The effects of the emphysema grew over time. She was able to manage initially with an inhaler (using the medication Ventolin) and as the disease progressed, she became dependent upon oxygen, at first only at night and finally, she required it twenty-four hours a day. We learned about breathing treatments with nebulizers, portable oxygen tanks on wheeled carts and in shoulder bags, and concentrators that produce their own purified oxygen from the air around you.
What is oxygen? A colorless, odorless and tasteless gas that everyone needs to survive. An average breath takes in approximately twenty one percent oxygen into your lungs. Oxygen is necessary for our body to maintain life.
There are several things to know when dealing with oxygen. First, it must be ordered by a physician. Second, it is a covered expense with Medicare. Third, there are several suppliers from which to choose; depending on your particular city or town, there are likely several companies that could provide oxygen for your parent. And lastly, do not have an open flame near the source of oxygen. Clearly, no smoking is the rule when dealing with an explosive gas.
Oxygen tanks are heavy. They come in various sizes and it’s always a good idea to have several back-up tanks in case of an emergency, such as a power outage. If you have the very large rocket-shaped tank in your home, it will be placed in a secure base. All oxygen tanks require a key to turn them on - make sure the key is provided when the tanks are delivered. Ask for an extra key, just in case.
The smaller tanks are somewhat more portable. Those that are two and a half to three feet tall can be maneuvered by a wheeled cart. When used for traveling, you will have a choice of settings. You can either have it blow oxygen continuously or puff on a predetermined rate. The second option is usually called the “conserve” setting. You will gain a longer usage time on the conserve setting, but only do so if the patient can remain comfortable at that level. Please note that even on the wheeled cart, the entire assembly may be easier to roll, but is still quite heavy to pick up and put into a vehicle. Make sure if your parent is driving himself or herself, that he or she will have assistance if needed to transfer the oxygen cart to and from the car or van.
Before setting out for the first time, make sure the parent and any caregivers or traveling companions know how to change to a new tank when the first one is empty. The regulator is fairly simple to understand and basically screws onto the top of the tank. Once the regulator is firmly in place, use the key to turn on the flow of oxygen. If the regulator is not seated firmly in place, you will know immediately! A loud sound will alert you that oxygen is escaping. Turn it off and try again. Once you have the regulator properly installed and the flow turned on, the gauge on the regulator will indicate full.
For shorter trips, there are over the shoulder bags concealing much smaller oxygen tanks or portable concentrators. For someone who doesn’t have a great deal of strength to pick up the wheeled cart alone, the over the shoulder bag can be a welcome alternative. It’s extremely important to make sure you have enough back-up tanks in the car to cover the length of the trip or a charger cord and a back-up charger cord to maintain a portable concentrator. Leave a window open slightly for ventilation to avoid the accumulation of oxygen inside the cabin of the vehicle if your parent is using the portable during the car ride.