Just Breathe

I was supposed to blog about managed care today, but I’m not going to do that. Instead, I want to tell you about my Saturday.

Due to the cuts that I had to make to my nursing care, the only person with me that day was my dad. The problem with this is that my brother and I are in different rooms. That means that my dad has to run between rooms when one of us needs something. So we set up a system. When I need something, I call the house phone using skype, if it’s a real emergency, Otherwise, I speak into a baby monitor that he puts on my shoulder.

Like everyone else, I have good days and bad days. Normally, when I have bad days, I have nurses that can help me get through it. I can tell them what I need and they’ll do it. But because my dad was taking care of both of us, I had to limit what I asked for.

It started with a very loud wheezing around 6pm. Phlegm was blocking my airway. I could tell it was in my airway because of the distinct vibrations I felt every time I took a breath. I could also tell the exact position of the phlegm and I knew that suctioning (taking a catheter, sticking it down my trach and sucking the phlegm out) wasn’t going to help. The path the catheter had to take was such that it bypassed the actual position of the phlegm, which was on the bottom left side of the trach. It didn’t matter how many times my dad suctioned me (it was 6, I counted), he was never going to get the phlegm out. What I needed to do was change the trach all together. The problem was that my dad was the only person there, you need to two people to change the trach.

“Let me suction you again.” He anxiously watched the oxygen saturation monitor every time he pulled the catheter out. It fluctuated between 96% and 92%. A healthy person has an oxygen saturation of 98-100. Dipping below 95 is dangerous, as it causes a decrease in brain function. I had been dipping below 95 since 8pm. It was now 10pm and I wasn’t getting any better.

“Wait ’til eleven, then change my trach when the nurse gets here.”

“Let me change it right now “

“No, I can wait.” I knew that if he did it by himself it had the potential to turn worse. If, for some reason, something went wrong, there would have been no one there to help him. Waiting one more hour was a risky decision, but it was one that I had to make.

I don’t know how many of you know what it’s like to not have the ability to breathe properly for an extended period of time, so let me tell you. Imagine that you’re breathing through a straw. All the air that you breathe has to go through that little opening at the bottom of the straw. Now, what if that opening is blocked and you can only get half the air that you were getting before? Naturally, you are going to struggle, but there’s nothing you can do. You just have to wait it out and hope that it doesn’t get any worse. So that’s what I did. I sat, in my bed, wheezing and intently staring at the clock. It was 10:50 pm, but it might as well have been 8 pm again. It felt like it’d never end. I watched as the clock turned from 10:58 to 10:59 and finally to 11:00.

“Are you ready to do this?” said my nurse as he walked in. My dad had told him what was going on as he frantically collected the supplies to change the trach. They laid me flat and I watched as huge chunk of phlegm came out with the trach. I was instantly better, and felt a twinge of pride for having made it through.

“Quick, take a picture.”


Raul Carranza is a full-time activist and college student (when he has the nursing hours).  When he is not blogging about the evils of budget cuts and private insurance, he competes in Strongman bouts and is a tactical planner for the A-Team.

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