Lum: Another oxygen mystery solved |

Lum: Another oxygen mystery solved

Su Lum

On the Friday night before last (what my grandmothers would call “Friday week”) I was helicoptered to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction. It was a brief stay — I was released Saturday afternoon — but the reason for going to any hospital in the first place was clouded in mystery.

On Friday morning, my friend Hilary had come through the house on her way to work. National Public Radio was playing on my radio, her sign that I was alive and functioning; I was hooked up to my oxygen concentrator on level 5.

When she came home after work, I was semi-conscious and hooked up to liquid oxygen on level 3.

I’ll try to keep the terminology as simple as possible. A concentrator runs on electricity, making oxygen out of thin air. Liquid oxygen comes in tanks that need to be refilled. Both machines go to level 6, the highest strength of their flow. You turn the levels up or down to maintain blood oxygen numbers in the 90s, as determined by an oximeter, a little machine you stick your finger into to get an oxygen reading.

When Hilary found me, my oxygen reading was 47, which is very low and can put the whammy on other organs such as hearts.

I had not read the newspapers online. There was no sign that I had eaten anything. The radio was still on, but I always switch to Audible books or TV after NPR is over at 9 a.m.

Thus the evidence was that sometime before 9 a.m. I got up, went to a liquid tank in the front bedroom and hooked myself onto that, went back through the living room and turned off the concentrator, got into bed and stayed there until Hilary returned home sometime after 5 p.m.

That was the how of it, but where was the why?

Having no memory of anything prior to the arrival of the police and ambulance crew didn’t help anything; nor did making a regular habit of increasingly preposterous oxygen screw-ups in the past few months.

I’ve become a little bit sensitive (translation: thumping paranoid) about anything smelling of mental lapses. Had I been sleep-walking? Had I accidentally overdosed on my various meds? Why would I have set the liquid on level 3 when I knew that was too little?

I have had plenty of oxygen mishaps, but they were all equipment malfunctions of one sort or another rather than totally unexplainable behavior. The liquid tanks had just been filled on Thursday — it didn’t make any sense.

Had I gone completely over the edge? Time for the home and around the clock care?

This nibbled and gnawed at me the whole time I was in Grand Junction. I was eager to get home and re-enact the event with Hilary in hopes of clearing up the mystery.

We went over everything in detail — the radio in the morning and, ominously, the radio on when Hilary got home. My oxygen in the 40s, her putting on a mask on me in addition to the transtrach delivering oxygen through my neck (now both set at level 6).

The second or third time through, Hilary said that I might have been worried that the electricity would go off and bang, everything fell into place.

The gas company has been digging up the highway and my friend Nancy’s electricity had been turned off during the course of it. As the exhumation approached my house I had voiced concerns about the need to go on liquid rather than the electricity-dependent concentrator.

Now it made perfect sense. Half awake, I remedied the situation by hooking myself onto the liquid tank. I always count the number of clicks of the dial because I never have my reading glasses with me to see what level it’s on. However, a new tank had been delivered the day before and what sounded to me like the number of clicks for level 5 were really only enough to set it on level 3. I probably felt sleepy and zonked out for the rest of the day.

So I’m safe from the home for another day, but for every detached hose and frozen tank I catch in time, the equipment seems to work ever harder to fake me out and trip me up.

Su Lum is a longtime local who thinks the tanks need 24-hour care. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at

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