In patient after patient, the COVID-19 virus attacks your lungs. You may have heard that it contributes to pneumonia or COVID pneumonia. The virus causes inflammation in the lungs. With inflamed lungs comes fluid. The organ usually filled with air begins to fill with a fluid, making it hard to breathe. As the lungs worsen, a COVID patient could need oxygen or to be sedated with a ventilator, a machine that breathes for them. On top of pneumonia, COVID can cause acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) or sepsis. All of these complications can cause long-term lung damage even after the coronavirus is out of the body.
One way to heal lungs that have been damaged by COVID pneumonia is through respiratory therapy, such as breathing exercises. The goal, an often intimidating one, is to reduce the need for oxygen for the patient. A newfound strength in the lungs, that previously had sacs of fluid blockingoxygen, can make all the difference in a recovery.
For patients who had a difficult time with COVID, physical therapy can be a daunting task. It could feel like an unwinnable battle without motiva-tion, encouragement, and the gentle guidance of an expert.
At the Vanderbilt Bedford Hospital, they had just who they needed: Dar- ryl Blackwell. Darryl is an acute care physical therapist. His main objective is to evaluate if patients are safe to go home or if they need rehab. Acute care is short term care; Darryl finds the safest option for the patient, thencoaches them through the therapy.
COVID changed everyone’s life. But for sick patients who were infected with the virus, their lives could change medically forever. It could feel impossible to get back to your everyday life, leaving many patients thinking ‘Will I ever be the same?’ Darryl was not going to let that happen. He had a goal and was determined to meet it.
“I get joy seeing patients get back to their normal life,” he said. “It makes me happy to see them getting back to what they love.” Since the pan- demic, he sees seven to eight patients every day. Normally, he would see three or four patients at the hospital. With COVID, the number of his patients doubled. At the most, up to 80% of his patients were people who had recovered from COVID.
After a patient has been in the hospital working to overcome the virus, they can feel down or upset after spending an extended amount of time away from family and in isolation. Darryl knows this when he walks into the rooms. He does his best to lift their spirits. It’s not only the patients who are impressed with his work. Darryl’s care has been noticed by other figures in the hospital. Dr. Troy Miller called him a ‘silent MVP.’ “Early movement exercise is key in a recovery from COVID,” Dr. Miller said. “He did an amazing job.”
Everyone needs encouragement; we’re built to connect with others. To have motivation from others can be the difference between going home with oxygen or not. The ability to uplift others is in Darryl’s nature, and it has changed the course of COVID recovery for countless patients.-GN