I have always been pathetically self-conscious when it comes to using supplemental oxygen in public.
Pulmonary Hypertension patients are often prescribed the stuff to ward off the effects of long-term oxygen depletion. Some people take it just while sleeping, others (like me) also use it during the day if the weather is a bit humid or if they’ve ‘overdone it’ by walking up a few too many flights of stairs. Some people can’t breathe without it, and are on it 24/7.
Years ago, when the oxygen concentrator was first delivered to my uni student share-house, I had a difficult time accepting its presence in my life.
Its crimes were these:
When switched on it emitted ear-drum destroying beeps, then proceeded to rattle, pant, and heave like an asthmatic labrador. It also had the lovely brand name of ‘Invacare’. As I was in complete denial over my illness at this stage, I considered myself neither an invalid or in need of ‘care’, and thus failed to see how this machine could possibly be of any benefit to me.
Its beige, plastic, rectangular shape was weird and creepy. It sat in the corner of my room like an uninvited guest – a bland-faced hospital bureaucrat perhaps, who would obsessively tidy up the clutter on my desk, then insist on listening to a program on ABC Radio National about dahlia cultivation.
It came with yards of coiled rubber tubing, and had a metal attachment called a ‘nipple’. It also had a thing called a ‘nasal cannula’ that was supposed to go up my nose. Ick.
Most unforgivably, it didn’t even match my furniture. How was I supposed to encourage a creative yet home-like aesthetic with something that looked like a dalek camped out in my bedroom?
If I ever had to wear the nasal thing in public (say answering the door, or hanging laundry on the line), people tended to avoid looking me in the eye. This is because the most common sight of someone hooked up to oxygen is when they are an actor dying of cancer on a telemovie. Me wearing one turned me into Scary Cancer Lady.
It took me months, and a bout of airway restricting influenza, for me to start using it properly. Stupid, I know.
And, I recently found out, highly unnecessary. Because concentrated oxygen has suddenly become the very latest hip and decidedly cool thing to inhale.
An ‘oxygen bar’ has recently opened up in Sydney’s Harbourside Shopping Centre. Here, by the darkly glimmering waters of Darling Harbour, you can hook your stylish self up to a stylish nasal cannula, and enjoy stylish 90 % oxygen for a dollar a minute.
The ‘bar’ which is in the middle of a shopping mall, is all neon glowing surfaces, touch screens, and shapely white stools, and is decorated with a back-lit blown-up photo of blue sky and green grass. Evocative, I presume, of health and vitality.
Basically, it’s pretty tacky. It looks like a cross between a food-court juice bar and a nail salon. And then of-course there is the array of colour-coded bubbling oxygen flavours that make it look like the Slurpie section of your local Seven Eleven.
While experts such as a respiratory specialist from the Australian Lung Foundation, and two scientists from the University of Technology, Sydney, say that oxygen for healthy people is not only pointless but dangerous, the bar owner insists upon its health benefits.
Taking 90 % oxygen (most air that we breathe is only at 21%) is, apparently, a great way to relax, and speeds flu recovery. And if you’re up all night popping pills and hitting the clubs, then it’s a terrific hangover cure so you’re all perky for the seven am boardroom meeting.
So for years, I have been self-consciously hiding my diseased, cannula-wearing, self in my bedroom, while being hooked up to oxygen was what the cool kids were doing all along.
Worse still, now I puff around town with blue lips, unable to afford the portable oxygen that these days I would wear no matter how self-conscious I’d feel, while the rich and stupid sit in shopping malls sucking down a substance which does nothing for them.
It’s a bit ironic if you think about it.
I suppose you could argue that the same irony exists in many other consumer items. Food that one doesn’t need, for example. Only this morning I bought a pink glazed donut and guzzled half of it while driving home from an appointment.
It was an entirely unnecessary act of crass consumerism. Someone out there in the teeming hungry world would do wonders on that hefty wad of saturated fat and strawberry-flavouring.
But can oxygen be classed as a ‘consumer item’? Should it be? Isn’t taking pure oxygen for a hangover cure the same as having a blood transfusion for a health kick while someone else bleeds out in an emergency room for lack of adequate blood supplies?
Isn’t using oxygen for ‘a bit of a boost’ trivialising the terribly serious world of Medicine and Illness? Or is it a good thing; does it normalise and bring oxygen use out into the open?
I’m not really sure.
The only thing I am sure of, is that I won’t be eating any more donuts – at least not in public. How embarrassingly uncool of me. The really hip trendy people only eat artisan-produced gluten free organic confectionery made locally or in Belgium. From now on, public consumption of donuts will only occur when they are available intravenously in bars.