“Change. We don’t like it. We fear it, but we can’t stop it from coming. We either adapt to change or we get left behind.” – Meredith Grey, Grey’s Anatomy
When I started oxygen, I had to get used to staring at myself with a cannula up my nose. I also had to change how I walked with it on, change the setting depending on my level of exertion, learn the hard way to always carry a backup tank, start carrying my own pulse oximeter, learn what medications to take with me every time I went out, and learn when I had to sleep with it on. I also found out that wearing oxygen while brushing my teeth makes the toothpaste taste burn my nostrils even more.
They don’t prepare you for all of these changes when you leave the hospital. They don’t prepare you for the stares, the lifestyle changes, and the new, literal pains in your back from carrying around a tank.
From the time I was put on oxygen therapy to now, I have had mental breakdowns and refused to wear the oxygen. I convinced myself I didn’t need it, forgot a backup tank and lost consciousness at a Patriots football game. I’ve had a stroke-like episode after not wearing it for a week, was admitted into the ICU, and went to a rehabilitation center for two weeks. I had to train myself to gain strength in my weak side of my body, and broke down while trying to put toy pegs into holes. And most currently, I resigned from a full-time teaching position because it was putting way too much stress on my body, and leaving me weak and tired almost every single day.
Sometimes I think about everything I have had to change, and I DESPISE my oxygen. In these moments, I HATE having it. In these moments of hate, I am grieving the life I had prior to oxygen. I have learned that it’s okay to be angry, it’s okay to be upset, it’s okay to cry it out, scream it out, whatever I have to do.
What helps me get to the acceptance stage of grief over my need for oxygen is the fact that, despite all of the changes, and all of the hate I have for this hard cylinder on my back, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy my life without it. There are simple pleasures that I can’t remember getting out of life before oxygen therapy.
With oxygen, I am able to breathe deeper and fuller. I am able to do yoga without feeling as if I am going to pass out from taking a deep breath. I enjoy the “exercise high” after a workout fueled by oxygen therapy, instead of working out as I did before only to go home and sleep because I was so fatigued. I am able to run around after my nephew without feeling like I can’t keep up. I can eat a meal without having to pause between bites to take some breaths. I can walk up a flight of stairs without stopping at the top, with legs that feel like they are about to collapse.
I wake up in the morning feeling refreshed and ready to start the day without a headache. I have color in my cheeks, and I don’t look like I’m starring in the next Twilight movie with dark circles under my eyes. I don’t have people questioning if I’m okay after seeing the blue tint of my lips and around my mouth. I can cook, clean (joy joy), have conversations with friends without gasping. I have more energy through the day, without feeling as if I need a nap at noon. Most of all, I feel like I’m living my life; I’m no longer just going through the motions.
“Change. We don’t like it. We fear it.” I was petrified when starting oxygen. I was beginning a whole different lifestyle, and there was absolutely no way I could have prepared for it. We either adapt to our condition and find the good to move toward acceptance, or we get left behind by our own anger and fear of this new change.
I hope you move toward acceptance, and if you haven’t, trust that you will.
Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.