LEXINGTON, Ky. (University of Kentucky) — Shelby Martin is a wife and mom of three kids.
She wears those titles proudly — her family has always come first —but in this new age of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, she’s finding her definition of “family” is expanding, even under scary and overwhelming circumstances.
Martin’s other title is that of registered respiratory therapist. She has worked for UK HealthCare (UKHC) for 20 years. She is part of a team of respiratory therapists who are on the frontlines battling this disease. They help to treat some of the sickest patients — specifically those who have trouble breathing, a common symptom of COVID-19.
“We have been seeing some patients’ breathing start to deteriorate around day five,” Martin said. “It happens quickly, so we have to monitor their oxygen closely.”
As a registered respiratory therapist, Martin administers oxygen therapy and, when necessary, nebulizers medications directly to the lungs to help a person breathe. She is also trained to assist with intubating patients, which allows them to be placed on a ventilator — something Martin helps to set up and maintain.
Right now, Martin said the hospital is only allowing a registered nurse and a respiratory therapist into patient rooms.
“We are an essential part of the team, working shoulder to shoulder with nurses and doctors,” she said. “We are the first ones doctors call on when they need advice on how to help patients who are really struggling.”
While Martin’s role as a registered respiratory therapist is critical, she has quickly discovered that her role in helping COVID-19 patients extends far beyond her training.
“We have to be able to be there for these patients and their families,” she said. “It is so difficult but necessary that these patients fight this disease away from their loved ones. This is where we step in — we become their family so that they are not alone.”
It’s a stressful and emotional time for health care professionals — you can hear it in Martin’s voice as she shares stories of praying with patients, even holding their hands for comfort.
“This is why I do this job. I love to help people,” she said. “I can look the patient in the eye and tell them that I’m here for them and that we’re going to do everything possible to give them the best care so that they can eventually go back home to their family.”
She credits her family at home and her family of colleagues at the hospital for supporting each other through this.
“We have a great team at UK. We come together as a team and we remind each other each and every day that we’re going to get through this together,” Martin said.