From left, Martha Durling, Cindy Thompson and Jill Aucoin work on MGH's respiratory therapist team.
From left, Martha Durling, Cindy Thompson and Jill Aucoin work on MGH's respiratory therapist team.

Insights from the frontlines: Three respiratory therapists share their experience providing care at MGH during the pandemic

Michael Garron Hospital’s (MGH) pandemic response involves all members of our workforce, including a dedicated team of respiratory therapists (RT) who have worked steadily since March to treat patients with COVID-19, an infectious disease that affects the respiratory system.

Working throughout the hospital in areas such as the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and Emergency Department (ED) with a variety of patients, they perform high-risk procedures, such as intubation, that involve potential droplet transmission and the chance of COVID-19 infection. They’ve also had to navigate rapidly changing data and literature about the virus so they can provide the most up-to-date, evidence-based care for patients.

It’s been a challenging and unprecedented task. However, MGH’s RT team, who work 24 hours a day, has come together to support not just their patients but one another. Below, three RTs share their experience providing care during the pandemic at MGH.

Martha Durling

Martha Durling, respiratory therapist

“I graduated from a respiratory therapist program in Calgary earlier this year. My role at MGH is my first full-time job in the field; I started in April during the peak of the pandemic. Being a new grad, it was a little scary at first because, during school and your practicum, you always have someone by your side. So I had these thoughts of ‘Will I know how to do this when I’m on my own? Will I know how to react in certain circumstances?’

Fortunately, I can say I do know — and with the help of the other RTs at MGH, I’ve learned so much during my time here so far. There was one instance where I had to call a Protected Code Blue while I was working in the ICU and I didn’t even hesitate. It was almost like instinct. That was a big moment for me because I knew all my training had paid off.  

The patient that I called the Protected Code Blue for later thanked me for saving their life. That, combined with seeing patients you’ve helped recovering from COVID-19 and being able to go home, is so rewarding. It’s moments like those that remind me why I do the job that I do.”

Jill Aucoin

Jill Aucoin, registered respiratory therapist

“I’d describe the past few months as stressful and emotional. Stressful because we basically had to unlearn much of the infection prevention and control (IPAC) and personal protective equipment (PPE) protocols we were used to depending on the evolving situation and our supply of PPE.

We had to quickly adjust our procedures so we could keep ourselves and our patients safe while, in the early days, ensuring there was enough PPE for the team. I’ve been a RT at MGH for 21 years so it definitely required a shift in mindset.

The experience has also been emotional because, even though we’re providing the best care we can provide, you feel helpless at some points. You’re doing everything you can for the patient but, in some circumstances, it’s not enough. And that can be hard.

But it’s also been emotional in another way: seeing my colleagues stepping up and facing the fear of the unknown. They’re tough and they’re dedicated and it’s been inspiring to see them at work. Everyone — patients and loved ones and the healthcare workers — has worked together to get through this.”

Cindy Thompson

Cindy Thompson, registered respiratory therapist

“I worked during SARS so I was really, really apprehensive at the start of the pandemic. But the updates about PPE and the situation surrounding COVID-19 we’ve consistently received from our leadership and IPAC teams has been fantastic. I’ve been very pleased with the communication, especially in the early days when the circumstances were always changing. I think getting those updates really prepared us to do our jobs and to do them well.

I work mostly in the ICU where I’ve helped manage some of our sickest patients who tested positive for COVID-19. It takes a whole team of nurses, respiratory therapists and support staff to look after these patients and to monitor their condition. It’s truly a team effort. And it’s amazing when all your efforts pay off — when all the hard work your team does leads to a positive outcome and a patient is able to recover and go home.

The support the respiratory therapist team has received has also been paramount to our success. My colleagues and I always work together and we make sure to support one another if, for example, someone is having a hard time. We talk through it and make sure that we can pull together to help one another.”

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