Mark Stoller moved to Falcon in 2007. He and his wife, Andra, both U.S. Air Force veterans, enjoy life with their daughters, extended family and adopted rescue dogs in Latigo. Mark savors the privilege of his wife and daughters being his muse for topics, people to meet and places to investigate.
The world of respiratory
By Mark Stoller
First and foremost, a big “Thank you!” to Ava for covering my column last month. I appreciate being able to take a break and know that she will step in with quality material.
Last August, I mentioned that I was accepted into the respiratory therapy program at Pueblo Community College.
Previously, I tried getting into a nursing program at Pike Peak State College. When you go back to school in your 50s, it’s difficult to be a 4.0/straight A student when juggling the responsibilities of life alongside your studies. Compared to 150 to 200 other applicants, my GPA just wasn’t going to get me accepted.
In January 2021, my mom, who has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), caught COVID and woke up with 14 extra pounds of fluid in her lungs. Scariest day of her life. Falcon Fire took excellent care of her and delivered her to Penrose St Francis where she made a full recovery. Since then, I have been monitoring her lungs, breathing and breathing treatments. Respiratory therapy seemed a natural profession to enter.
Fast forward to today. I am preparing for final exams and oral boards this week to round out my third of five semesters. Fall and spring semesters were all academic with four classes each — the basic and advanced science/physiology behind respiratory therapy.
This semester, I have one class to learn ventilator parameter setup/operation and participate in two 12-hour clinical shifts each week. I have been to Glenwood Springs, Pueblo, Canon City and in the Springs to provide respiratory care in hospitals and long-term care facilities. Next semester, I’ll return to those places and add Littleton and Castle Rock to the list.
I have completed patient assessments, coached breathing techniques, provided breathing treatments, placed people on a ventilator and removed a few from a ventilator at the family’s request to allow the patient to die naturally.
There’s satisfaction in helping people get healthy again. The connection with patients is the main reason I chose the medical community over being IT project manager for my remaining working years. Being there for folks on their worst days and helping ease the struggle to heal has been very fulfilling.
There are those I have tended to who will never leave the care facility and remain on a ventilator for the foreseeable future. Some of the tragic stories include
- An individual who was shot in an attempted murder: When the individual recovered from the gunshot, the same people ran the person over with a car.
- An individual took a knife to the neck to protect someone in a fight, which resulted in severed nerves for everything from the neck down
- An unsuccessful attempt to commit suicide by hanging left a teenager on life support to this day.
- A 20-something-year-old drank a liter-plus of alcohol every day, which led to multiple organ failure and the inability for an organ transplant. We removed the breathing tube, which caused the young person’s death.
- Domestic abuse cases where we provide the breathing portion of life support
- A morbidly obese individual was still chewing food while I suctioned out the tracheostomy tube of what the person had choked on moments before.
(Side note: If you’re unhappy about the hand life has dealt you at this moment, remember there is someone else who has it worse than you.)
Finally, in my next two semesters, I look forward to more intensive care unit work, a couple of pediatric shifts at Children’s Hospital, and working with anesthesiologists to put breathing tubes in patients after they go under and just before surgery. Graduation is only 10 months away.