I am your respiratory therapist

by John Bottrell Health Professional

Hello. I am your respiratory therapist. You can call me Rick. In the blogosphere, we refer to ourselves simply as RTs. For Asthma Central, I plan on sharing with you my asthma experiences and wisdom not just as a lifelong asthmatic, but as an RT who works with asthmatics for a living. My experiences will also be comic strips about asthma drawn by cartoonist Dash Shaw.

You can see the first one here.

Now, you ask, what is an RT, and what's an RT have to do with asthma?

Good questions.

Chances are, unless you have visited my place of employment -- your local hospital -- because you were having trouble breathing, you do not know what an RT is or does.
To make a long explanation short, I'm the guy in the white lab coat who gives the breathing treatments that give many asthmatics almost instant relief from an asthma attack.

That's right. When you are laboring, when you feel as though you can't take half a breath, when you start feeling panicked, your RT is the one you most want to see -- that's me.

You come into the ER with breathing trouble. I am usually the first person your nurse will page, even before the doctor, because I have the "magic medicine." As soon as I get the page, I rush down and greet you at your bedside. I empathize with my asthmatic patients because I grew up as an asthmatic, many times in need of an RT. Now I am the RT, ready to return the favor.

In my hand is a plastic bag with some parts in it and oxygen tubing.
"Hi, I'm Rick from respiratory therapy," I say, "Are you having trouble breathing?"
It's a rhetorical question, because I can clearly see you ARE having trouble breathing. You sit on the edge of the bed with your palms pressed down on either side of the bed, your arms fully extended and your shoulders hunched high as you struggle to exhale. Your lips are blue, your face pale.

"I... can't... breath..." you gasp.
"Have you ever had a breathing treatment before?" I ask as I rip the bag open and set the contents on the bedside table. I fumble with them a minute as I piece together a nebulizer, which looks like a futuristic peace pipe.
"No," you say.

I reach deep into my pocket and pull out a vial of medicine, rip open the top, and squeeze the contents into the cup of the nebulizer, hook the oxygen tubing to it, plug the other end of the tubing to a flowmeter and the device hisses and bubbles to life, producing a fine white mist.
I hand the device to you.

"This is a breathing treatment. Put it in your mouth, clench it between your teeth, and breathe normal. If you're having bronchospasms, this should help you feel better in no time."

You grab the peace pipe and click the white, plastic mouthpiece into your mouth and attempt an inhalation. A full breath does not come. Your breaths are short and choppy.
"Concentrate on your breathing. There's a magic mist in here called Albuterol, which I often refer to as All-betterol. It relaxes your lung muscles. It usually works pretty fast," I say.

You watch the mist disappear into the blue corrugated tubing as you breathe in, and it billows through the room as you exhale. With each breath, you're able to breathe a little deeper.

I just stand there looking cool. You might even think I'm bored after I take your pulse, listen to your lungs, and then watch you breathe on your peace pipe.
Suddenly you are able to take in a deep breath. "Oh, man, this feels good," you say. You take in another deep breath, and another. A feeling of euphoria rushes through you. You look at me, "This really is a magic mist."

Never again will you NOT KNOW what an RT is. I gave you your breath back. I get a sense of pride knowing I have the ability to help someone catch his breath. This is one of the greatest parts of my job.

But it doesn't always go so well. In the rare instances my magic mist doesn't help you breathe instantly, I may need to give you a second treatment, and maybe even a third. Perhaps you will need to be admitted. In which case, I will be seeing you often. I will visit you at least every four hours for your regularly scheduled peace pipe. And, if your breathing gets worse, I will stand by your side until you are able to breathe again.
That's my job; that's what I do.

When you feel better, you might say "I will never take breathing for granted again" But you will take breathing for granted again. At some point you'll be feeling so good that you will forget you have asthma, and you will do something you know you shouldn't, like clean a dusty closet, or work on a project in a dark and musty corner of your Michigan basement, or you will go visit your Aunt Clara who has six dogs and four cats, all of which you know you are allergic to.

And, hours later, you will start feeling tight. You will take a hit of your rescue inhaler. And, if that doesn't work, you will have to pay a visit to your local ER, where your local RT is hiding out in his RT cave ready to take care of you when you arrive.
"You forgot you have asthma, hey," I say as I trudge into your room with my nebulizer ready to go, plugged in and producing the magic mist you are now familiar with, which sounds like steam escaping from a radiator.
"How...did...you...know?" you gasp.
"I know because I was in your shoes once. I have asthma too." I hand you the misting neb. "Yep. And I will tell you from first hand experience that it's easy to forget you have asthma when you are feeling good. Take in a deep breath." I listen to your lungs with my stethoscope.

After several minutes, you say, "Well, that's exactly what I did. I forgot I had asthma."
At your request, I provide you with a dose of knowledge about asthma. You are impressed at how much expertise I have on the subject. Personally, I'm impressed with you for taking an interest in learning about your disease.

As I once was forced to do, I am confident that you will go home and do your own research on your disease so you can learn for yourself that while there is no cure for asthma, it can be controlled with the right preventative medicines and the right doctor. And while you might consider me the asthma expert right now, sooner or later, as you continue to research this disease, YOU will become an asthma expert too by your asthma experience and wisdom alone.

So, I am your RT. I hope you don't need my services. But if you do, I'll be here waiting with my vials of All-betterol.

John Bottrell
Meet Our Writer
John Bottrell

John Bottrell is a registered Respiratory Therapist. He wrote for HealthCentral as a health professional for Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).