Dear COPD Coach,
I was diagnosed with emphysema approximately 10 years ago. About 5 years ago my pulmonologist prescribed oxygen therapy for me. It was only 2 liters per minute to start, used almost exclusively at home while I slept or if I became short of breath. As time has gone by my disease has progressed and my use of oxygen has increased. My question is, what can I say when I am out in public or at work when people ask what I am wearing and why? I have to admit I am somewhat embarrassed to be seen in public wearing oxygen since I am relatively young and look pretty healthy.
–Embarrassed by my oxygen in public
First of all, I strongly believe there is absolutely no reason to ever be embarrassed while using your oxygen in public. Having said that, I think we all go through the same issues as our disease progresses, and many people have developed different strategies for dealing with wearing oxygen in public. When I reached the stage of using oxygen 24/7 I too was leery of being seen at work with oxygen on. When I told my manager, I made sure he knew what was going on and he said, “Thank God you’re alright, I was so worried about you. Now the company gets to report we have an employee with a disability.” My work took me in and out of doctor’s offices every day, and when first asked I stated that it was because I have Alpha-1. This more often than not led to a great conversation about Alpha-1/COPD and what they can do to better diagnose patients.
In public in my own town, I use the same tactic that I used at work with adults. When children ask, I explain that because I smoked when I was younger this was the consequence. I tell them that when we make bad choices we may have to face negative results to our actions. I can’t tell you how many kids have run off to their parents and begged them to quit.
It's not easy to go out in public when wearing oxygen the first time. However, look at the benefits: you get out of the house and remain engaged in life outside your home. While out, using oxygen makes it easier to do more, your brain thinks more clearly — and think how much happier you are when in the company of others. All in all the benefits of oxygen therapy are innumerable. Basically, it comes down to this: what is more important, not being able to breathe or being seen with a cannula? My choice was I preferred being able to breathe! Please stay active, get out as often as you can and live life. Don’t just watch it go by.
Stay active and be healthy,
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