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On the Front Lines of COVID-19 in Gillette, Wyoming

On the Front Lines of COVID-19 in Gillette, Wyoming

Respiratory Therapist Julie Shock has been both a patient and a caregiver during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Her elderly parents both contracted the virus at a family gathering in October, and her father was hospitalized and on oxygen at his home in Ohio for three weeks. Julie also contracted COVID-19, probably at the same family gathering, and was at home with relatively mild symptoms. She hit the ground running as soon as she was released to return to work in November--just in time for the surge in patients hospitalized for COVID-19 at Campbell County Memorial Hospital in Gillette, Wyoming.

Respiratory therapists are healthcare professionals that help patients with breathing issues and breathing-related health conditions. They initiate breathing treatments, set up oxygen and monitor therapy, and assist with setting up and maintaining ventilators. Respiratory therapists at CCMH see COVID-19 patients several times a day to monitor their breathing therapies, which requires them to put on additional Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in separate COVID-19 areas in the hospital.

“It takes extra time to put on all the additional gear,” says Julie. “We have a good supply (of PPE) now, but early on we had gowns that just didn’t work very well. Even now you really sweat in the plastic gowns, and then get chilled when you take them off.”

In addition to seeing patients in the hospital, Julie works at Home Medical Resources, which supplies equipment like portable oxygen to people in their homes; and in Pulmonary Rehab, where she teaches people with breathing problems how to be more active through exercise.

Julie and her colleagues use several types of equipment to help COVID-19 patients breathe more easily. One is the Vapotherm machine, which delivers heated, high-flow oxygen through a nasal cannula (a small tube).

“We’ve learned a lot about better therapies for COVID-19 since the spring,” said Julie. “I’m actually glad that this surge has come a little later for us because we know more now.”

Because of the increase in patients, Julie and the rest of the clinical staff that provide direct care at CCMH is spread thin.

“I feel bad that I can’t spend as much time with the patients as I would like,” said Julie. “Most of them are coping pretty well, but some are very lonely and confused. It’s very difficult to see that because I want to take the time and just can’t right now because of the number of patients.”

Julie is moving toward the end of her healthcare career, with just a few more years to work. She is grateful that a COVID-19 vaccine is close.

“I’m depending on my faith in God to lead us through what we’ve been dealt,” says Julie.

CCH is open, safe and ready to see you

Don’t let these uncertain times keep you from getting the health care you need. We are focused on safety so you can focus on your health. Visit www.cchwyo.org/findadoc to find your provider or clinic.

For medical emergencies, call 911. If you are in crisis and need to talk to a counselor, please call 307-688-5050.

Photo: Respiratory Therapist Julie Shock readies the Vapotherm equipment that helps patients breathe with heated, high-flow oxygen.