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An Airless Nation

Last week, the nice man came and delivered the oxygen machines to my house. He rang the door bell, put up with my dogs barking and jumping on his legs, and smiled through the whole hair-shedding, slobbering event.

Kind. The nice man was preceded by his kindness. Maybe a job requirement— being kind.

After all, he delivers oxygen to people who need help breathing, so they probably need kindness as well as oxygen.

When I saw what he walked into my house with, I was not kind.

My doctor said he’d order me a small portable machine. Unobtrusive. Stylish (“Oh, go on,” I said to that). Nothing cumbersome. “It’ll be fine. You’ll see,” said my good doctor.  The same good doctor who had diagnosed my Pulmonary Fibrosis seven years ago and talked me through the CAT scans and periodic episodes that sent me to bed for a few weeks each year. Nothing I couldn’t handle. Until two years ago when my disease got aggressive and breathing became harder. The cough arrived last summer and so far shows no sign of leaving.

“It’s time for supplementary oxygen” said good doc sounding like a favorite uncle.

“Don’t make that face, it’ll be fine.”

But this was not fine.


“You have the wrong order,” I said to the kind man. “My doctor didn’t order that,” pointing to the big blue thing that looked like the radiator in my aunt’s house circa 1955. “And I surely don’t need that tank you have there.”

Kind man: “But you do. This tank is your portable oxygen for when you leave the house”.

“Oh no no no,” I said all in one labored breath, wanting the blue monster and the fucking cylinder tank out of my living room.


“Really, you have the wrong order. Would you like a glass of water or a cup of coffee?”


I wanted to pay him for his trouble. Schlepping to Malibu with the wrong order may have made him thirsty. I wanted to quench his thirst and make him get that shit out of my living room before I started tearing up.


“You may have been expecting something else, but this is what your insurance approved,” said kind man, refusing water or coffee. “I’m sorry. I can tell you had something else in mind.”

“My doctor told me he was ordering a small discreet portable machine for me… not these.” I could feel the wet drops threatening to roll down my cheeks.

“He probably did,” said kind man, “but insurance never covers those. You’d have to pay for one of those privately.”

“Okay, I will. Can you take these back and bring me one? How much are they, a couple hundred dollars?”

“Ah, afraid not,” said kind man, looking at me with both amusement at my medical equipment naïveté and true concern for my emotional well being. “They start at three thousand dollars.”

“Are you sure you don’t want that cup of coffee?” I said, instead of screaming, “fuck,” which is what I really wanted to do.

In the end, I kept the chunky blue radiator which fits into my bedroom closet (after I removed the clothes hamper).


The kind man took the tank back. He was more than slightly appalled when I said I would rather die before dragging the tank behind me. I said it nicely, but truthfully. Without raising my voice.  And I said please. Because we had been acquainted for less than ten minutes, the kind man had no way of knowing I didn’t mean that heinous statement.  Black Irish humor, used to camouflage the deepest of feelings.


“Please take that tank and give it to someone who will use it. I’d rather die than drag that thing behind me,” I said again, pointing to the silver cylinder on wheels that I’d seen a small nation of people carting around the respiratory hospital in Denver.


They all looked like they came from the same nation where people drag those tanks behind them like puppies on a leash. Tall, broad shouldered people drag their tanks like they are Labrador Retrievers. Petite women pull theirs like they have Fifi or Maxi the poodle on the leash. The people in this nation look, if not pleased, comfortable. And dare I add that their national food source looks to be Mc Donalds


No, I’m not from their nation. Where I come from we find comfort toting yoga mats behind us or surf boards. Dragging a big bag of beach shells along the sand brings us comfort as well. 

Right now I am the complete opposite of comfortable.

I am in an airless nation looking for the state of Grace.






Time for a break.

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