Claustrophobia and the Bi-PAP
There is a machine that helps with the removal of CO2 from your system. It is called a Bi-PAP, short for bi-level positive airway pressure.1 Basically it uses different pressure levels during your inhale and exhale to assist your body in keeping your airways open.
This machine can be quite difficult to use at first, especially if you are claustrophobic. However, the results from using it far outweigh the initial fears. Let me explain.
Bi-PAPs and claustrophobia
When my mother went into the hospital in 2010, she was having an episode of severe shortness of breath. The doctors were doing as much as they could with medications to help her with the anxiety and breathing treatments to open up her airways. Her CO2 levels were off the charts because she was just unable to move air enough to remove it from her body. Finally one of the doctors in the ER wanted to start her on the bi-pap.
There was one major problem, mom's claustrophobia. She had been claustrophobic for as long as I could remember, but in the few years leading up to this event, it had increasingly gotten worse. I believe that it was because of her fear of not being able to breathe.
Trying a Bi-PAP for the first time
When the respiratory therapist arrived with the machine, we had no idea what she was about to endure. I was nervous for her, but I also knew that the doctors were very serious about the need to use it. I held mom’s hand and the respiratory therapist placed the mask over my mother’s face. I could see the fear in her eyes before the machine even kicked on. Mom tried so hard, but in less than a minute she was trying to remove the mask.
The nurse was very understanding and began to explain how it would help and that we could remove it, if she felt too anxious. We tried it again, and again, mom fought it. Unfortunately she would only work up to just a few minutes on the machine before she would take it off. It was partially because of this that she was admitted directly into the ICU. They knew that without mom spending a large amount of time on the bi-pap, the extremely high CO2 levels would not come down.
The next few days in the ICU, she would try it for a few minutes at a time, but it was never really long enough to help her body remove the CO2 that had built up in her system. It was a scary time. She was placed on a ventilator for 10 days, and thank God, she was able to come off of it (after three tries). She was in the hospital for almost four weeks. Three of those weeks, she was in the ICU.
From that time forward, mom learned to endure the bi-pap. It was hard for her. There were days that she could only handle an hour or two, but thankfully there were nights that she would wear it all night. I believe that in many ways, this machine helped mom to live a few years longer.
Managing Bi-PAP use for COPD treatment
So now you are wondering if she just miraculously lost the claustrophobia. I wish that I could say yes, but honestly, no. I remember staying in mom’s room many, many nights after she was released from the hospital for the sole purpose to remove the mask for her, if she became afraid.
Caregiver: the most important thing that you can do in this situation is to be calm and give your loved one control. Teach them to do as much as they can for themselves. Once mom had an understanding of how to use the machine, how to take it off safely and get her oxygen back on, her fear became something that she could have a say over. She knew when she could not go any further, and it was okay. She had the control to remove the mask.
Loved one: the most important thing that you can do is keep trying!!! Don’t give up on any treatment that your doctor has prescribed for you because you find it to be too much trouble or frightening. Allow your support system, your caregiver(s), to do what they are there to do, care for you. It is your job to keep trying.
Mom learned to use the bi-pap on her own. It was an important tool that her doctor used for several years of her life. It was the one thing that could take a severe day and make it bearable, and it helped mom recover from days spent with my kids. I am so thankful that mom pushed through and found a way to use this machine. It is another way that I saw her courage through it all.
How has your experience been navigating the healthcare system as someone with COPD?