Speaking about many of the issues that oxygen users face, Jon Tiger, president of the National Home Oxygen Patients Association, says, “People who are tethered feel like their lives are over, which can cause depression.” His sentence hit me particularly hard since my mother is an oxygen user and expressed a similar sentiment to me. She told me once that she knew she had COPD, but didn’t want to go to the doctor and officially find out because of what it meant. “I didn’t want to hear it,” she said.
Facing the diagnosis of COPD is only one of several factors that oxygen users have to endure. For many, there’s a sense of claustrophobia in using the equipment. Tiger says, “There’s something about having tubing on your face that causes [oxygen users] to feel closed in.” Clients also have physical effects from prolonged usage of the equipment. “The cannula problem is exacerbated because the tubing irritates the neck and the ears. The oxygen causes the nose to run and it dries the throat out,” Tiger says.
And there’s the social stigma.
Oxygen users worry about being judged, being stared at, or being treated as if they are sick. Tiger says many clients take off their oxygen and he hears explanations like, “Oh, I only came here for a couple of things,” or “I just hate to wear it in public.” Although the consequences of not wearing oxygen typically mean a dangerous deprivation of oxygen to all of the vital organs in the body, the desire to avoid the social stigma is certainly understandable. My mom put it like this, “Sometimes I take it off because I just don’t want to feel medical for a couple of hours.”
With all of the emotional and psychological tolls that oxygen users have to endure, it astounds me that Congress could turn to the oxygen industry once again as a means to reduce Medicare’s budget. Congress needs to know that what may appear to them like mandated cost reduction measures, shows up on our end as a severing of the relationship between provider and client.
Providers inform oxygen users on all of the latest advancements in portable oxygen and answer all of their questions. That information eases fears and brings new hope. Clients get excited about new equipment that allows them to do new things. Providers offer products that help clients breathe and that makes oxygen users feel safe.
In our cover story, Bob McCoy of Valley Inspired Products writes about oxygen delivery vs. non-delivery portable oxygen systems and the benefits of both to providers and clients. The innovation found in today’s oxygen systems have taken away one of the consequences for oxygen users: Users don’t have to worry about running out of oxygen. Now we just have to see that oxygen providers aren’t run out of business.