Just Breath - My Experience on a Ventilator 

This is my personal experience of mechanical breathing. After a spinal cord injury, a ventilator may be used to help stabilize breathing. My experience with a ventilator came many years later after a secondary issue from surgery. I am sharing this experience in hopes you can glean insight and hope for a positive outcome after the use of a ventilator.

I woke up in intensive care a few hours after my hysterectomy. I experienced secondary hemorrhage after laparoscopic surgery. It is theorized that I tried to turn myself with my arms after surgery, resulting in internal stitches bursting. This action would be the equivalent of picking up something heavy right after a major surgery. The result was emergency surgery to stop the bleeding. Hysterectomies don't often turn out this poorly.

During this life-saving procedure, a medical team repaired a small tear in a vein. Afterwards, I was intubated and placed on a ventilator. My condition worsened. After a few days, I consented to a tracheotomy. The physician explained that by placing a tracheotomy would increase their ability to suction my lungs and improve my chances of surviving. My spinal cord injury (at level C7) already compromised my breathing. The additional trauma of hemorrhaging and anesthesia resulted in respiratory failure. I was unable to initiate spontaneous breaths due to lack of neuromuscular function.

During the three weeks on the ventilator, there was never any pain. Toward the end of its use, there was an uncomfortable feeling right at the tracheotomy. Reflecting on this, the position of the trach, or possibly the stoma (hole), was very close to my injury level. This might have created dysreflexic pain (sweating, cold chills, burning).

The rhythm of the vent wasn't the natural rhythm of my lungs. As the sedating medication was lowered, during the weaning process, this “mechanical rhythm” became more apparent and I felt discomfort. The weaning process was a long and exhausting endeavor. Each day the medical team would decrease the amount of support that I received from the ventilator. Each day I grew a little stronger. Eventually, I was liberated from the machine!

Without the ventilator, unwanted as it was, I would have died. Because of it, I survived. Honestly, because of this experience, I have lived with more purpose and enthusiasm than ever before. Please don't fear the vent. It's a modern day miracle!

Lung health is important to me. I do my best to support my respiratory system with these exercises:

1)  I sit comfortably and inhale deeply through my nose. I purse my lips (as though I’m whistling) and breathe out three times longer than the breath I drew in.

2)  I lie on the back with knees bent, one hand on my upper chest and the other resting on my abdomen. When inhaling and exhaling, I keep my chest as still as possible and use my hand to feel my stomach expand. This helps my diaphragm strength.

Just breath.



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