What is life like for a person who uses supplemental oxygen?
Meet Olivia. She’s a supplemental oxygen user. Let’s follow her on a typical day.
Starting the day as a supplemental oxygen user
Olivia wakes up on Saturday morning, looking forward to the weekend ahead. She checks the level on her oxygen tank to see how much she has left in her current tank, so that she can plan her morning accordingly.
She checks her oxygen saturation level using her finger oximeter and adjusts the flow from her tank. Olivia has had to become something of an expert in oxygen use and “flow rates” since her oxygen needs fluctuate during the day and she has to be able to adjust her flow rate accordingly. If she gets it wrong, it could mean some unpleasant symptoms like breathlessness and fatigue, or even an unexpected trip to the doctor or hospital.
Weighing the options at the supermarket
Olivia is at the supermarket to get groceries for the next few days. She takes care as she maneuvers through the busy store—she doesn’t want to bump into anyone with her tank. She also doesn’t want her air tube getting caught on any corners or ledges.
She needs to stock up on a few essentials, but she’ll have to schedule a second trip for the bulkier or heavier packages. Carrying her supplemental oxygen tank means that she’s already got one awkward and heavy object and she doesn’t want to load herself up with too much. She might even need to find someone to come with her to help out.
Taking a hike with a tank in tow
It’s a sunny and breezy day out, so when Olivia’s friend, Sam, invites her to join a group of people going for an afternoon hike, she’s eager to go.
The first 20 minutes of the hike go well, but after that Olivia has to stop and make her way back down on her own while the others go ahead. She hadn’t realized how hilly the trail is, and though many of the slopes aren’t all that steep, she doesn’t want to risk pushing herself too far.
Wining and dining as a supplemental oxygen user
Olivia is meeting her three sisters and their families for a big group dinner at one of their favorite restaurants. Olivia is a regular there and the serving staff all know her, which means she doesn’t get the same amount of curious stares and double-takes that she does in places where they aren’t used to seeing someone with a cannula. Olivia has to keep hers in place even while she is enjoying her appetizer, entree, and glass of wine.
Olivia is having a fabulous time catching up with her siblings, in-laws, nieces, and nephews, but she leaves early anyway because her oxygen tank is running low and she doesn’t have an extra one with her. “Maybe I’ll bring a backup tank next time so I don’t have to cut things short,” she thinks to herself. Even as she walks to her car, her brain is already working on the complicated calculation of the effort involved in bringing a backup tank compared to the benefit of not having to leave early.
Ending the day
Olivia finishes the day grateful for all the fun she’s had and also a little wistful. She remembers her life before her oxygen tank was her constant companion. Though her quality of life is so much better with oxygen than what it would be now if she didn’t have it, Olivia wishes she could recapture more of the freedom and spontaneity she used to enjoy.
“Olivia” is a fictional person representing an aggregate of real patient experiences that have been conveyed through various means, and that it is presented for illustrative purposes only.