It’s shocking news, and most people aren’t ready for it: whether it’s due to illness, accident, or simply the process of aging, you’ve just been told that you, or a loved one, needs to be placed on long-term ventilator care. You may not know how to process the information or have any real idea of how to plan out your family’s journey from here.
If you’re part of an older generation—or even if you aren’t—you might immediately think of images of polio patients encased in an iron lung for days, weeks, even years at a time. Fortunately, modern medical science has let us move well beyond that era.
There’s no denying that long-term ventilator care will be a significant change in life for you or your loved one. But before you start worrying yourself into a panic, let’s take a look at some of the facts about ventilators and what long-term ventilator care can mean.
To make a very complicated matter short, healthy bodies breathe thanks to the expansion and contraction of a muscle called the diaphragm, which sits below the lungs. The diaphragm pulls air into the lungs, where oxygen mixes inside little sacs called alveoli and enters the bloodstream. Carbon dioxide replaces the oxygen in the lungs, and then the diaphragm pushes it out.
Generally, when an individual needs to be on a ventilator, it’s because illness or injury has damaged the diaphragm, which—like any muscle—needs time and work to regain its strength. Alternatively, such as with particularly severe cases of asthma, it’s possible the natural work of the diaphragm isn’t fully drawing air into the alveoli.
With a ventilator, one end of a tube is attached to the machine, and the other end of the tube is inserted into the patient’s air supply, either via a tightly fitting facemask (non-intensive ventilation, or NIV) or via an artificial air passage in the throat, called an endotracheal tube. The ventilator then mimics inhaling and exhaling, helping the patient breathe properly.
If you or your loved one will need to be on a ventilator for an extended period of time, you’ll probably need to be in some form of environment that features consistent, regular—or even round-the-clock—full-time care.
This is especially true for ventilator patients with an endotracheal tube, who typically cannot breathe on their own. For patients like this, any sort of failure in the ventilator can result in distress, discomfort, or worse if not quickly attended to. In this situation, immediate care is vital.
It may be very difficult for you or your loved one to grow accustomed to needing full-time aid to accomplish tasks that were previously doable on their own, and there’s no shame in feeling uncomfortable with it at first. However, you should always remember that the nurses and other medical staff who’ll be helping you through your ventilation journey are trained, compassionate professionals whose job is to make it easier.
If you aren’t thinking of polio-era iron lungs when you think “ventilator,” you may be thinking of cold, sterile hospital rooms in the ICU, which might not seem much better. While many ventilator patients do indeed spend a good amount of time with the trained staff at their local ICU, it’s no longer a requirement.
Indeed, there are many other ventilator care facilities these days, where long-term ventilation care patients can live in comfortable environments that more closely resemble homes than hospital rooms. Ventilator-care facilities offer opportunities for patients to live among other patients in home-like conditions, enjoy the company of pets, comfortable shared environments, and all-hours family visiting opportunities—all while not sacrificing anything in terms of their medical care.
While the existence of these facilities is a tremendous boon to families who want more natural environments in which a patient can recuperate, it’s important to learn how to find a good one. Here are five questions to ask when choosing a ventilator care facility.
If your ventilator patient wants to visit family or enjoy a holiday celebration, that’s completely feasible with the right caretakers. Modern ventilators can be quite portable, and with the aid of trained staff, a patient can travel several hours outside of the facility. It’s typically much easier to travel over land (usually in a specially modified van) than to fly, however.
Just because your loved one is on a ventilator doesn’t mean they’ll be unable to do things like attend Thanksgiving celebrations—which are tremendously helpful at keeping spirits up.
Some people, prior to entering long-term ventilator care, believe that you can stop using a ventilator immediately once you’re better. The truth is that ceasing ventilator use is an involved process that takes time.
Ventilators, on their own, don’t help a patient heal. Instead, they’re used to help a patient breathe comfortably while the body repairs itself from illness or injury. Remember that the diaphragm is a muscle, and like every muscle, if it hasn’t been used in a while, it will have atrophied. Weaning a patient off a ventilator will typically require moving from full-time care to periods where they are breathing on their own, usually under careful monitoring. These periods will become longer and longer, until eventually, the patient no longer needs the ventilator at all.
While the vast majority of patients will be weaned off ventilator use at some point, there are some patients for whom long-term ventilator care will be a reality for the rest of their lives, for they no longer have the ability to breathe on their own. While living with that condition is difficult, it’s made easier through expert assistance.
Whether you or your loved one will be on long-term ventilator care for weeks, months, or foreseeably even longer, Better Options Ventilator Specialty Care is a ventilator care facility that delivers a high quality of care and an equally high quality of life. Contact us today to see how we can make ventilator care comfortable and convenient.