Today I am especially grateful that I can breathe easily.
Late last night, my father’s oxygen concentrator machine broke down, so I spent most of the night dealing with him and people from the oxygen company. While we waited for a callback, my father became so short of breath, he started going into a panic, so I dragged out the portable emergency canister. He said he’d rather not use the canister, and it’s just as well. Although I’d been told all I have to do is turn it on, no one told me how to turn it on or how to adjust the flow so I didn’t poison my father with too much oxygen.
When the on-call guy from the oxygen company called me, he tried to explain how to set up the portable oxygen canister. I got the oxygen turned on, only to discover the tank was empty, so I had to take the regulator off the empty canister and put it on a full one. Sometimes the littlest things make life difficult, and so it was last night. The regulator had a ridiculous hard plastic washer to keep the oxygen from leaking, but when I tried to screw on the regulator, the washer kept falling off. If I tilted the canister to lay the regulator over the “snake teeth” as he called the prongs that went into the holes toward the top of the canister, I couldn’t keep the phone propped on my shoulder to hear his instructions.
Finally, the on-call guy said he’d just come out and replace the concentrator machine. Shortly after I hung up the phone, I was able to put the regulator on the canister, but I had no idea how to adjust the flow. Well, now I do. The on-call guy showed me. Also left me a regulator with a washer that snaps into place. By the time he left and my father was sleeping peacefully, it was a bright 7 am. I tried to sleep for a bit, but I couldn’t help thinking that despite the complications of the night, supplemental oxygen is mostly a simple matter. I remembered tales and pictures of iron lungs from my youth, and felt grateful such machines were no longer needed.
Um, wrong. Out of curiosity, I Googled “iron lung” and discovered there are still polio victims living in iron lungs, have been for the past sixty years. I remember when I was young, how terrified I was of those hideous looking machines and even now the thought that some people were sentenced to a lifetime in such a contraption would have given me nightmares if I had been able to fall asleep. Oddly, the people who need to use the tanks because there is still no other way to force their diaphragms to work seemed to have good attitudes. Even that is unimaginable to me. But I suppose the alternative is even worse.
Breathing seems such a simple thing, so simple we mostly do it without even thinking. We draw in air, filter it through our lungs, and exhale the waste. And yet, even that natural act is beyond some people.
I hope you will take a deep breath with me and be grateful you can still perform such a simple, live-affirming action.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.