UCSF respiratory therapist describes working on COVID-19 frontlines

As COVID-19 cases continue to surge in California and ICUs fill up at many hospitals - respiratory therapists are getting pushed to the limit.  

"We’re getting beat up, we’re getting pulled a lot of places," said Lance Pangilinan, a respiratory therapist at Zuckerburg San Francisco General Hospital.  "We’re in demand in terms of oxygen delivery throughout the hospital."  

To put it simply, respiratory therapists work with nurses and doctors to evaluate and deliver options to help patients breathe.  

"Anything as simple as an oxygen device that sits in your nose delivers a little bit—or as extreme as a breathing tube and a ventilator," said Pangilinan.  

We've heard much about the state's ventilator suplly, but it's up to an RT to ensure it's working properly.  Like many frontline workers, Lance is caring for a lot of COVID patients, some who require much more attention.

"Really these COVID patients get so sick, that they need the most minute, miniscule attention in terms of ventilator synchrony," said Pangilinan. "Because imagine having a breathing tube and breathing against it, no one’s very comfortable with that."

Lance spoke to us from the hospital, just after helping with an intensive care baby delivery and before that, comforting a COVID patient in their final moments.  

"About an hour ago, we knew this patient wasn’t going to survive," said Pangilinan.  "We had a moment of silence and we started taking our gear off, make sure we’re sterile and make sure we’re ready for more sickness to roll into the door."

Lance says deaths like this have certainly taken an emotional toll on him, especially since loved ones have to say goodbye over video.  But for now, he has few moments to rest or process, so he's begging people to do what they can to slow the spread. 

"I know it’s tough, but we need to do our best," said Pangilinan. "Because this thing just needs to be over."