Su Lum: Slumming | AspenTimes.com

Su Lum: Slumming

Su Lum
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

On our recent Holland America cruise, my friend Hilary and I encountered no problems at all getting to our ship, the Oosterdam, in San Diego. Despite the continued disablement of the instrument landing what-sis at the Aspen airport, our plane left on time and we experienced no orifice probes going through security.

Since I have to fly with a portable oxygen concentrator, a device that was only very recently approved by the major airlines (thanks to Baby Boomer agitators, who are not a passive lot), my main concern was getting that equipment on board without raising suspicions. Hilary was schlepping the extra battery and the heavy adapter, which we could plug in at the Denver airport to charge the batteries between flights.

Hilary had my doctor’s permission slip at hand – a meaningless requirement that had to be signed by a physician no less than 10 days before flight time, one does not ask why – but it wasn’t looked at. Zip zip and we were in Denver, plugged in until the flight to San Diego was called.

The thing about vacations is get there, don’t miss the boat, and let getting back to Aspen take care of itself.

I don’t need oxygen at sea level and spent seven days free of the tether, a huge part of the allure of cruising. My concentrator – a Sequal Eclipse which runs on electricity, battery or cigarette lighter in the car – sat unused in a corner of our cabin until the last day, when we fired it up to recharge the batteries. Both batteries were showing full charge, but we let the Sequal run for a few hours on each of them anyway, just to make sure.

Tra-la, we got on the cattle car from San Diego to Denver. In my dotage, I have shrunk to less than 5 feet tall, but on those planes there was no such thing as leg room. My knees were to my chin and, for normal people, knees would be up around their ears. How tall people manage, I can’t imagine.

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But hey, we were on our way home, eager to reunite with our puppies, and the plane was revving up on the tarmac when my Sequal Eclipse began to scream. This was not a gentle reminder from the machine that something might be awry, it was a red alert beep-Beep-BEEPing SCREECH signaling that something was desperately wrong which, if unattended, might blow up and take the plane and all its passengers with it.

Of course I knew that the Sequal had a hypocondriacal streak and that there was no real danger, but no one else knew it, so I quickly hit the button to turn the machine off.

Hilary and I waited until we were roaring into the air, then turned the Sequal on again. Precious oxygen rushed into my lungs, but after five minutes it started screaming again.

Hilary approached a flight attendant, who dug up an old oxygen canister with a yellowed mask. The mask brought back a million nasty hospital memories and I was forbidden to use my own sweet cannula (the hose that goes to your nose). It’s hard to go back on oxygen after a week away from it and this was an especially nasty reintroduction, but I was lucky to get it at all.

In the Denver airport, the Sequal worked perfectly when plugged in, so it had to be a battery problem. When we headed for the United gate to catch our plane to Aspen, the schedule board said that all flights to Aspen were canceled due to the what-sis that still hadn’t been fixed.

We ended up catching the last seats on a flight to Eagle, and the Sequal was beeping its head off so I had to turn it off while we spent a half-hour on the tarmac waiting to be de-iced and was pretty much gasping by the time we used the roar of our ascent to turn it back on for a few minutes of air. Like five minutes, then beep, Beep, BEEP.

Fortunately the plane was full of screaming kids and no one seemed to notice. In retrospect, that’s a little scary. The flight was short and we’d turn it off, then on until it started beeping.

Hilary had arranged to get a rental car and we had picked up two other stranded Aspen passengers. On the way home, the Sequal continued its pattern of running for five minutes and then screaming and having to be turned off and, when I couldn’t stand it any longer, turned back on for another five minutes.

Talk about kissing the ground after a harrowing trip. We were supposed to be back in Aspen at 5 p.m. and felt lucky to arrive at 10:30 and very glad not to have been stranded overnight in Denver. Everything is relative, but I was more than relatively happy to open my door and get covered with dachshund kisses.

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