<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> RVing with Oxygen
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RVing with Oxygen

by Bob Gummersall (12/06)

This piece is about living with some physical limitations, like requiring oxygen 24/7, and still enjoying this great lifestyle.  This is about how an oxygen dependant patient can get freedom though the use of a motorhome.

Let me first describe a typical home setting for a person who needs oxygen 24/7.  It is one of stringent limits.  Most home oxygen set ups start with an Oxygen Generator which is powered by house current.  It produces up to 6 liters per minute of enriched air (oxygen) using a compressor and other elements.  It is normally piped to a patient via a plastic tube.  Anything over 100 feet is a concern since additional length in a fixed size tube causes a reduction in flow.  So you can get about 200 feet from the generator if you crank up the setting to about twice what the doctor prescribed.  For example, if the prescription is for 2 liters, then crank it up to 4 and at the end of the 200 foot run you will get about 2.  So if the patient like to garden, you can snake the plastic tube outside and into the garden.  That allows the patient to enjoy the joys of gardening for example.

The next piece of equipment is a liquid oxygen tank that can hold for 21 liters to 41 liters of liquid oxygen.  The tanks are heavy because of the insulation and regulators.  A 31 liter tank weights about 130 lbs so it is not easily transportable.  It is about 18 inches in diameter and about 40 inches tall.  This tank is provided in the home as a primary source to decant liquid oxygen into portable (about 3 lbs total) tanks that the patient can carry about.  It also acts as a backup oxygen source, if the house current should fail like in a power outage. 

The Portable liquid oxygen devices are called ‘Conserving device’ since they use modern technology to make the very small tank that hold about 9 ounces of liquid oxygen last for up to 5 hours at a rate of 2 liters.  So the patient can move about to the store or post office with this device as long as he or she gets back to the source in 5 hours.  The conserving device uses a technique of sensing when the patient breathes in, so as to produce a short burst of oxygen during the inhaling process.  It then shuts off until the patients takes another breath.

Many of you have seen the small to very large green tanks that hold oxygen in the gas state.  The problem with them is that all have to be returned to a certified provider to be refilled.  To get 3 hours at 2 liters you need an M6 tank that is about the size of a one quart thermos bottle and weighs in at 6 lbs.  You can take along more M6 tanks but if you run out while at the store your are in trouble.,  I have seen people that have a dozen M6 tanks in their car ‘Just In Case’. 

If all of these devices fail the patient has to call ‘911’ until one or more sources of oxygen can be restored.

What I have described is a very limited existence where patients are tied to their tanks and concentrators, etc.  So now I will describe how we have learned to cope with these challenges and use our GMC Motorhome to provide a way to disconnect the anchor.

The GMC is a 1976 Classic that I restored a few years ago and did some things that would make it useful for a handicapped person with breathing disorders.  First of all the entry step is 11 inches off the ground and we have a fold up step so two steps of about 5.5 inches get the patient into the coach.  We have removed some of the furniture so as to provide space for some of the oxygen stuff.  Most important, I have installed two 4D batteries that have a 440 amp hour capacity, a Heart Inverter/Charger with 1.5KW capacity, and oversize alternator at 100 amps instead of the stock 80 amps, and a 4 KW Honda Generator which is air cooled and uses about  6/10 of a gallon of gas per hours of use.

So picture us tooling down the RV Road too a freedom that we all enjoy.  I move the concentrator (40 lbs) from our home into the GMC and plug it in to an AC outlet.  I carefully lift the 130 lb. liquid oxygen tank up the 11 inches into the coach and position it where I have installed straps to hold it in place.  So off we go.  While traveling we us ac powered concentration that is powered from the Alternator through the Inverter.  No affect on the batteries, but the Alternator has to put out for a Converter that gobbles up about 10 amps of AC.  That means the Alternator is producing about 15 amps DC just for the concentrator.  The inverter/batteries provide power to the concentrator for short stops at fuel stations where the engine must be turned off.  Traveling with a large tank of liquid oxygen tank is a little intimidating but we realize that it is not explosive, it is an accelerant.  We have the proper labels on the coach to notify emergency personnel that there is oxygen on board.  We have the proper hold down system (specified by the liquid oxygen supplier) to the keep the tank in place while the GMC is in motion.  We add this to the lists of things that cause risks like a bad driver that might hit us, or a blown tire, etc.  Life is full of these calculated risks.  We have chosen to take this one.

So when we get there, wherever that is, if we have shore power, we are in great shape, just plug into a 30 amp site and everything is good to go just like at home.  We had not even had to use the large liquid oxygen tank yet.  It is there just in case one or more of the previously described pieces fail.  If the patient want’s to take a walk, or go to dinner, we just fill up the portable oxygen tank from the large liquid oxygen tank and as long as we can get back to the GMC in 5 hours we are free as birds. 

The large liquid oxygen tank is a finite resource with 31 liters of oxygen.  When it runs low, we have to have scheduled through our oxygen supply company, to get it filled at some distant city.. Apria is our oxygen supply company and they have branch offices in all major cities.  So when traveling through Utah, we have to make sure that we get the tank filled in Salt Lake City as we boogie through on our way to points south.  That company has been great to us and with proper planning, not too many plans have to be modified.

Taking a patient who needs 2 liters at sea level to a National Park in Utah that is at 8000 feet requires a little planning.  The normal 2 liter flow has to be turned up to 4 so the tanks run out twice as fast.  But when you look over Brice Canyon, you know that all the trouble has been worth it.  It is like most things, you just have to plan the best you can, do all the right things and then trust that the Good Lord will  have a special eye on you.

The Patient in this piece is my Bride Sylvia of 49 years who loves to Motorhome.  We could have folded our tent and put it away, but we did not and we are still able to just go out and enjoy the freedom (maybe not as much as before) of the road.

We have had situations that required some extraordinary activity, but when was that possibility not part of normal rving.  For example we were camped at a Rally and the Large Liquid Oxygen tank decided to just fail and let all the oxygen out of a failed valve.  So now we luckily had a full tank in the portable (5 hours) and the concentrator in the motorhome driven from shore power.  So my bride could safely stay in the motorhome until Apria came to our aid with substitute equipment.  We were in Albany Oregon and Apria had an office there, so we called our home office (available 24 hours) in  Seattle and arrange for the Albany Office to bring out a substitute tank that was full.  We are under Medicare for this service, so doing it privately would have been possible but very expensive.  They came out two hours later with a new tank and we were good to go.  But you should have heard all the questions from our motorhome neighbors. 

I’m sure that there are challenges down the road as we continue to do what we enjoy so much, but I’m also sure that God will bless us with the strength to be resourceful and find ways to cope with our current life, just like all of you do.  We hope that this description will give hope to others that face the challenges of getting a little old in the tooth.

Bob and Sylvia Gummersall.

 Post Script: Our situation is made even more difficult because Sylvia also needs a CPAP device to sleep comfortably and safely.  More on that later.