Sunday, February 08, 2009

Adventures with Oxygen, Episode #352

Okay, so here's the deal with oxygen. When you're switching tanks, you use a wrench to turn off the flow and then turn a screw to unclamp the regulator from the tank. You lift off the regulator, put it on a new tank -- making sure that the prongs on the regulator go into the holes in the tank -- and tighten the clamp. Then you use the wrench to turn another screw on top to open the tank.

Your tank's now ready to use. To get oxygen flowing, you turn the dial on the side to whatever number of liters per minute the patient needs (three, in my father's case).

I only recently learned that the wrench is only necessary when changing tanks; I thought I had to close the tank between each period of use. I've now learned that just turning the dial to zero is sufficient.

This is good news, because it means that ideally, Dad only needs one tank a day for his meals (in his room, he's on the concentrator, which always stays on) and doesn't need to fuss with wrenches and clamps at all. He only needs to turn the dial, which he can see with a magnifying glass. Yay! Simplicity!

His occupational therapist went over this with him, and Gary and I have reinforced it. We made up big signs that we put in standing sign holders, so he could read them easily:

When you go DOWNSTAIRS:

1. Turn the dial on the tank to 3.
2. Take off the nosepiece from the concentrator.
3. Put on the nosepiece from the tank.

When you come UPSTAIRS:

1. Take off the nosepiece from the tank.
2. Put on the nosepiece from the concentrator.
3. Turn the dial on the tank to O.

We went over this last night, and I set him up with a new, full tank, so all he'd have to do today would be to turn the dial or have someone turn it for him.

In the meantime, because the wrenches are small, we've attached them to colorful, easy-to-find objects. One's on an elephant keychain hanging from his oxygen stand. Another's attached to a string of dayglow-orange whiffle balls hanging out of a bright red flowerpot on a shelf in his bookcase.

A little while ago, he called me and said, "None of us can find the wrenches!"

Annoyed, I gave him careful instructions about how to find the wrenches. "Dad, look at the oxygen stand to the left of the bed. See the elephant keychain? Okay, good. Now look at your bookcase. See the red flowerpot? See the orange whiffle balls hanging out of it?"

This worked: he found both wrenches. Success!

Only after we'd ended the conversation did I realize that he shouldn't have needed the wrenches today. I called him back to figure out what had happened. It turned out that although someone brought him back up from breakfast, no one turned the tank off, so it ran out of gas by lunchtime.

"They didn't know to turn off the tank after breakfast?" I asked.

"We couldn't find the wrenches!"

"Dad, you don't need a wrench to turn off the tank! You only need to turn the dial to zero! We've gone over this! I wrote you instructions! Do you have the instructions? On the stand-up sign holder?"

"I don't know where it is. Tell me again."

I told him again, unable to hide my frustration. We keep trying to make things easy for him, and it keeps not working. I suggested that he have the caregiver read the instructions too, since she's evidently even less skilled with oxygen tanks than I am. He said she'd be insulted if he gave her instructions. I said, "Well, she needs them!" (For this they're trying to charge us $255/month?)

Dad sounded miserable. He started telling me how stupid he was -- he never talks like that -- and I realized that I'd been berating an elderly depressed person. Brilliant, Susan. Panicking, I apologized and told him that he isn't stupid.

"Yes, I am."

"No, you aren't. You're my Daddy and I love you."

"I'm your stupid Daddy."

"You aren't stupid, Dad. Tell me something you like about yourself."

"You love me."

"Yes, I do. And so does Liz, and so does Gary."

"There. That's what I like about myself. That's what's good about me."

"Dad, there are lots of good things about you!"

I feel awful. He feels awful.

And if the facility tries to make us pay $255/month for help from people who know less about oxygen tanks than I do, I'm going to tell them that they'd better train their staff before they send out the bills.


  1. Hard. So hard. I think in many ways the depression is worse than some of the physical stuff. Prayers ascending.

  2. Susan, please email me with your dad's address, if you're comfortable with that. I'd like to send him a card or a note every once in a while to cheer him up.

    In the meantime, the usual prayers sent up!


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