February 13, 2009, 7:32 pm

A Shout Out to Respiratory Therapists: When You Absolutely, Positively Have to Breathe!


Dilaudid for cough?

And all this time I was taking guaifenesin.

Now that I think about it, there shouldn’t be any coughing within 20 miles of my department, I think we’ve dispensed enough Dilaudid to genetically alter the need to ever cough! Just kidding. Really.


Everything I know about airways, lungs, breathing, bagging and respirators I learned from respiratory therapists.

Oh, I had a little theory in school. I knew we had lungs. I knew that if we did not breathe we would die and that the “B” of “ABC” meant “breathing”.

Okay, I knew a little more than that.

Enough to know what I did not know.

And that’s where my respiratory therapist colleagues came in.


It was an RT who taught me about PEEP and CPAP.

The best way to suction.

What exactly an ABG meant in relation to the patient we were caring for.

How to trouble shoot a ventilator alarm.

I was pretty green when I started my nursing career.

Oh yeah, and I learned green sputum was not a good sign.


It was an RT who watched me proudly push atropine on a patient and then calmly asked if I would like him to circulate it for me.

Yes, please!

Then again, it was an RT who described, in detail, the interesting sputum a patient was producing. Sputum that mirrored the clam chowder we were eating at the nurses’ station (those were the old days, we could do that).

A description I can remember to this day. In detail.



I really began to appreciate respiratory therapists when I had to “become” one.

I was used to calling the RT whenever my patients required a breathing treatment. When my ER was moving from a full-service ER to a stand-by status, our RT staff transferred to the acute care facility.

We were now the respiratory therapists. We did the treatments, the peak flow measurements and the pre and post treatment assessments.

Basic stuff, yes.

But I realized how much work the “basics” took, how much encouragement patients required as they tried to work through the anxiety of air hunger during their treatment. How important it was to give the simple, but correct instructions to obtain a peak flow reading.

And I learned to appreciate the subtle changes in patients’ responses to treatment.


So here’s a shout out to respiratory therapists – those sputum specialists, airway activists, ventilator victors, wheeze whackers and stridor strikers.

We breathe easier because you’re around.


  • Black Cloud ER Tech

    February 14, 2009 at 5:54 pm

    Another fantastic post about an unsung hero of the ER and hospital. Just like a good ER Tech (last months post), a good RT will save the day. I absolutly love the RT’s at my facility. They are quick, professional, and most importantly, great with the patients, both on the treatment and education sides… and they graciously replace our empty O2 tanks, restock ABG kits, Bag Valve Masks, etc. As for the comment about educating staff, I have learned so much from them, which has allowed me to expand my knowledge and better my patient care. I dont know what we would do without them! From all of us down in the ER… Thanks!!!

  • Mike

    February 15, 2009 at 5:04 am

    Never heard of Dilaudid for a cough but in just the right amount it will make the cough go away. It will stop breathing too, but…

    I have to agree that a good RT is invaluable. By the way, my favorite antitussive in the ER are lidocaine nebs. It works quite well.

  • Strong One

    February 15, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    Some of the best co-workers I ever had the pleasure of working with were RT’s. And yes, what I learned from them was invaluable.
    Great Post!

  • Nurse K

    February 15, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    All narcotics are cough suppressants…Don’t your docs write for Codeine-Guaifenesin?

About Me

My name is Kim, and I'm a nurse in the San Francisco Bay area. I've been a nurse for 33 years; I graduated in 1978 with my ADN. My experience is predominately Emergency and Critical Care, and I have also worked in Psychiatry and Pediatrics. I made the decision to be a nurse back in 1966 at the age of nine...

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