My Baystate Story:
Cheryl Ruf, Respiratory Therapist
My name is Cheryl Ruf and I am a respiratory therapist at Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, MA. After leaving my career as a mathematician in private industry and then as a high school mathematics teacher, I went to work in a Respiratory Therapy department in the eastern part of the state, doing odd jobs not related to direct patient care. Originally it was something for me to do until I figured out what I was going to do for the rest of my life. Instead, I found exactly what I did want to do. That was 40 years ago.
As respiratory therapists, we work with patients who are diagnosed with everything from COVID to COPD, asthma and seasonal allergies. We are needed when anyone comes into the Emergency Department with impaired breathing, whether due to respiratory arrest, heart attack, drug overdose or injuries from any type of trauma. The therapies include delivery of respiratory medications, BiPap and CPAP, High Flow Therapy and life support on ventilators after intubation.
The past two years have been the most difficult for us. What we have experienced with COVID is something we never could have imagined seeing in our lifetime as therapists. Our patients mean the world to us and many of our COVID patients, many of whom were already our pulmonary patients, just could not survive the virus. We are a community hospital. We know our patients, their families. We’ve seen their children grow up, helped them attend weddings and funerals. Seen them become grandparents.
My coworkers and I really only had each other to talk with about what we were experiencing during this time. Often, we cried together reassuring each other that we’d get through this and that what we were doing would make a difference for our patients. As difficult as it has been working through the pandemic, we continue to do what we do. We’re all just doing what we chose to do and feel very lucky to be able to be making a difference in the lives of our patients and each other’s lives. We’re a very close department. We’re family.
Now, I often work with post COVID patients, many of those referred to as the long haulers, in the outpatient setting in our Pulmonary Function Lab. I’m seeing people who were healthy, physically active people prior to COVID who now become short of breath just walking down the hallway.
There are success stories. And people are working hard in therapy to return to somewhat normal pre- COVID lives. Those are the outcomes I celebrate every day.