With COVID-19 cases in the U.S. increasing at an alarmingly rapid rate, you might be wondering how patients are being treated. A ventilator, the medical instrument that’s used on patients with breathing problems, is also the key instrument in saving the lives of COVID-19 patients. It pushes air and oxygen to the lungs through a breathing tube that’s inserted to the windpipe.
Despite the help that the ventilator provides, having it used on you is by no means pain-free. That said, this should compel us to stay indoors and practice proper social distancing, hand-washing, and disinfecting the objects we touch daily.
If you know someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, this guide will give you an idea of what they’re going through with a ventilator connected to their respiratory system, another reason not to take our health for granted.
Where Medical Oxygen Came From
Inside the hospital, you’d notice the oxygen tank as the cylindrical metal container placed by a ventilator. This tank has come from the hospital’s bulk gas tank, a tall white tank typically situated at the back of the building. This is scientifically known as the cryogenic tank. It contains liquid oxygen in hundreds of gallons.
A hospital is required to have at least a full day’s supply of oxygen on hand, plus a back-up supply of the same amount, so that in case the main medical gas system malfunctions, patients reliant to a ventilator will still continue to be supplied with oxygen.
Cryogenic tanks also undergo a thorough maintenance process. If you’ve seen a hospital’s cryogenic tanks, you’ve certainly noticed how they seem to never get worn out, despite the number of years they’d been there. Keeping their paintwork chip-free is more than just about aesthetics.
Reputable cryogenic tank maintenance companies ensure that gas tanks will always remain freshly coated because a single chip can give way for rust, which can potentially be a catalyst for leaks that can be a threat to the hospital and the environment.
How Ventilators Work
A patient will first undergo a process called intubation before being placed under a ventilator. The patient will be sedated and administered a muscle relaxant, then a tube will be inserted into their mouth, and all the way through their windpipe.
The breathing tube will then be connected to the ventilator, which has settings adjustable by the medical staff, such as the rate the ventilator pushes air and oxygen into the lungs, and the oxygen mix.
COVID-19 patients aren’t automatically put under a ventilator, not until doctors confirm the signs of “respiratory failure.” Such is the increase of a patient’s breathing rate, which could go up to 28 breaths in a minute, nearly double the normal rate of only about 15 breaths per minute.
But aside from using a ventilator, doctors may also supply oxygen to a patient through other means such as using only an oxygen mask. In fact, doctors try to avoid resorting to ventilators as much as possible because COVID-19 patients still cough and sputter, and with their medical instruments exposed to the virus, the risk of the medical staff contracting the disease gets higher.
As for how long a patient needs to be under a ventilator, that depends on the severity of their condition, but it could last for weeks.
Because of the grave threat of the coronavirus, even inserting ventilators have become potentially dangerous for doctors, and hospitals are under pressure to ensure the sufficiency of their oxygen supplies. Therefore, as we’ve just learned some basic facts about oxygen and ventilators, let’s take this pandemic more seriously and follow quarantine protocols. Let’s not add to the burden of the struggling medical staff in the country.