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Respiratory Therapist signs on to help New York hospital at peak of pandemic

June 8, 2020
Respiratory Therapist signs on to help New York hospital at peak of pandemic

What makes a Respiratory Therapist leave home, family and a comfortable job to join forces with other health care professionals in the fight against the deadly forces of COVID-19.  The deep conviction of serving others and the willingness to sacrifice a great deal to fulfill that tenet. “Wherever it was hitting the hardest, I knew that I would go there,” says Evan Blansfield, 2018 graduate of SJVC’s Respiratory Therapy program in Visalia, CA.

That hotspot of infection turned out to be New York City. “I wanted to be in the epicenter of everything that was going on,” says Evan, who connected with a healthcare recruiting service to orchestrate his temporary employment application for a traveling worker assignment. He finalized the paperwork on a Wednesday and flew to New York three days later. “It was sign and, bam, on a plane, he remembers.”

Evan’s wife, Courtney, and their four young children gave their full support to his commitment to help his fellow caregivers and the community they were struggling to serve. The Veteran’s Affairs hospital in Mississippi where Evan works as a Registered Respiratory Therapist would hold his position.

It was early-April and the pandemic was still hitting hard in New York City and the surrounding areas. Nothing prepared Evan for the dynamics of a hospital pressed beyond capacity, equipment provisions, work hours and stress levels. It was clear on his first day at NYU Langone Hospital that he was in a war zone and must rely heavily on what he knew and how quickly he could put that knowledge and experience into life-saving action.

“There was no time to receive a normal orientation; you were put into the hospital system and assigned to a floor,” says Evan. Medical professionals were spread thin and every patient displaying CoVid symptoms was considered an emergency. Rooms were modified to expand Intensive Care to over 300-beds. “At the peak they were pretty much full, with patients on ventilators – and that’s a whole lot of ventilators running at the same time.”

Medical staff shortage was an ongoing challenge. “There was no planning a schedule, you just take it as it comes,” says Evan. “You determine what needs to be done that moment, adjust your priorities in a split second and get on to the next patient. Everything is moving a lot quicker and you have to be flexible.”

Long 12-hour shifts spent exclusively treating CoVid patients absorbed Evan’s mind, body and spirit. The noise of ventilators was a constant reminder to him that he was at the forefront of an historic event. “After the first couple of weeks I was dreaming about setting up equipment and ventilators, hearing alarms everywhere I went,” he says. “So now the silence (of his hotel room) is pretty nice.”

Important pieces of Evan’s education and training in SJVC’s Respiratory Therapy program came forward. “The instructors I had were good at making me think; and those critical thinking skills have been extremely beneficial to me since I’ve graduated and been working as a Respiratory Therapist.”

Critical thinking becomes even more important in an emergency environment during a pandemic. “My instructors would always say, ‘We can plan and go over a lot of scenarios, but eventually you will come onto something that you haven’t studied before, and it will be that fundamental knowledge that will help you troubleshoot and get through that unique situation’.”

Evan is glad to have those insights to add to the professional skills he brings to this extraordinary opportunity to help so many.

NYU Langone Hospital relied heavily on traveling health care workers during the peak of the virus. “The health care staff wouldn’t have been able to manage it without the staff they’ve brought in from all over,” says Evan. “For the Respiratory Therapy department more than 50% are travelers or temps.”

Evan was a little surprised that so many answered the same call he heard that inspired him to leap to the front lines of a threat that could pull them all into the pit without return. “Many were older health care workers who kind of put their fears aside to try to do what’s best for their country or their fellow Americans.”

There was evidence of appreciation all around them as they spent long days standing between life and death for so many. The kindness of strangers was evident. “All day, every day there is food being brought to the hospital, so it’s pretty easy to find a meal when donated food is sitting in every break room of the hospital,” says Evan. “There are offers from hotels for housing for medical professionals. A lot of people are very grateful for what’s being done.”

If any further evidence is needed, one only has to wait for 7:00 PM each evening when the whole world seems to give ‘voice’ to a melodic ‘thank you’. “Everyone is out on their balcony cheering for the health care workers. And not just health care workers, but for all the people trying to recover from the sickness and from the loss. But I think America has a hold of that, too. When something goes bad, they band together.”

Whatever each day brought Evan felt ready to handle it. “I found out I was fully capable of fulfilling my job,” he says. His 9-years in the military combined with his Respiratory Therapy program education and recent work experience, gave him the professional and emotional resources needed to push forward. “The military gave me a variety of experiences to come into this and not be shaken too much.”

The last couple of weeks in May brought a reprieve in the number of incoming patients who tested positive for CoVid. The hospital pace is more manageable, and supplies are more readily replenished. “Our PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) has been better than I expected,” says Evan. “There’s always gowns, masks, face shields. The only thing different than what is normal is our N-95 masks that we have to use for a week or until they break before we are given a new one.”

Those patients who show signs of recovery and are weaned from heavy sedation and taken off a ventilator, may feel confused at first. “Most don’t remember anything from the hospital stay, which is probably a good thing,” says Evan. “At that point when they are fully awake and alert, they’re just appreciative to be alive.”

There are many who are not given that chance to return to the lives they so recently enjoyed. “There are still plenty of people who are dying from this,” says Evan. “If we see it’s not going the way you want it to go, family is called in to say their good-byes and we let them be by themselves.”

Evan has fulfilled his contract of medical service to the people of New York. He is going home. “I am ready to see my family,” he says simply. “Compared to where I live, New York is an opposite world. But the hospital is a better place and I feel comfortable leaving.”

Evan accepts the sacrifices he and his family made for him to lend his expertise to a community’s dire medical support need. “Most of it is a blur, and I’m just starting to accumulate more memories,” he says. He will have many years to slow down the tape of his days at the center of one of America’s greatest threats.

He would be very reluctant to alter that well-intentioned path. “My only regret is that I didn’t get there sooner.”

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