After hospital, Covid patients worry about the next breath – .

After hospital, Covid patients worry about the next breath – .

A few weeks ago my friend Jason Muse’s oxygen machine malfunctioned.
He had just emerged from an 11-day hospitalization after suffering from a breakthrough COVID-19 infection, and he had no back-up oxygen tanks on hand.

For the next two hours, he called everyone he could think of to try and get a replacement for his machine, trying not to panic as he was put on hold for the eighth time.

Eventually, after being forced to answer the same questions multiple times, he broke down on the phone and cried. He told a hospital worker, “I think I might die today,” and a few hours later the company provided a replacement.

The experience shook us both a bit. Jason is one of my most talkative and expressive friends. He’s a fearless, stubborn debater, and he throws his head back and laughs his whole body off if he finds anything funny. Now he’s having a hard time catching his breath. Oxygen addiction forced an uncomfortable new familiarity with its own mortality.

“What I know psychologically is that if the machine stops working, I can’t breathe. Which makes me feel like I’m going to die if it breaks, ”he said.

I wanted to tell Jason’s story because it sheds light on the lesser known after-effects of this disease. The road to recovery can be long and perilous, and to walk it you need oxygen.

Jason is one of the many COVID-19 patients who depend on supplemental oxygen after battling the disease. Most COVID patients who have long hospital stays undergo a six-minute walk test to see how much the oxygen concentration in their body decreases as they move. If their oxygen concentration falls below a certain threshold – around 90% – they cannot be discharged from the hospital until arrangements for supplemental oxygen have been made.

Most patients are sent home with an oxygen concentrator – a machine with a breathing tube that plugs into an outlet and picks up oxygen from the atmosphere – and an oxygen tank that can last up to six. time.

The reservoir is supposed to be there for backup in the event of a machine malfunction, so the patient can breathe while the company sends in a repairman. It also allows the patient to move around, albeit with a large, bulky 30-pound oxygen tank in tow.

These devices and the oxygen supply chain have become an essential part of the country’s medical infrastructure in the fight against COVID-19. For vaccinated and unvaccinated patients, the extra oxygen provided by ventilators, concentrators and reservoirs allows the body to function as it fights disease. Oxygen is also essential to the healing process, as lungs damaged by the virus often do not produce enough oxygen during healing.

Last year, in the face of a catastrophic oxygen shortage, California emergency authorities sent a mobile oxygen depot to Riverside County to supplement oxygen production. The Army Corps of Engineers also sent technicians to hospitals to inspect and update aging oxygen production systems.

Increases in COVID-19 case rates are usually followed by large and destabilizing increases in oxygen demand. In Florida, which has become the nation’s COVID-19 hotspot over the past week, hospitals are using four times more oxygen than they do on average, said Rich Gottwald, president of the Compressed Gas Assn. ., a trade organization for producers of medical gas equipment.

The surge in demand for oxygen deliveries amid a labor shortage has left many companies without truck drivers to deliver the gas. Businesses are moving out of state to find drivers, Gottwald said.

California case rates are down from last year. But it’s always difficult to get new oxygen equipment – purchase orders can go unanswered for months, said Edmond Manukyan, manager of a medical supply store at Glendale, A-1 Oxygen Inc.

“A lot of the equipment just wasn’t manufactured,” Manukyan said. “But things are improving now. “

At the height of the California push, the company was leasing up to 30 oxygen concentrators per month. It is now back to around 10.

For patients, dependence on oxygen can be costly. Without insurance, a four to six hour oxygen tank can cost $ 80 and an oxygen concentrator costs about $ 8.50 per day to rent.

Jason tries to count his blessings and avoid thinking about the bill that might come up. When he went to the hospital, his oxygen concentration was only 40%.

“I realized that I could have died in my sleep if I hadn’t been to the hospital then,” he said.

When we spoke last week, it was the first day Jason could go over 20 minutes without wearing an oxygen tube. It was so striking that he took a video of it to share with his friends and family.

The positive side of the experience is that she prompted one of her family members to get the vaccine. Her family, like many blacks, have bad memories of medical discrimination, and many of them are still reluctant to get vaccinated.

After recent hospitalization, COVID-19 patient Adrian Jauregui is on oxygen at his home in Arcadia. Her sister Cecilia provided her with oxygen.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Cecilia Jauregui’s brother Adrian contracted COVID-19 a few weeks ago. He was hospitalized for two weeks and could not be released until hospital authorities determined who would pay for the oxygen. Jauregui ended up going to an oxygen supplier and got two tanks and a rented concentrator for around $ 250.

Adrian considered himself a germaphobe and took every precaution aside from getting the shot, Jauregui said. He’s not sure, but thinks he may have contracted it from a colleague. His hospitalization was a wake-up call for the whole family.

“After seeing what he was going through, it opened my eyes,” Jauregui said. Getting the vaccine “isn’t just about us and you as a personal choice. These are the people over there that you don’t know, that you run into in the streets, with whom you work.


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