Lum: One step forward — oops

Su Lum

I managed to go two weeks without writing about my new transtrach oxygen delivery, but my life pretty much revolves around it these days. A few minutes ago, I noticed that I had put the catheter in my neck upside down and it had been like that all day, no doubt accounting for the recurrence of uncomfortable swallowing and general irritation (grrr). I just changed it (correctly) and all is well. Onward.

There are many things that can go wrong, and I’m rapidly discovering all of them.

Most are related to sequence, so I posted a list on the bathroom wall: Reading glasses (so I can see up close), put on cannula, connect cannula to oxygen, disconnect catheter from oxygen, shoot saline into catheter — you can see that the procedure is pregnant with nasty possibilities, starting with forgetting the glasses and forgetting to turn up the oxygen when I’m on the cannula.

My daughter Hillery made a sweet drawing of a big ear to remind me to take my hearing aids out before getting into the shower, a lesson I’ve yet to learn despite the thundering sound of the water when my hearing aids are in, which should alert me.

It took me a while to remember to put the necklace, that holds the catheter in place, under the cannula rather than on top of it and that if I didn’t get it right the first time the magnets on either end would be snapping and grabbing at each other, making it all the more difficult to sort out.

One time I was about to get in the shower and could not disconnect the neck end of the catheter, which I needed to do because I was wearing a T-shirt underneath it. I thought it was because the room was all steamed up but I never did get it apart; my friend Hilary got home from work and we thought we might have to cut it apart before she finally got it. Cutting apart is ok if you have another one, which I did, but now I’m wearing it and don’t have any more. My oxygen people ordered them but so far no luck.

It’s tricky to deal with all-new equipment. How does this work? How long will this last? And clearly I need a new wardrobe including undershirts with snaps, or those little baby ties, and a bunch of bandanas, scarves and turtlenecks.

The lower part of my neck was getting redder and redder. I figured it was just because of getting rubbed by my clothes or the bandanas, but Abby Nims, Dr. Borchers’ nurse practitioner, did a swab and it turned out to be a staph infection called MRSA, pronounced “mersa,” like the southern version of “mercy.”

Reactions to this news went from Typhoid Mary to “pooh, everybody has it on them.” Neither Hillery nor Hilary showed signs, but I quarantined myself, my meds were changed and my sore throat, the sore site and the hurting when swallowing, which I thought were all part of the healing process, started to disappear and life has been looking up.

My hairballs diminished to crushed raisins, now to manageable slugs — cross fingers it stays that way or better.

My oxygen numbers have been great: 4LPM down from 7. I made a backpack expedition to Carl’s and found that I am not ready for prime time when out and about on 6LPM, meaning I have to take a bigger tank in its horrid little cart.

Every time I put on the cannula to do the cleaning and changing, I am reminded of the years of oxygen whistling up my nose and compromising my sinuses — I never want to go back to that.

Still, you never know what’s going to get you. Early this morning, Hilary came through the house from the shed on her way to work and got tripped up in my oxygen tubing on the floor. She extricated herself and was headed outside when she thought maybe she should go back and make sure she hadn’t disconnected me. Sure enough, the two links of the tubing were lying apart on the floor. I might have wakened in a moment of panic, but seconds later I would have gone unconscious and slipped into that good night — death by caregiver.

Su Lum is a longtime local who is turning human. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at