Trau·ma  Junk· ie  ( 'trau-m&  'j&[ng]-kE) n. Slang
  1. One who has an insatiable interest, devotion or addiction to responding and assisting people with serious injury or shock to the body, as from violence or an accident.

One Last Breath.

As RT students, we are always taught how important it is to maintain a patent airway. We are taught from the beginning of school how to treat shortness of breath, airway obstructions, hypoxemia, and respiratory failure. This is our job. It's what we do for a living.

Many of us pride ourselves on being in a profession where we help people breathe better. I can't imagine anything better than treating an asthmatic who comes in with a full-blown attack and seeing her get discharged from the ER with a respiratory rate of 12-20, non-labored. Or weaning a vent patient to nasal cannula successfully. As they say, if you aren't breathing, you aren't doing much else.

At the same time, sometimes we have to go against what we have learned, based on the patient's decision. And that can be both emotionally trying and somewhat difficult to do. But it's important to keep in mind that we're in this for the patients and for no other reason.

Yes, I did it. I finally had a time where I had to withdraw care from my ventilator patient. I was the one who had to go into the room full of crying family members and turn off the patient's vent, knowing there was basically no chance of him being able to breathe on his own. And let me tell you, that...was the most difficult thing I've ever done, next to coding a pre-schooler.

For the first time, instead of helping a patient breathe, I had to take their breath away.

Instead of using everything I've learned to make adjustments to the vent to help this patient breathe on their own, I had to put it all aside and D/C the ET tube.

It was no longer my job to notify the nurse when her patient started bradying down (50s, 40s, 30s, 20s).

I did not treat his shortness of breath. I watched as he went into respiratory arrest, followed by cardiac arrest.


I held his hand and told him it would be okay.

I comforted his family members and reminded them we were carrying out his wishes.

I prayed with them when they asked if we could pray.

I did not become startled as he gasped for his last few breaths. I squeezed his hand tighter and told him it would be over soon.

And, as my patient took his last breath before my eyes, I didn't reach for the ambu bag. Not this time.

He's in a better place. There was no chance of recovery from his condition. I wondered how I would sleep that night, feeling like I was the one that caused him to die...

But then I realized something. We all love saving lives-- there isn't a better feeling in the entire world. And sometimes "saving a life" doesn't mean bringing a patient back after CPR. Sometimes, saving their life, involves putting them totally at ease. He can now breathe better. And, in a sense, so can I.

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