The novel coronavirus is clearly the most deadly contagion the world has been faced with since the Spanish Flu of 1918-1919. But it isn’t the first terrifying contagion to hit in the modern era. Ebola, SARS, MERS, and even some of the recent influenza strains have put hospitals and their caregivers on edge.
Probably the most anxiety-producing threat came in the early 1980s, though, when patients began falling severely ill with a new and as yet poorly understood condition that would be labeled “AIDS.”
Brave new world
Roslyn Redwine Martin, RRT, had just entered the profession when she encountered her first patient who tested positive for the new disease. It was an experience she believes echoes the current crisis she and her colleagues are facing with COVID-19.
“I had only been in the field for a short time,” recalled the 37-year veteran of the profession. The patient came in with a diagnosis of pneumonia, but the usual treatments provided for pneumonia patients didn’t help. Doctors decided to test him for HIV.
“The results were positive,” Martin said. “We were not prepared. The hospital was not prepared.”
It was a brave new world, but with a patient in need they knew they would have to find a way. So, she and her fellow caregivers donned gowns, gloves, and what they termed at the time as “heavy duty masks” and forged ahead. Entering the patient’s room required them to go through a zipped-up plastic makeshift door.
“It was all new to us,” she said. Just as hospitals are doing now with COVID-19, they had to trial different approaches to care to find out how to best treat their patients.
Energy and resolve
They weathered the storm, and so did she.
“As a young RT, it was scary, but not to the point of wanting to quit,” said Martin, who today serves as pulmonary lab team leader at Methodist Dallas Medical Center in Dallas, TX.
“It made me more determined to do my best to help my patients — especially those who are gripped with fear and uncertainty.”
Martin believes health professionals possess a special resilience and dedication that allows them to persevere in times of high stress, and she is confident she and her colleagues will weather the COVID-19 storm as well. She tries to share her own experiences with younger RTs to help them put the current crisis in some perspective, and she works to exhibit a positive demeanor and be a source of encouragement to the patients and families she encounters.
“I currently work with the most amazing group of RTs, nurses, other health professionals, and leaders,” she said. “You can see the energy and resolve exhibited daily to do the best for our patients during these uncertain COVID-19 times. Our mission is to help those in need, to serve willingly, and be a light for those we meet.”