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Respiratory Therapists Work Their Way up China's Occupation List amid Epidemic

Pub Date:20-04-14 09:02 Source:Xinhua

HEFEI, April 13 (Xinhua) -- Wan Lei realized, now more than ever, the vital role of his job to people's health. As a respiratory therapist, he has provided care and treatment for over 200 patients suffering from breathing difficulties in Wuhan, battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Doctor, please save me," a patient typed a sentence on her phone before she was intubated, the placement of a breathing tube into her airway. COVID-19 infects the lungs of patients and causes respiratory problems. This is where ventilators come into help.

"She grabbed my hand and desperately looked at me," said Wan, the 32-year-old respiratory therapist from the First Affiliated Hospital of Anhui Medical University in east China.

Wan has been on the frontline fighting against the epidemic over the past two months since he was dispatched on Jan. 27 to Wuhan to aid health workers there.

Caring for patients relying on ventilators is a complicated job. It takes a trained respiratory therapist to determine the appropriate ventilator settings based on the patient's breathing needs.

"We need to keep a close eye on the patient and the ventilator screen around the clock and adjust the settings according to the patient's condition," Wan said.

Patients are typically sent to intensive care units (ICU) alone. Respiratory therapists like Wan have to provide them with both medical and daily care, including cleaning the body, trimming nails, and more.

During a night shift, Wan received an elder patient who was having difficulties breathing.

"The patient kept coughing, but nothing came out. I advised him to take a deep breath, hold it for two seconds, and then cough. He coughed up a lot of phlegm that night," Wan wrote in his diary.

Respiratory therapist is a relatively new profession in China, whose work was usually undertaken by physicians or nurses in most hospitals before.

However, the group was brought into spotlight during the epidemic outbreak when specialists were needed to operate these sophisticated machines that pump oxygen into patients' lungs.

"There are no more than 100 professional respiratory therapists in Anhui Province. The total number in China is also small as it's a new profession," said Wan. "But in recent years, more and more people are taking professional training in this field."

He did not become a professional respiratory therapist until he finished a six-month training program at Beijing Chaoyang Hospital in 2018.

During the training, he had courses that teach how air flows through tubes and what happens when that flow of air meets a blockage such as mucus in a breathing passage. He also learned how to sterilize various parts of ventilators and fine-tune settings according to a patient's needs.

All of these techniques came in handy after he arrived in Wuhan. Besides caring for patients at the ICU of Jinyintan Hospital, he also helped other medical workers adjust ventilator settings and solve technical problems.

Whenever he had time, he would explain the theories and operations of different respiratory devices to his colleagues.

"There are different ventilators. Some nurses are familiar with one particular type, but not so much with others," said Wan.

According to the Ministry of Industry and Technology Information, nearly 17,000 ventilators had been sent to Hubei Province, mostly its capital Wuhan, as of March 3.

In March, China added 16 occupations, including respiratory therapists, to its national occupation list, bringing to light the valuable contributions they make in the fight against COVID-19. This could also lead to more career opportunities for the group.

During his 64 days in Wuhan, Wan cared for three to five critically ill patients per day. No one died under his treatment.

"Wuhan is a city of heroes, and I am proud to have fought for the city," Wan said.


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