Lum: The bloody air that I breathe |

Lum: The bloody air that I breathe

Warning: The following column is totally gross, so either steel yourself or stop reading right now.

I’m just a little bit past my 16th anniversary of being on supplemental oxygen 24/7. Trite but true to say, sometimes it seems like yesterday and other times I can hardly remember being off it.

When you’re breathing through a cannula — the bridle that goes up your nostrils and over your ears and attaches to the oxygen source — it is vital to keep your nasal passages and sinuses clear of obstructions.

To that end, every evening I (gently) push a warm, sterile saline solution up each nostril using a syringe (minus the needle, need I say). This process dislodges an astounding amount of nasal detritus and effects immediate relief from snogged nose syndrome.

On Friday, I might have been in a hurry or not paying sufficient attention — I must have overblown following the irrigation (or nasal douche as I call it), and I got a mother of a nosebleed.

Now a nosebleed in itself is not anything to get overly excited about, but if you are on oxygen the situation is significantly complicated by the presence of the cannula, which is up in your nose and blowing air into the cascading blood, when ideally the cure is to pinch your nostrils together for 10 minutes, something oxygen patients can’t afford to do.

Meanwhile, my oxygen numbers were going down; my oximeter readings were in the 70s, and that’s when you start getting really, really stupid.

I called my friend Hilary, who wasn’t home. I am night blind and dared not drive myself to the emergency room. For a horrible moment I thought I would have to call 911 and could just visualize the scene of sirens, flashing lights, medics, stretcher and the dachshunds swarming the scene in full yoik — not a pretty picture.

Just then, the bleeding abated a bit and I was able to get enough oxygen to restore a few IQ points and figure out that what I needed to do was telephone the emergency room and ask for advice.

I highly recommend this course of action.

A very nice man told me what I should have known after all these years on oxygen: “Put the cannula in your mouth.” Duh. In my weak defense, I had spent a great deal of those 16 years training myself to breathe through my nose.

So I put the cannula (sputter) in my mouth, the unmistakable hot flow returned several times before it completely stopped, and my bedroom looked like a re-enactment of “Looking for Mr. Goodbar,” but I survived an uncomfortable night.

Needless to say, these things always happen at the onset of a long holiday weekend.

The next morning I went up to the emergency room in search of an oxygen mask to use instead of the cannula. The guys there were great, sending me away with a plastic mask and yet another option for staying alive.

Every sinus and nasal passage in my head felt packed with hardened cement, but I was terrified to try the saline douche lest it set off another crimson flood, so I spent all day Saturday and Sunday with the cannula in my mouth or the mask covering my face, but I couldn’t get a whiff of air through my nose.

By Sunday evening I was going crazy, so I prepared a warm douche, shot a tiny bit into each nostril and sat back to let it do its work, a pile of Viva paper towels at hand.

Gradually there was a loosening, I gave it another shot, and after a few minutes I honked out a 10-carat spiked rock of a booger the size of a chocolate-covered peanut.

Man, the inside of my head felt as open and echoing as Carlsbad Caverns, the wind whistling through it and owls flying from end to end. Relief at last.

That’s what I did this Presidents Day weekend; I just had to share.

Su Lum is a longtime local whose condition does not lend itself to claustrophobia. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at

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