I figured this would be a suitable time to introduce how I got into wound care and hyperbaric medicine and found my passion I now share with you all. I started off in a job that did not have much to do with the career I have now.
While taking college classes, I worked as a firefighter and a medic. I knew from watching the live news coverage from 9/11 as a child that I wanted more than anything to help people. So, while in high school I took an EMT Basic course and began volunteering as a firefighter. I went on to get more education in that field and thought I had found my lifelong career.
Though the hours were long working 24-hour shifts, I felt so accomplished saving lives. One notable emergency response I will never forget was for a young child that had been accidentally shot by his younger brother. Thanks to my partner and I’s fast response time and early application of a chest seal and tourniquet, we were able to stabilize the child and saved his life.
About three years into this career, I started working a side job doing interfacility transports to make extra money. This consisted of picking up unstable patients from facilities and taking them to treatments like dialysis and hyperbaric chamber treatments. I started to get regulars I got to know and started to learn more about their journeys to better health.
One such patient was a gentleman we will call Rudy, who was getting HBO treatments for a diabetic foot wound that was pending an amputation. He had tearfully told me that these treatments were his final effort to try and save his foot (and lower leg). Rudy told me about his fears of being wheelchair-bound or passing away from an infection like his brother had.
As weeks passed, I saw Rudy’s demeanor change. He went from being fearful to having hope! He showed me the pictures of his healing foot on our drives to the chambers and told me amputation was off the table, no pun intended. On our last transport, he hugged me and told me he was healed and would be able to start physical therapy soon to begin walking again. I gasped with excitement when Rudy whipped his sock off in the back of the ambulance and showed me his healed foot. “These people are miracle workers!” I thought as we drove back to his nursing home.
As time passed, I got to follow along with the healing journey of other patients like my beloved Rudy. I grew excited to see their wound pictures, track their progress and thought to myself, “Am I really into wound care?”. I thought I had found my calling already. Little did I know, a few weeks later my world would change.
While working this side job I had gotten to know the staff at the hyperbaric center that was located downtown. Their program director, Andres, always took the time to talk with me when I came in and would even bring me a breakfast taco from time to time. One morning he asked me “Chelsea, you seem very passionate about wound care. Have you considered working with us?”. I paused. I already had a job that I loved helping people. But I couldn’t deny I was passionate about these people and their wounds. I told him that I wasn’t a nurse so I didn’t think I could work for wound care even if I wanted to. He assured me that I could in fact work as a hyperbaric technician.
Two weeks later I was wearing scrubs and at orientation. After two weeks of working as a hyperbaric technician, they offered me the chance to take the course to become a certified hyperbaric technologist. I worked my clinical hours and grew to love the job even more. A few weeks after that I got my test score back and found out I had passed. I was now a CHT! I worked Monday through Friday, in the air-conditioned clinic and got to help people in a whole new way.
I became certified in wound vac application, total contact cast, performed arterial brachial index testing and transcutaneous oxygen monitoring. Because of my skill level I was able to go into the OR and help with cases applying wound vacs. I was given the opportunity to assist with debridement and other clinic procedures. My EMS experience even came in handy a few times when a few of our sicker patients suffered medical emergencies while at the clinic.
I got to know my patients on a whole new level and formed meaningful bonds with them. I found that so many of these people were not here out of blatant non-compliance but were true victims of socioeconomic disadvantage. These were folks that society had neglected and had not been given the same advantages in life that I had. I found a new purpose in advocating for them. These people needed so much more than just wound care. They needed compassionate education, home health, nutritional resources and a listening ear.
That was ten years ago, and now I have taken on the role of an educator for the same company that gave me my start. I hope that I can impart the same knowledge and passion to the staff that I teach as they help our patients through their wound healing journey. I hope that you, reading this, will also look at wound care in a new light and appreciate the work that can be done to improve these patients’ quality of life.