My doctor has told me that I need to be on oxygen 24/7. I work full time because I have to. I am 61 and single and live alone. I work for an international Flavor/Fragrance company in the Customer Service Department. How do you approach your boss, Human Resources, and your colleagues that you need to have oxygen all day? I have no idea how or exactly what to do.
I have to find out the best oxygen unit that I can get and bring to work (it would have to last approx. 9 to 10 hours).
Any help or suggestions or experiences you can offer would be greatly appreciated.
— New to Oxygen
Dear New to Oxygen,
The problems you are facing are like many an individual with COPD might face. As far as approaching your boss or the Human Resources department, I would have your doctor draft a letter explaining that you require full time supplemental oxygen, as well as specifying any other accommodations you might require, such as access to elevators, closer rest rooms, the size of your work space, or even in your case a “fragrance free” work environment. Presenting the letter will also explain to your employer the necessity that you might require occasional time off for medical appointments or illness related to your COPD. Actually, having to use oxygen will probably lessen the time off you require and allow you to be more productive, which is a definite plus for your employer! There are laws that protect your right to work and expect reasonable accommodations, laws which your HR Department is probably very familiar with. If any problems come up, don’t hesitate to contact an attorney.
As far as explaining to your colleagues, I think that no explanation is necessary. When they see you using supplemental oxygen they should pretty much make the connection after noticing that you were getting out of breath. Hopefully they are aware that you have COPD. Some may come up and ask you about using oxygen. Just be open and honest and tell them that your COPD has advanced to the point where your require it. Your mention of COPD and use of oxygen might well prove to be a “teachable moment” for many of your fellow workers who are at risk for COPD! In any case, why be concerned or embarrassed – remind them that we all require oxygen….you just need a little more of it!
Your last question is a little harder to answer without knowing more about your work environment. No portable oxygen concentrator is going to have the kind of battery life you specify. This is especially true with continuous flow concentrators. Much will depend on the type of concentrator (pulse or continuous) that your doctor orders. There are pulse units that have a duration of 5 hours up to 8 hours. As far and continuous flow models, because of the volume of oxygen they must produce, most models only will get a couple hours in continuous mode. In either case, you can purchase extra batteries, however you don’t want to get into a situation where you having to carry several extra batteries along with the unit.
If your work allows you to be stationary, a possible alternative might be to purchase a home concentrator to use in the office, and only use the portable unit when you need to move around or to get to and from work. Also in this scenario, if you are able to plug in your portable unit to AC power for a substantial part of the day, you might eliminate the need to carry a lot of extra batteries.
As I am writing this reply, I am struck by what a friend once told me. “People with COPD can do about anything that anyone else can, they just have to plan a little more, and do things a little differently.” I feel like your letter is a good example of this. I am quite sure that working with your oxygen supplier and your doctor (and maybe including your employer), you will find a solution that will continue to allow you to be a productive worker.
Please let us know how you are doing, and if we can be of any additional help.
The COPD Coach
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