Su Lum: Eek " out of air |

Su Lum: Eek " out of air

After five years on an oxygen tether, I’ve amassed quite a few stories about tanks running out, or tanks suddenly whooshing out their contents in a big white cumulus cloud (that, I was told, is when you don’t want to be lighting any matches) ” of slamming the tubing in the car door or snagging it on the bottom of the refrigerator and snapping the connectors.

If I see it happen (as in WHOOSH), I can take immediate action, but the most common scenario is that I get disconnected or run out of air and don’t realize it until I start to feel “funny.”

The thing about oxygen is, if you’re not getting enough of it you get stupid. I run out of oxygen, for various reasons (equipment failure, neglecting to turn the tank on when I leave the house, overestimating the amount left in the tank) on a regular basis and, sinking into stupidity, never think, “Oh, I must be out of oxygen!”

Instead, I think, “Gee, I’m feeling really weird, what’s the matter with me?” I get more and more fretful until I reach the point (I’m not sure what that point is or how I reach it) where I check my oxygen and realize that I am out of air.

For the past three years I’ve been carrying around a revolutionary new light-weight liquid oxygen Helios tank (2.5 pounds, lasts 8-10 hours) which changed my life for the better. It lasts so long because it only delivers oxygen when I inhale, and the delivery comes in the form of an audible PUFF.

It makes me sound a little like Darth Vader, but the trade-off (duration, light weight and general unreliability) is worth it, and it is reassuring to hear the puff and know that the tank is working. My co-workers know to put their ears to my nose when I ask, at noisy Aspen Times parties, “Am I puffing?” I’ll make a sarcastic remark and someone will say, “She’s getting mean, is she puffing?”

I was getting a haircut and dye job (cut and color) this Saturday when I stopped puffing. John Wyman had stepped out to feed his parking meter and I was under the heat lamp in a shower cap reading Outside magazine, feeling increasingly “funny.” I couldn’t concentrate, thought maybe the fumes of the dye were getting to me, and suddenly realized I wasn’t puffing.

I thought maybe I just couldn’t hear it over the noise of the dryer ” I had filled the thing that morning and had only used it to go get the papers so it shouldn’t be out, but it was out.


Home was only four blocks away, my car was one block away, and I had to get there fast. I leapt out of the chair, caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror (oh, my god), grabbed the first thing I could find ” a small, brown towel ” draped it over my head and ran for my car (forgetting my jacket), using my denial device: If you don’t look at anyone, they won’t be able to see you.

A truck was blocking the alley, the driver unloading trash bags into a Dumpster ” where’s my Uzi when I need it? I’m OUT OF OXYGEN, hey! Like, MOVE IT!

Deep breaths from my mother oxygen tank at home. Fill the alternate Helios tank. Dig into the living room closet for a wool hat to cover the plastic bag on my head. Dash back to John Wyman, puffing.

[Su Lum is a longtime local who hates these crises. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times]