Lum: Changing my habits |

Lum: Changing my habits

Su Lum

Dr. Cott, my lung doctor from National Jewish, suggested that I sleep on an elevated bed so that my head and torso would be higher than the rest of me or that I buy a wedge pillow that would serve the same purpose.

His idea was that patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease tend to gather their mucus juices in their larynxes where they can fester and turn into infections, possibly explaining my two recent hospitalizations for pneumonia.

I do not pretend to have this diagnosis letter-perfect, but the message I got was to elevate my upper body while sleeping and to avoid eating or drinking anything for two hours before dropping off.

This would seem like a fairly simple assignment. I purchased a sizable wedge pillow on the Internet, which took up the bulk of my queen-size bed and which I — as I do in hospital beds — tend to slide down, scrunching up in a ball at the bottom rather than stretched on a healthy slope. Which is worse, lying flat in my juices or curled in a ball?

The advice not to eat or drink for two hours before sleeping was even more difficult, assuming, as it does, that you have some inkling of an idea when you might actually go to sleep. I might close my eyes at 8:30 p.m. with a full stomach, the lights on and an audible book lulling me on my radio only to wake up in the very early or very late morning.

Or I might still be buzzing around the house in the wee hours, starving to death as well as dying of thirst.

“I guess you’ll just have to change your habits, Su,” my granddaughter Riley told me years ago, advice that is easier to dispense than it is to follow.

All it takes is the knowledge of a fasting blood test the next day to make me ravenous enough to guzzle the contents of the hummingbird feeder at midnight.

The longer you live, the more adjustments you have to make — the more you have to change your habits. I’ve had to get used to being half blind and two-thirds deaf, to dental atrocities and being on supplemental oxygen, to counting my diabetes carbohydrates, to sorting my big bag of pills into my weekly box, to writing every appointment down on the calendar and then forgetting to look at the calendar. Adjust, tweak, resist, attempt, comply.

Not eating or drinking two hours before sleeping upright is just one new little snaggletooth in the maw. I’m using it to practice for the larger snaggletooth that lurks around the corner in the form of a Feb. 9 appointment to get my throat cut in Denver.

This is a transtracheal procedure I’ve written about before and will certainly write about afterward: a tiny nick in the neck, a small tube inserted into the windpipe, that will be plugged into my oxygen sources. It is not a tracheotomy; it is not a last resort; I will not talk funny. People who have it love it — they need far less oxygen and no longer have to wear cannulas up their noses and over their ears, drying out their sinuses.

Still, it’s going to take some getting used to. I have to learn how to take that tube in and out and clean it. I’ll have to adjust to a plastic tube in my throat blowing air into my lungs, which I cannot even begin to imagine.

I am phobic about wearing anything around my neck, but the transtracheal tube is held in place by what looks like a sturdy keychain as tight as a choker necklace. Will I be able to adapt to that? The answer is yes, I will. I think I can; I think I can. I just have to change my habits.

I have already stopped my late-night snacking.

Su Lum is a longtime local who is not as set in her ways as she thought. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at