Lum: Transtrach surgery hiatus |

Lum: Transtrach surgery hiatus

Su Lum

OK, I promise this will be my last column about my transtracheal oxygen surgery, though it’s more enjoyable to write about than, say, the caucus or the new planning director (into the frying pan there).

I wanted to let all the oxygen patients in the area know about it because hardly anybody around here has ever even heard of it. My daughter Hillery plays bridge in Leadville with a group of old ladies on oxygen, and they, too, are curious to know how this all will shake out. However, enough is enough.

Several readers complained that I grossed them out with last week’s hairball column, to which I respond that the very first line was a warning that grossness was ahead. Maybe next time you’ll believe me.

As of March 1, it has been three weeks since I got my throat cut, and despite my bitchings of last week, I overwhelmingly endorse this procedure, especially for anyone experiencing sinus problems or any other cannula agony. If you’re going to stick with cannulas, get the best, most comfortable ones that money can buy at

Although my oxygen levels have not increased as much as I had hoped, I was told that this would improve with healing. That sense of oxygen deprivation whenever I got up and did anything at all — such as step outside to get the mail — was hugely improved from my first day with transtracheal oxygen. This seems counterintuitive, but the body doesn’t have to work so hard to get oxygen when it’s being pumped directly into the lungs.

This and the absence of massive head congestion and nosebleeds are enough to make me a convert.

Now that I am in the final healing phase, I can take out the catheter (easy) and put a new one in (still a little creepy) all by myself. The hairball situation is waning and supposed to go away entirely.

During a couple of hairball moments, I thought I needed the Heimlich maneuver, which was more than a little bit ironic since Heimlich himself came up with the transtrach procedure.

The ongoing maintenance is a pain in the butt, but at my age, maintaining is what it’s all about. Hell, I could spend half a day every day just rubbing foot lotion into my hooves.

My friend Hilary has been my nurse, pet sitter, chauffeur, dogsbody and assistant throughout. This weekend my daughter Hillery came over from Leadville, the two Hills comprising a formidable work team. Ancient spiders were routed as furniture was moved about, the washer and dryer groaned under their loads, and the kitchen table was transmogrified into a jeweler’s bench where Hillery laid out her supplies to create a selection of necklaces to replace the long keychain that held the catheter in my neck in place.

One of my huge problems was that I couldn’t open the clasps of the chains with my arthritic hands even with it off and in front of me, much less with the clasp at the back of my neck.

Hillery brought some little magnets that were the magnetic versions of superglue. These little things would snatch a piece of metal from across the table, and when I first was putting on a new magnet necklace, they reached out and grabbed a pair of scissors that were lying on the bathroom counter. Whap, and the scissors were in midair. It’s easy to pull them apart, and it’s even easier to close them together (snap!).

Dr. Schwartz had mentioned magnets as a possible solution, and unless I pull them apart in my sleep, I think they will be perfect. In my early days on the cannula in 1999, I often pulled it off and would find it lying on the floor in the morning. Now I need too much oxygen to get away with that.

I’ve started back to physical therapy and am so out of shape that I slept for the better part of the afternoon the first time. I’ll be tramping on the antigravity treadmill, bending ze knees on the Pilates bench and breathing deeply, but I won’t report about it every week because it’s a slow process and I’m already bored writing about it.

Su Lum is a longtime local who is completely bored with national politics. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at