On Oxygen & On The Go

On Oxygen & On The Go - Part 1: The Burden of Portable Oxygen

Last updated: July 2021

Just because you're on supplemental oxygen doesn't give you any reason not to get out and about. To the contrary, supplemental oxygen might give you the freedom to get out and do your daily activities without huffing and puffing and getting out of breath. Do you remember what it was like before you went on supplemental oxygen going to the grocery store? How short of breath you got just walking from the handicapped parking spot to the front of the store? How sometimes you even stopped in the middle of the traffic lane because you couldn't make it all the way without stopping to catch your breath? Well, when you're on supplemental oxygen those symptoms might be reduced.

Supplemental oxygen's role in COPD management

I read a post the other day from a woman in one of the groups I belong to. She had been trying to get supplemental oxygen for months and she was finally approved. When she went out with her portable oxygen for the first time, she described how wonderful it was. Before the oxygen she was lucky if she made it to the store to pick up just one or two things before having to return home because she was so out of breath and drained. With her new portable oxygen she not only could go grocery shopping but she had gone to the bank and out to lunch also. She said she felt like she got her life back and would no longer be housebound due to shortness of breath. That is what supplementary oxygen is meant to do: get you moving and get you on the go.

Having the right mindset for travel with oxygen

Sadly, for many of you who are put on supplemental oxygen you view going out wearing your oxygen as an embarrassment or burden, or perhaps your anxiety at the thought of running out of oxygen keeps you housebound. I'm going to alleviate your fears & put to rest your excuses for not going out on oxygen. With the right mindset, preparations, & knowledge you can enjoy being out and about. If it is just for a shopping trip, lunch with family or friends, a day trip to the county fair, even a trip across country, the advances in supplemental oxygen these days might give you the freedom that, without supplemental oxygen, you would never have. I'm going to divide my article on this subject into sections starting with the inconvenience of going out with portable oxygen.

At one time or another we have all complained about dragging around those large gas E tank carts. I know they're a pain in the a**, but, when your oxygen company won't pay for anything else, you are stuck with them. They are a real pain especially when you have to go up and down stairs with them. For a long time I'd forgotten what it was like as I was on liquid oxygen. Anyone who is on liquid has no excuse at all for not getting out because carrying a liquid portable is a breeze. Most are lightweight and can be carried over the shoulder a few of them are heavier and come with a cart if you wish to use it. As with a portable concentrator, the cart is much lighter and less bulky than the E gas tank. I would advise anyone who possibly can to go on liquid, but with the new Medicare law, many of the companies that supply oxygen are getting away from liquid and putting people back on concentrators. And if you're on a concentrator in your home you are most likely going to be on gas as a portable. I know these days there are portable concentrators, but, they're very hard to get as a lot of insurance companies will not pay for them, and they don't meet the oxygen requirements of many. So like me, they're stuck with gas.

Adjusting your tank size and devices

When I first moved to North Carolina, after a few times going up and down the steps on my porch with the gas tank behind me, I knew I had to make some arrangements to do something else. It wasn't just that the tank was a pain in the a** but with my CHF by the time I got to the top of my stairs my heart rate was way too high. My solution to the problem was a smaller tank. The oxygen companies have what is known as an M6 gas tank. These tanks are 11" high, weigh 3.2 lbs full and have a little shoulder carry bag. So the next time my delivery man came I had him bring me some M6 tanks along with my E tanks. After that I left the E-tank in my van & used the M6 tank to walk up & down the stairs. When I received my M6 tank, I also received an on-demand device. This particular device can be used for full flow oxygen or on-demand. I had on-demand devices before but had to stop using then years ago due to the fact I couldn't breathe deep enough to make them work. Like I do with all new devices or meds. I test them in the house before going out. I wanted to know how long it would last on full flow and found out it would last a little over an hour at 2L. I also tried using the on-demand device and to my surprise it worked just fine and I found out the smaller tank lasts me 4 hours at 3L, no more balky tanks to pull around.

A different oxygen flow

Here's what I do when I go out now: I put my M6 tank on full flow walked down the stairs and get into my van. Once in my van I turn off my M6 and switch to my E-tank that I keep behind my driver's seat. When I get to the restaurant or store I go back on my M6 full flow while I walk to a store or restaurant or where ever I'm going that day. When I get settled in I turn the M6 back to on-demand and I'm good for at least four hours. I'll explain what I do for events that take longer or traveling in the last part of "On Oxygen and On the Go". What this section does is shows you that where there's a will there's a way. If you're tired of pulling around E-tanks and that's the only reason you're not going out, get a smaller tank. Like the D-tank it's only 16 inches high and will last on full flow about 3 1/2 hours. If you can use an on-demand device the D-tank lasted 10 hours. I know some of you are in a much higher flow of oxygen. Even so you can still use a smaller tank to get you to and from your vehicle to avoid pulling the large tank down the steps. When I first got the M6 tank I didn't know how long it lasted, if it lasted me 10 minutes to get me to my vehicle I would be happy.

For those of you who don't think I know what it's like to be on a higher flow, I was on 4L at one time. When you're on a higher flow E tanks may be your only choice. However, if you can use an on-demand device the D tank will last you four and a half hours the M6 two and a half hours. Even at 6L a D tank on-demand will last three and a half hrs. When I couldn't use an on-demand device and the E tank was the only one available to me, I still didn't let it stop me from going out. I always felt the inconvenience and burden of the E tank was a small price to pay for the freedom to do my own shopping and have lunch with a friend. You don't need to be on a light weight portable to get out and about. COPD robs us of enough, don't let it rob you of your freedom of being on the go any longer. Don't let pulling a four-foot cart and gas tank stop you from socializing and doing the things you still can. Get up, get out and get going. Breathe deep and easy.

Interested in more articles like this? Check out the rest of the series!

On Oxygen and On the Go - Part 2: Oxygen Embarrassment

On Oxygen and on the Go - Part 3: Oxygen and Anxiety

On Oxygen and On the Go - Part 4: Let's Hit the Road

On Oxygen and on the Go - Part 5: Plane, Train, Bus, or Cruise

Editor’s Note: We are extremely saddened to say that on March 2, 2018, Mary Ultes passed away. Mary was an engaged advocate for the COPD community who strived to help people live fulfilling lives. She is deeply missed.

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