Monday, March 8, 2010

The Incentive Spirometer

While at St. Anthony's Summit Medical Center in Frisco, Colorado, I developed an interesting relationship with my night shift respiratory therapist, Rick.

What did Rick do? When dealing with a surgical patient such as myself, he had to make sure I didn't get pneumonia. An incentive spirometer, when operated correctly, can prevent such an ailment from developing.

One of my nurses, Niki, brought one in for me.

As she explained it, the object of the game is to suck in as much air as possible. By doing so, I had to get that large plug on the left to rise up to the indicator, which Niki set to 2000 mL.

There's another, smaller indicator plug that floats while you're inhaling. You've got to keep it within these two arrows. This makes winning way more difficult. You have to inhale at a slow and steady rate.

I talk loud. I talk a lot. As a result, I do short and quick breathing. Operating an incentive spirometer is a formidable task for me. Niki tells me to use it about 10 times an hour.

I go 6, hit my PCA, and try to sleep.

At around 3:00AM in the morning, in walks my night respiratory therapist, Rick. This is our first introduction. Because I'm tired and under a million meds, I'm probably sitting at 25% lucidity. Therefore, I'm paraphrasing everything below. In fact, there's a good chance none of this happened.

"Tony, I'm Rick, your respiratory therapist this evening. Can you sit up for me so I can listen to your lungs?"

I breathe, he listens.

As he lifts up the incentive spirometer, he asks "Do you know what this is?"

I tell him, "yep."

"You're lungs have shrunk since your surgery. It sounds like you may have fluid in your right lung. You really need to use the spirometer more. You don't want to develop any complications, like pneumonia. Here, give me a demonstration of how you've been using it."

I sit up and proudly inhale up to 2000mL. He throws me a look of part disappointment, part anger.

"You only reached 2000 mL. Not only do you need to go past 4000 mL, you need to hold it there for several seconds."

Before I can explain that Niki set the 2000 mL mark, he continues, "Did you know Olympic athletes are capable of keeping that plug maxed out for over 9 seconds? My personal best is 6. You need to do way better than 2000 mL"

I guess somewhere in my medical chart, there's a note about how I hate losing. And at three in the morning, basically dreaming while awake, I really hate losing to Olympic athletes and respiratory therapists!

Rick takes off. It's the last time I ever see him. I'm all dizzy and confused on this device for two hours straight. I get to 2 seconds.

At around 7:00AM, my new respiratory therapist walks in. I ask him if he knows Rick. He nods his head yes and also laughs. Laughs?

I tell the new guy I'm only a few seconds away from beating Rick's personal best. Expecting to get a favorable reaction, I get more laughs.

I've been had.

None of what Rick told me was even remotely true. It was all a gigantic lie to encourage me to use this stupid device. I had no fluid in my lungs.

I never saw Rick again, but I found out from his co-workers that he does this all the time. He especially targets drugged up competitive snots that aren't using the device.

Whether or not he was lying, I'm totally going to beat his 6 seconds.


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