It’s still OK to smile

Randy Riley - Contributing columnist

Fifty years ago — April 1970 — I put on my first lab coat, white shirt, white pants and shoes. My name tag read; “Randy Riley – Inhalation Therapy.”

A short time later, the powers-that-be acknowledged that we help patients inhale, exhale and everything in-between, so the department’s name was changed to Respiratory Therapy.

At that time, there were very few schools dedicated to preparing people for a career in respiratory therapy. Like most RT programs, Miami Valley Hospital adopted the old-style used by many nursing programs.

Although we worked full-time, we were considered students. It would take nearly three years, along with numerous exams and tons of experience, before we were eligible to take our national exam to earn the official credential as a respiratory therapist. I loved every minute of it.

Thirty-three years later, in January 2003, I retired from Clinton Memorial Hospital. At that time, my title was Director of Respiratory Therapy, EMS and Trauma Services. I maintained my RT credential and continuing education requirements for a few more years.

The last time I practiced respiratory therapy was as a member of the OH-5, Disaster Medical Assistance Team. Our team was organized under FEMA and deployed to Biloxi, Mississippi, immediately after Hurricane Katrina destroyed most of the property on the Gulf Coast.

Our mission was to establish an emergency facility behind their hospital to supplement the medical team at Biloxi Regional Medical Center. Most of their resources had been wiped out by the hurricane winds and storm surge.

During my career, I worked through over 30 flu seasons. Most of them were pretty much the same, but a few were strikingly different. Usually during flu season, we would be inundated by patients with underlying chronic heart or lung disease who had acquired the flu and rapidly became critically ill.

We worked with many of those same patients year-round, but during flu season, the disease would overwhelm them. Their illness would become critical.

Often, our resources would be overwhelmed by the sudden volume of patients requiring intensive therapy. I often told my staff, “We need to move quickly all year long, but during flu-season we have to dance a whole lot faster.”

Over the decades, we survived the bird (avian) flu, the swine flu and many other strains of flu. Every season it seemed we are assaulted by a different strain of flu. That is mainly because every type of flu we have ever seen has different subtypes and various strains of previously identified influenza viruses.

Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses that can cause multiple illnesses ranging from the common cold symptoms to more severe diseases like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

This virus (COVID-19) is a new strain of coronavirus. It was originally referred to as a “novel virus.” That means the virus had never been seen before; it was a new (or novel) form of the virus.

Medical science had no vaccine available for this novel virus. Medical science had no idea just how sick people would become or what the death-rate might be.

Medical science had no idea how rapidly the disease would spread, how severe it would be or even how it was most likely to spread. However, the World Health Organization was positive it would spread.

It sure has. From the viruses beginning in Wuhan, China it has spread worldwide in a relatively short period of time. It’s not finished yet.

Supposedly, the virus started in a rough and dirty marketplace of Wuhan. Some of the businesses in that neighborhood are known as “wet markets.” They collect, kill and butcher various exotic species of animals (snakes, koalas, exotic birds and bats) for human consumption.

The first reported death from COVID-19 was said to be frequent shopper at one the “wet markets” in Wuhan.

Now, we’re feeling the effect half-a-world-away right here in southwest Ohio.

Last week, I had to make a Kroger-run. Everyone seemed to be maintaining their social distance (6-foot separation), but what I found unusual, and rather sad, was that many people seemed to focus only on the floor. They were avoiding eye contact. Rarely, did I hear anyone talking.

I saw several people I knew, but only a few would smile. So, I started speaking, smiling and saying good morning to everyone. It felt good. A few folks even lightened up and responded.

Remember friends. Diarrhea is very rarely a symptom of the flu. Lighten up on hoarding toilet paper. Fifty years ago, when we commonly used cloth diapers, we would rinse them, store them in a bucket of soapy water, launder them and then use them again.

With or without toilet paper, we’ll get through this.

Also, remember you cannot spread COVID-19 by waving, and you certainly cannot spread it my smiling.

Smile. We’ll get through this.

Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington, Ohio and former Clinton County Commissioner. This column shared through the AIM Media Midwest group of newspapers.

Randy Riley

Contributing columnist