My Fellow RTs,
I don’t typically write my own section in RTSO Airwaves but given the current circumstances I felt that perhaps it was appropriate to do so. For the first time in over a month I’ve actually taken a moment to pause, to reflect on the events of the past two months and to really try to absorb exactly what it means to be an RT in the throes of a pandemic. As I reflect on everything, I realize how grateful I am for the existence of our profession and the importance of the RTSO.
I became an RT so that I could help people breathe. I have asthma and as a child I was hospitalized multiple times for everything ranging from status asthmaticus to pneumonia and even a pneumothorax for good measure. When I wasn’t in the hospital as a patient, I was often there visiting my father. He spent a good portion of my early childhood hospitalized for a then undiagnosed interstitial lung disease that ended up being Berylliosis; a condition that he is still managing today compounded with multiple additional medical issues secondary to over 30 years of prednisone usage.
When I look at a patient struggling to breathe, it’s a very visceral response that leads me to want to react, to help and to make things better. It’s a trait that I see in many of my colleagues and part of being an RT. It’s also a trait that often sets us apart from other professions. I once heard a colleague Tom Piraino refer to RTs as “the fixers”. He used it in the context of incident reporting to point out that we often don’t think to file safety reports because it’s second nature to us to go about our day solving problems, not realizing the magnitude of the potential safety hazard that we just resolved. It was this very thought that came to mind yesterday when I walked into the emergency department to see a colleague standing in an airborne isolation room with a blue pad taped to his face shield as a makeshift barrier to protect his neck for a possible intubation or cricothyrotomy. My mind then wandered to a message I had received earlier in the week from a colleague at another site who had needed to advocate for the right to wear a face shield during an intubation of a query COVID patient, and then to the various emails that are floating around asking for suggestions for extubation techniques and 3D printing patterns; examples of RTs stepping up in less than ideal conditions to do their best to protect themselves while continuing to care for the patients who need us the most.
The truth of the matter is that our profession is at the forefront of this pandemic. You can purchase ten thousand planes to evacuate an island but without the pilots to operate the planes safely you are putting every single passenger at risk. We are the “pilots” of the ventilators in Ontario; the highly specialized clinicians who have the knowledge, skill and judgment to safely and effectively manage the respiratory care of these patients.
As the President Elect of the RTSO, it is my privilege to work with the rest of the RTSO Board Members as well as the CRTO to ensure that the Ontario Ministry of Health is aware of the needs, challenges and concerns currently being faced by RTs throughout the province. We are not as big as the RNAO, ONA or the OMA but we are important and our concerns are real. We are also in constant communication with the CSRT who are advocating for the needs and concerns of the RTs at the Federal level.
Without you the RTSO does not have a voice. Without your membership, we cannot say that we represent the interests of the RTs in Ontario. Without your messages, emails and participation in our Town Halls and webinars we do not have a sense of the challenges being faced by RTs across the province. Without your expertise and willingness to share your experiences, accomplishments and lessons learned, we cannot grow as a profession and work together to effectively manage these patients and the challenges surrounding staffing, PPE and resource limitations.
While I cannot define what it means to be an RT during this unprecedented time of uncertainty, I can most certainly say that I am grateful. I am grateful to all of you for everything that you do every day for your patients, your community and your profession. Thank you for your engagement, for your openness to share your challenges and success and for your ability to wade through the media and internet noise to advocate for evidenced-based practices. Most of all, thank you for reaching out to help the RTSO understand how we can help and support you during this pandemic.
We are here with you and we will continue to advocate for your needs and work to answer your questions. You are not alone.
Take care and be safe.
Kelly Hassall, RRT FCSRT MEd
RTSO President Elect