Airport Adventures

So today I picked up a friend from the airport. I got there a decent 20 minutes early. So I’m hanging out at San Diego International Airport ( is not a bad domain, by the way, “san” is the airport code for San Diego).

I’m standing in front of the arrival and departure screens, minding my business in my stylish red t-shirt and red sweater. My usual dapper self, yeah?

Anyway, It’s getting to be about 10 minutes till the arrival of my friend, and I suddenly hear a loud whoosh off to my right.

It’s the distinct whoosh of a tank of gas. I look over and see a man in a wheelchair, perhaps in his mid-60’s, wearing a nasal cannula and fiddling with his oxygen. He’s getting more upset by the second. There’s an Airport Information person and a cop (Harbor Police?) trying to help, and the man’s traveling companions–about 8 more retirees–were also flummoxed.

So here is the first opportunity in years to be useful in a Respiratory Therapy capacity. I walk over saying, “I’m a respiratory therapist, can I help?”

They all eye me with relief. I myself had serious doubts that I could actually be of any help. But the man with the oxygen shows me his O2 rig and it’s a “travel-friendly”-rig. He tells me he does not feel any O2 flow, and the regulator is beeping. I take the rig, seal the tank with the O2 key. I remove the regulator and inspect it. Besides having electronic geegaws on it, it looks fine. I crack the tank to clear it. I check the gaskets on the regulator, I put it back on the tank tight. I crack the tank (about half full at 1100 psi, full tank being 2200 psi) and start it. Still he feels no flow, and the thing beeps again.

Of course the user interface is bad. I suggest calling his medical equipment people to find out how to reset it, but they’re in Vancouver. He tells me this regulator is not his usual one, it’s just for travel. I ask if he has his regulator, and he does (“Score!” I think to myself), but it’s a unit with 2 outputs that needs a double cannula. The problem is he’s wearing a standard nasal cannula. He’s getting pretty upset. I and others say to try to relax, we’ll figure this out. He finds his spare regulator and hands it to me. I tell him to look for one of his other kind of cannula. I take off the bad regulator, and put on the backup. Pressure is there, it’s delivering flow. Eureka! He finds a spare cannula and I help him put it on fast, just as I’ve helped hundreds of people put on nasal cannulas before.

He starts chilling out, and the cop walks away after the party declined to have the paramedics come to give a second opinion on the equipment. The Airport Info person is like “Right place at the right time eh?. The oxygen-man thanks me and several of his party thank me “mouthing ‘Thanks’ at me.” I ask if he’s going to get a replacement for the cruise someone mentioned they were going on. He says they have it taken care of on the cruise. I sure hope so.

I sure hope that was the case. It’s a pity about the travel regulator, it was pretty and modern, but nobody could figure out what was wrong with the regulator, and the interface was lame. I’m guessing the guys’ equipment company didn’t really teach him much about it. “What does it mean and what do I do if it beeps?” is clearly a question nobody gave him an answer to, and not having the answer deprived the guy of his supplemental O2 and peace of mind at a time when he was trying to relax.

The rule on equipment alarms is: make it clear what they mean.

Maybe I have a future in designing user interfaces for medical equipment. That would be cool.

And I guess I my skills as an RT came in handy.

I’m a little stunned that I said “I’m a respiratory therapist” out loud to someone and was not afraid to back it up.

I usually shy away from offering assistance, as usually professional paramedics are just a few minutes away.

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