Lum: March, a month of milestones |

Lum: March, a month of milestones

Su Lum

My friends Hilary, Nancy and Jack all have birthdays in March, my puppies were born in March, the Great Alaskan Earthquake was March 27, 1964 — a day I will never forget — and St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, was my 16th anniversary of going home after 36 days in St. Mary’s Hospital.

I remember that I had become so habituated to hospital life that I felt quite sad that I would be missing their traditional corned beef and cabbage dinner. Damn! I had been looking forward to that.

Instead, I was going home, and my daughter Skye was trying to deal with a roomful of representatives from several different oxygen companies, some of which were eliminated because they weren’t covered by my insurance.

We were setting out on our own, knowing very little about oxygen (mine had just come out of the wall in the hospital), and Skye was having a hard time determining exactly how many canisters we would need for the drive to Aspen.

In retrospect, it wasn’t a simple question. How many tanks I’d need depended on how much oxygen I needed, and since it was uphill all the way from Grand Junction to Aspen, no one could predict with any accuracy how much more oxygen flow I would need at the higher elevations. The providers’ consensus was that two E-tanks would definitely do it, so Skye doubled that and requested four tanks.

Back then, I had no idea that I was on oxygen for, as they say, “the duration.” I thought it was just a temporary bridge over my River Styx. It was just as well — one shock at a time.

For the first several days, my daughters traded off staying with me, but they had lives of their own to pursue now that mine was out of danger. They both had given up weeks staying with me at St. Mary’s, which, by the way, was warm and friendly with good food and open visiting hours and allowed both children and pets.

My daughter Hillery needed to return to her husband, Bruce, and their Leadville antiques store, Western Hardware. Skye needed to go home to her family, and her daughter, Riley, needed her mom back.

Soon after I returned home, I dreamed that a local Realtor — one with whom I had a perfectly fine business relationship in real life — came into my house and began taking paintings off my walls.

“You can’t do that,” I yelled.

The Realtor looked at me and replied placidly, “You can’t do anything about it,” and continued removing the artwork.

I interpreted the dream to be my inner reaction to 36 days of being helpless and vulnerable in the hospital. I had no privacy — various people would just walk in without knocking and do sometimes unspeakable and often silly things to me, such as waking me up in the middle of the night to weigh me.

“Please, I can’t go home until I weigh you,” a little voice would whisper in my ear as the bars of the bed were let down and I was helped onto a scale at 4 in the morning.

I relied on those bed bars to keep me from falling out. I used them to pull on to help turn myself over. Back in my unsafe bed at home, I missed them. Despite the message of my dream, I missed the reassuring touch of forefingers on my pulse, the tightening whoosh of the automatic blood-pressure machine strapped to my arm, the melodic beeps of the oximeter taped to my finger.

It’s not that I regretted the divorce from St. Mary’s, but it wasn’t that bad of an arranged marriage while it lasted, and I had gotten used to it. And used to pushing a little buzzer if I needed ice or a milkshake or picking up the house phone to report to the kitchen that I wouldn’t be needing dinner that night because my kids were doing a pickup at Red Lobster.

My dachshund Trudy couldn’t believe I was back home. She wasn’t sure it was really me, with all those tubes and new hospital smells and oxygen noises. But it didn’t take long for me to realize there’s no place like home, and anyway, I was off on a yearlong adventure with steroids — another story.

Su Lum is a longtime local who had acute respiratory distress syndrome. Oxygen patients should get cannulas from This column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at

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