WILLIAMSPORT — Watching as a patient — who at one point was struggling to breath — is released from the hospital is a rewarding experience for a respiratory therapist who has been working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“To see people recover, come off that ventilator, to breathe on their own and to be discharged home, maybe with a little oxygen and a little without, their body just went through war,” Lauren Godissart, a respiratory therapist at UPMC Williamsport, said.
“It’s very rewarding to be able to see that we did what we needed to do, took care of those people, utilized the tools we were given,” she continued. “We are in a national pandemic.”
Godissart, who lives in State College, has worked at UPMC Williamsport for two years.
When news of the pandemic first broke, Godissart said it was a scary time for health care workers.
“It was scary because there were so many unknowns,” she said. “Everything was evolving day by day. We didn’t have a lot of concrete facts as to how COVID was necessarily spreading. We knew it was spreading very fast, and by contact and by air.”
In late February, she said workers at UPMC Williamsport started to learn of the precautions they would need to take when working with patients.
“We started wearing the N95 respirator,” Godissart said. “We started wearing that with a surgical mask over top, with gowns, gloves... some people wore booties, some did hair nets as extra precautions.”
She said it did take some time to adjust to wearing the additional protective gear.
“It gets very hot underneath,” Godissart said. “The order you put things on and the order you take things off, and when you have to use hand sanitizer in between, it kind of got mentally exhausting.”
She noted that the personal protective equipment must be taken off in a certain order in order to minimize potential exposure to the virus.
Godissart said staff change gowns and gloves after working with each patient. Due to initial concerns over the potential shortage of N95 masks, she said surgical masks would be worn over the N95s so those wouldn’t have to be changed after seeing each patient.
When a patient was under investigation for COVID, and when they came back positive for having the virus, Godissart said they would not be given the traditional nebulizer therapy for respiratory illness. Instead, they would be given an inhaler similar to those used by asthmatics.
“We had switched our therapy to that, even if they were on the ventilator,” she said. “We had the ability to give that through the ventilator.”
As part of their treatment, she said some patients with COVID-19 would be placed in the prone position, or flipped onto their stomach for a 12-hour period of time. She said that was done to better treat the front-portion of the patient’s lungs.
“I’ve learned a lot through this, the last six months,” Godissart said. “I think some of that comes from being... a relatively new therapist. I’ve only been a therapist a little over two years... This is such unchartered waters.”
At the top of what she’s learned, Godissart listed working with patients facing a critical illness.
“I learned how to be there for patients who are very, very scared,” she said. “To be able to be in those rooms with them and tell them we have got you, we have the best people behind your care, we are going to do everything to care for you.”
Godissart has had to offer reassurances to both patients and families, as those with COVID-19 are unable to have visitors while hospitalized.
“The families haven’t been able to come in and see them,” she said. “I can imagine that would be extremely difficult.”
Godissart has continued to motivate herself while working throughout the pandemic.
“I kind of just remembered, kept telling myself, ‘this is why we all entered health care,’” she said. “I have to make sure I am the least exposed so I can be healthy enough to be at work.”
She noted that her co-workers have shared similar sentiments.
“We all, pretty much, had the same mindset that we are here to serve our patients and to protect ourselves,” Godissart said. “If we get sick, we can’t be here... It wasn’t something that had to be discussed, it was something that we always rose to that occasion. We saw the comradery in that.”
Godissart and her co-workers continue to treat patients who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and continue to follow all of the appropriate protective precautions.