Portable Oxygen: A User's Perspective
Oxygen Stops, Patient Dies
The story below is one about the unnecessary death of an oxygen user. You should read it to know that "things happen"--emergencies that affect oxygen patients occur. The worst is a power outage. That's when the concentrator quits and the oxygen stops flowing.
If the home is secure only an alternate source of oxygen must to be found and brought quickly to the patient. If the home is on fire or filled with smoke, steps must be taken to remove the patient from the premises. Survival in these emergencies depends on the amount of preparation and how well those who are close to the patient respond.
It was the last Friday of March and winds buffeted the partially constructed wood frame building in downtown Richmond, Virginia. Workmen on the top floor were cleaning up and tossing debris into the plastic chute that lead down five floors to the Dumpster. Then someone thoughtlessly tossed a lighted cigarette into the chute starting the largest fire that Richmond has seen in 160 years. That single glowing ember, wind-swept by 20 mile-per-hour winds, damaged or destroyed twenty-two buildings at a cost that exceeds $20 million.
To help fight the fire, the power company turned off the electricity in an area that also contained the home of Marian Jackson. Mrs. Jackson knew the power stopped when the life-supporting oxygen that was flowing from her electrically powered oxygen machine stopped flowing. Having insufficient oxygen backup, Mrs. Jackson’s family put Mrs. Jackson and her oxygen machine in a car to transport them to a home that did have power. After 15 minutes without oxygen, Mrs. Jackson passed out. Thirty minutes later and just a half block from her home, Mrs. Jackson was dead.
This incident highlights a largely hidden population—those who live quietly at home using lifesaving equipment that requires electricity. In Richmond and the counties that surround her, this population may be as large as 35,000. Because they must always be connected to an oxygen source, they are only occasionally seen outside of their homes.
When the lights go out and the oxygen machines stop, there is little that the Marian Jacksons of the world can do without help. The first 15 minutes are critical. When the oxygen stops they become less clearheaded and less physically capable of connecting themselves to a backup system.
The word is out that electrical disruptions will come this summer. Some will parallel the blackouts of last year and others will accompany the fires in the drought areas of the West and perhaps in your neighborhood. The lights will go out. Take time to visit with your Marian Jackson and learn how you can help during those first 15 minutes when the lights go out. The Marian Jacksons urgently need support from their families and neighbors when the lights go out.
The two words "Be Prepared" we learn from scouting are equally important for the person on a life support system facing power outages. Be preparing means preparing in advance by collecting together the information and equipment, and conducting practice drills so that everyone knows what to do when the lights go out.
The following are suggestions to help prepare a patient who is dependent on a life support system for a power outage.
Perform drills of a power outage emergency every three months. Both daytime and nighttime outages should be practiced. The ultimate goal of these drills is to demonstrate to the patient that, no matter who helps with the backup, the changeover can be done quickly, smoothly, confidently, and without discomfort to the patient.. Here are two suggested drills.
Peter M. Wilson, Ph.D.
Founder of PortableOxygen.org
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