that in Italy or in the United States, so we are doing everything to prevent that.”

The respiratory therapist team also participated in a two-hour workshop to prepare to care for and anticipate the unique needs of COVID-19 patients.

Despite the incredible challenge Patrick and his colleagues face, he is confident in the strength of his team and the medical staff at Michael Garron Hospital.

“The resilience our team has shown as they rise up to the challenge is incredible. Everyone is coming into work and ready to face it, despite our apprehension. It’s the old cliché: this is what we signed up for. Everyone is ready to go.”