As the entire nation continues to grapple with the growing coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, respiratory therapist Chase Parker has had an up-close-and-personal view of the pandemic in Houston.
“I can tell you that COVID-19 has drastically changed our daily routine,” he says. “Before we can even enter the hospital building, we must have a temperature check and be screened.”
Parker, who works at Memorial Hermann Hospital in the Emergency Center and ICU, has been on the front lines this spring, treating patients daily for the virus.
Respiratory therapists typically care for patients who have trouble breathing from a chronic respiratory disease, such as asthma or emphysema, Parker explains. “Patients can range from premature infants with undeveloped lungs to elderly patients who have diseased lungs. We also provide emergency care to patients suffering from heart attacks, drownings, or shock.”
But Parker, who is gay, has been treating all age groups since the pandemic began last month.
“The healthcare system as a whole is doing the best they can to try and eliminate the spread of the virus.”
“Patients that now come in for shortness of breath are automatically treated as if they have the coronavirus,” he says. “It is for our safety, and the safety of other patients as well. They are placed in a negative-pressure room for those with suspected airborne diseases. The air from that room does not mix with the regular air circulating in the hospital.”
COVID-19, which causes a respiratory illness similar to the flu, has symptoms such as a cough, fever, and, in more severe instances, difficulty breathing. It spreads primarily through contact with an infected person when they cough or sneeze. It can also spread when a person touches a surface that has the virus on it and then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth.
Because the virus is extremely contagious, the concept of social distancing is the best option to avoid getting infected, Parker notes. “I feel that social distancing will work and has helped some, but not completely. You will always have those rebellious individuals who are not going to follow guidelines that have been set. We need to be a little less selfish. I know it is frustrating with things closing and having to be isolated, but know that this will not last forever.”
Although the COVID-19 has rapidly taken hold of the entire world, the healthcare system is stepping up to deal with the severe circumstances, Parker says.
“I feel that the healthcare system as a whole is doing the best they can to try and eliminate the spread of the virus. Although we cannot completely prevent the spread, I feel that all the efforts are helping.”
Hospital management is also trying to help him and other staff members by giving them several breaks and offering other de-stressing options. “The hospital offers us stuff like ten-minute chair massages,” he says. “Things that we can do to just get away from all the craziness for a few moments. They are really trying to do the best they can, considering the circumstances.”
While he and his colleagues had the supplies and respirators needed to help treat patients late last month, those supplies might not last forever, Parker explains.
“We have the supplies that we need, although we may run out soon if the community doesn’t take this seriously and follow the guidelines set by community leaders. It is a collaborative effort. We have to be selfless people to help stop the spread.”
The goal of flattening the curve, or reducing the projected number of new cases over a period of time, is to avoid having new cases occur all at once and overwhelming the hospitals.
It is imperative that people stay home and do not go to hospitals unless they need emergency care, Parker notes.
“Stay at home. Do not overcrowd the emergency rooms. Only visit the hospital if you have a serious threat to life or limb. It is far too busy, and you are more likely to catch the virus at the hospital than anywhere else you visit.”
Now, more than ever, the country needs to come together to help stop the spread of the COVID-19 and take care of each other, Parker says.
“We can do this. We have to. It will help slow the virus. And if we collaborate, we can get back to normal sooner rather than later. Please, just stay at home!”
This article appears in the April 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.