Think About It: Air lines and life lines

Husband Paul and I took a rare trip outside our home. The occasion was a doctor’s appointment. I overcame my worries about using portable oxygen by connecting his air line to the small heavy tank and successfully turning on the oxygen flow. I hoped the effort would result in a remedy for Paul’s very painful knee.

My reasoning was simple. Less pain would mean less chance of falling and more ability to use his legs to hold himself up and walk short distances, something important to his sense of independence and my ability to manage his care.

As it turned out there was no remedy except time, the one thing we do not have.

Life line

We decided to stop at Safeway so Paul could have a green salad with the blue cheese dressing he craved. I also wanted to increase our supply of white wine for visitors. While looking for a certain chardonnay, I heard a voice asking, “Can I help you find something?”

It was the “wine lady.” I like her; ever since I took on our grocery shopping and happen to see her, she asks about Paul. Today when she sees it is me, his inadequate replacement, she asks how he is.

I tell her he is very sick and in home with hospice. She is saddened by the news and expresses her sorrow. I thank her and she goes on to tell me how he shopped so carefully and told her it was for me.

“I thought, ‘He must be a good husband.’”

Her words inspired the tears that come whenever someone recognizes a truth about him. My eyes welled over the mask I wore. her understanding that this man is a good man touches me deeply.

I couldn’t speak. I could only reach out for her comforting hug. There in the wine aisle I held onto her comforting presence. She invites me to come in anytime for a hug or as I experience it yet another lifeline that is offered to me, to Paul, to us.

Air line turbulence

Our marvelous bodies take in air, use the oxygen and give out carbon dioxide from the moment we are born until the moment we die. Our heart and lungs work in concert to supply our oxygen needs for years until one or both can no longer do its part as well.

The most serious deficits such as those in Paul’s heart may require a method to deliver oxygen to the body. Paul was prescribed continuous oxygen when the doctor learned his blood oxygen level dropped to 86 percent upon exertion. His supply came in a device called an oxygen concentrator that pulls oxygen from room air and delivers it via long tubes to a cannula in his nose.

The company delivered a concentrator along with several feet of tubing to our home. The machine’s first impression was not good. The representative placed it in the center of the house which seemed like the perfect place. When he plugged it in, we were greeted by the loud rhythmic buzz of a machine running. Paul asked if it is always that noisy. The rep said it was, hooked Paul up, explained the portable oxygen set up and left.

The concentrator owned the room. The cats escaped to the farthest corner of the lower level of the house. We tried moving it as far away down the hall from where we were. We thought about putting it into the utility room but thought the space too small.

Finally, I called the company who said we could put it in small five-by-seven-foot (or more) room.

Luckily, we had one close to our front door. I pointed out that the noise was a stressor in an already stressful situation to what turned out to be an unsympathetic ear.

It was incomprehensible to me that oxygen concentrators that have been in homes since at least the eighties had not evolved to deliver oxygen without this level of noise. Still, it was an essential air line for Paul.

The hospice nurse made his first visit and in assessing the environment noted the noisy concentrator. Nurse said it should not be that loud and he would contact the company for an exchange. My faith in modern machine development was restored.

The company responded by bringing us out another concentrator. The rep said the one he brought was ten years old and the one we had was five years old. I was to listen and chose the quietest.

The tactic reminded me of persuading a child to eat vegetables by giving them a choice between peas and brussels sprouts.

No surprise to anyone reading this column, the quietest was the 5-year-old concentrator. Unspoken was the third choice which was no concentrator or no essential air line. I wondered if the company made that calculation.

The rep would not commit to a quieter machine when more arrived; in fact, it felt like a definite no. I do not know how concentrators are triaged for people in need, but this 95 year old dying man did not make the list. At least we have a room to dedicate to noise. I am comforted by thinking someone who does not have a room has a newer quieter concentrator instead of us.

‘Please let me breathe’

Paul and I know that he has these additional days due to the efforts, caring and yes love of many people over the last two years. Having oxygen to breathe and medication to breathe easier are a big part of our peace.

Paul and I are learning to manage episodes of “air hunger,’ the terrible sensation of not being able to get oxygen and begging for air. Our physician friend, Paul’s pulmonologist and all the supports provided through Assured Hospice — the nurse, medications, equipment have given us the tools and confidence to see us through those very difficult times.

Life lines all along with family and friends who carry us through each day. We are able to be together sharing the grief and always sharing our love for and with each other.

The other day I lay next to Paul with my arms around him imagining my body was a memory foam pillow that would keep his impression with me the rest of my life.

Bertha Cooper, a featured columnist in the Sequim Gazette, spent her career years in health care administration, program development and consultation and it the author of the award-winning “Women, We’re Only Old Once.” Cooper and her husband have lived in Sequim more than 20 years. Reach her at