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“I don’t want to be on a breathing machine?”

Ventilator How many times have you heard people say that? Yet everyday people are injured in accidents, and need the help of a ventilator or breathing machine to help them breath if they are severely injured.

When you have a loved one, involved in an accident your emotions are all over the place. You are confused, anxious,scared,distraught, numb and in shock. All of a sudden you are hearing big, medical words that you don’t have any clue what they mean from doctors and nurses caring for your loved one.

Trying to discover the meaning of what they are saying is like learning a foreign language.

I remember the first house my husband and I bought in Auburn, Alabama, we had no clue what all the terms meant, or what we were signing. Terms like,  EMD (earnest money deposit) points,escrow,settlement were foreign to us. Now they are second nature to me having been an Ann Arbor Realtor for 18 years.

Seeing your family member on a ventilator can be frightening. But, it doesn’t have to be if you understand what it means and how it is aiding in your loved ones recovery. On my quest to understand “brain death” after my son’s car accident, I learned about ventilators and why the common term breathing machine is misunderstood.


1) The ventilator is a machine that moves air and oxygen into the body.

2) Being on a ventilator is a good thing when you are seriously injured.

3) Being on a ventilator that is effective at supporting the vital activity of respiration means that you are not dead.  A dead person does not breathe OR HAVE RESPIRATION.

A ventilator uses pressure to blow air or a mixture of gases (like oxygen and air) into the lungs. This pressure is known as positive pressure. You MUST exhale (breathe out) the air on your own.

Ventilation is the movement of air, while respiration is the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. This exchange occurs in the lungs, as well as in the living tissues throughout the body via the circulation. Ventilation and respiration are essential requirements for life on earth to continue. Respiration in the lungs takes oxygen out of the air to be used by the body in exchange for carbon dioxide exhaled out of the body into the air.

Life Support graph One critical thing to know about being on ventilation is that the ventilator does not cause you to respire. Respiration is being done by the patient. A dead person can not respire. If you encounter this situation don’t be afraid. The ventilator is helping your loved one…it is a good thing…it is helping them complete the whole cycle of breathing.

It is helping preserve the life of your love one.

Dr. Paul Byrne in this article, “In other words, a ventilator moves air; it does not and cannot cause the other part of breathing–respiration; that is, it does not and it cannot exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide that occurs in lungs and body tissues. Respiration can occur only when the body’s respiratory and circulatory systems are otherwise intact and functioning properly.Respiration is human function, not machine function.”

The ventilator is helping the patient to breathe easier thus allowing them time to recover. It is important to understand what is happening if you have a loved one on a breathing machine so you are not frightened and can grasp that if your loved one was truly dead it would not work. I wish I had understood what was really occurring while Jamie was on the Ventilator. 

My questions for you are:

1) Do you think it is morally permissible to disconnect the ventilator?

2) Who should be making that decision?  You via a written life directive, your family,or the doctors?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments, no right or wrong answer just curious.




***I’ll be linking to this post throughout different posts so you can remember why being on a ventilator is important.***

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