On Oxygen & On The Go- Part 2: Oxygen Embarrassment

Over and over again I've heard people say how embarrassed they feel about going out with portable oxygen. They feel they are being stared at, judged, too young to be on oxygen or just plain too vain to be seen with supplemental oxygen.

Why are you embarrassed?

caused by COPD enabling you to do more. Would you be ashamed to wear glasses to help you see, a hearing aid to help you hear, or if you have to wear a brace to help you walk would you be embarrassed to go out wearing them? Then why are you embarrassed to go out wearing oxygen to help you breathe?

A little perspective

Perhaps you feel there is a stigma attached to using oxygen due to smoking or that those staring at you think of you as less of a man or a woman because you have to use supplemental oxygen. Well, I am going to try to help put your embarrassment into perspective. That way you can start using your supplemental oxygen in the way it was meant to be used to get you out and about, instead of being embarrassed and shut-in.

They have their own lives to worry about

First of all most people are too busy worrying about themselves and their own problems to worry about you, your oxygen or the cannula in your nose. It may look like a person's staring at you but, in reality 99% of them are not. They have their own lives to worry about. They're staring off into space as they think of their own problems. You just happen to be in the direction they're staring which makes you think they're staring at you. I know all of us at one time or another have done the same thing, while standing in line staring off into space, only to realize someone thinks you're staring at them. Of course, there will always be that small percentage of people who are actually staring at you. Just keep in mind any adult staring at you is the type of person who would stare at a blind man, someone on crutches, in a wheelchair, mentally handicapped or a disfigured soldier/person. They have no class and are not worth getting upset over and certainly no reason to become embarrassed.

I noticed you staring

I try not to let these people bother me; I smile and stare back, at which time they quickly turn away. Every now and then I get in a devilish mood and let my passive-aggressive side show and have a little fun at this starer's expense. I'll ride over to them on my scooter smile and say, "Hi how are you. I noticed you staring and thought maybe you knew me, and we met somewhere before". At which point they normally say no. Before they can say any other word I quickly ask "If you don't know me than why were you staring at me? Are you stalking me"? At which time I get a no in an offended voice, followed by why would you say such a thing, I'm not a pervert. To which I answer " Since you don't know me, and are not a stalker, you're staring must be do to a lack of manners & breeding ". I then say "I'm headed for the TV dept if you want to stare some more", smiling sweetly I ride off. I stopped long enough to look back to see a very red-faced individual being stared and giggled at by everyone in earshot. It is not the right thing to do and I wouldn't advise any one of you to do it, but sometimes it feels good to turn the tables on the starer.

Seeing themselves down the road

The last type of adults who stare are those who are smokers themselves. I have a feeling they do this because they are seeing themselves down the road. I know this type of adult because I can smell the smoke on them. So when they stare at me I smile at them sweetly, I always stop to talk. Most ask about my oxygen and I'm always happy for a teaching moment. I even tell them chances are they already have COPD and don't know it. I end our talk by shaking my cannula and say, "If you don't stop smoking, now, you're looking at your future". No embarrassment, just truth.

Educating children

The biggest starers are children. Many times I have had children point and ask their mothers why does that lady have that thing in her nose. At which time most of the mothers try to quiet the child telling them that's it is impolite to point and ask questions like that. At those times I reassure the mother it is perfectly alright and I don't mind the child is just curious. And I explained in terms a child can understand all about the oxygen. I'm always happy to educate a child as to what supplementary oxygen is and the reason why I have to wear it. I have no problem turning it into a teaching lesson, educating anyone in earshot about COPD - what it is, how you can get it, and the best way to stop their chances of getting it is to never smoke and if you do smoke, stop. When I'm done talking I've heard children start telling their parents they have to stop smoking and making them promise they'll try. The pouts and tears of a young child works almost as well on their parents as peer pressure does on a teenager. Children don't want you to be embarrassed, all they want to do is know WHY!

Turn embarrassing into teaching

What I'm trying to make you understand is never let embarrassment stop you from going out - instead, turn that embarrassment into a teaching moment. Before long you will forget about your on supplemental oxygen and wonder why you were ever embarrassed to go out. One last thing you'll learn, as I have over the years, the do-gooders far outweigh the jerks. I find when I'm out shopping I have had more people offer to help me then I have ever had someone stare at me. Like today, I was leaving Walmart. It started to rain and as I was putting my shopping bags in my van, a car with two teenagers pulled up next to me. They had noticed the fact I was wearing oxygen so they stopped their car (in the traffic lane), got out and told me to get in my van out of the rain and they proceeded to put my groceries in the van for me. When they were done they asked if there was anything else they could do for me, they were soaking wet because by then it was pouring. I said no, thanked them & offered them some money-- they wouldn't take any money for their help. Said it was the Christian thing to do. One rode the scooter back to Walmart, the other got back in a car and drove around to pick him up. Had I been embarrassed to go out with my portable oxygen, I would have missed having my faith renewed in teenagers and rob them of the blessing of helping someone in need.

So stop using embarrassment as an excuse. Don't let your misconception about going out on oxygen stop you from living your life to the best of your ability. Now get on your oxygen, get out that door, and get on the go. Breathe deep and easy.

Interested in more articles like this? Check out the rest of the series!
On Oxygen and on the Go - Part 1: The Burden of Portable Oxygen
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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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The COPD.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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