ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - It’s all hands on deck when it comes to caring for COVID-19 patients.
COVID-19 infections can heavily affect a person's lungs.
Because those are the organs respiratory therapists work with, doctors and nurses are turning to them for more support these days.
Emma Mims is a charge respiratory therapist at Phoebe in Albany.
She said her profession plays a critical role in helping coronavirus patients breathe.
"I think we've come much more to the forefront, where everybody really recognizes what we are and who we are," Mims said. "Anything that has to do with the lungs, we're involved."
Some critically sick patients with COVID-19 have to go on ventilators, a machine that helps them breathe.
“I don’t think a lot of people understand, that ventilator that is keeping people alive is run by people like me,” she said. “If we do something called a terminal extubation, it’s us and whoever that nurse is for that patient, that is there at the very end, that takes the tube out and turns the machine off.”
Mims said that those moments, and the days she has seen several patient pass away, back to back, weigh on her.
"It's hard for us just like it is for the nursing staff to sit there and talk to these families all the time and to see them lose a loved one or to lose a daughter or son, or a mother or father, and try to offer any little bit of comfort you possibly can," she said.
With some COVID-19 patients staying in the hospital for weeks at a time, Mims said that is easy to get attached to them.
"Even when you're off, you're still thinking about how Ms. So and So is doing, or how Mr. So and So is doing," Mims said. "The first thing you think about when you get back to work that next day is, 'how are they doing? Are they okay? Is everything okay? Have they still made it?' You're invested."
With isolation protocols and efforts to expose as few people as possible to the virus, Mims said respiratory therapists have picked up extra duties that aren't necessarily in their job descriptions.
She said they will do anything to help.
"We've done everything from acting as a nursing assistant to acting as physical therapy, occupational therapy, anything that we can possibly do," she said. "Anything from giving baths to helping with blood sugars or lab draws."
But one of the most difficult things she’s dealt with has been the separation from her 3-year-old son.
“He doesn’t understand why he can’t hug me or touch me or just be next to me like he used to be able to,” Mims said.
When she gets home after work, Mims said she tries to get inside the house without her son and husband seeing her, so she has time to sanitize herself to protect them.
Her husband keeps her son in a different part of the house when she gets home.
“About a month ago, when we were really in the thick of it, he got away from my husband and he saw me, and he ran up to me to hug me,” she said. “I just said, ‘no, don’t touch me!’ And that broke my heart, seeing him be so upset, not understanding why he couldn’t touch me.”
However, she and other health care workers have said that some of the redeeming moments in this battle come when a patient gets well enough to come off the ventilator.
Mims described it as the best thing in the world.
“Being one of the people that actually gets to pull that tube out and hear you say your first words in the first time in weeks is amazing,” she said. “It’s awesome to see these people once they realize that, and we take them off the ventilator and we take the tube out, and they’re able to vocalize for the first time in weeks. Just seeing the sheer happiness on their face and saying that ‘hey, this is, this is okay. I’m gonna make it.’ Them telling you, ‘I remember your voice. I remember hearing you talk to me. Your voice sounds so familiar to me. Thank you for talking to me when you didn’t think I was there because I was here and I was trying to focus on your voice and trying to listen to you.’ That’s a feeling that I don’t think a lot of people outside of our situation will ever get to experience.”
Mims said she doesn't think life will ever go back to the "normal" we were used to before the COVID-19 pandemic.