Days Left

My name is Dr. Charlene Fell. I’m a lung specialist. For Change Day, I pledged to understand my patients’ experiences.

About 65 to 70 per cent of my patients are prescribed oxygen for their lung disease. I really wanted to understand what it’s like to wear oxygen. I can’t really understand what it’s like to be short of breath. I haven’t really figured out a safe way to do that. But I think it’s really important to try to get a grasp on what it is our patients are going through. So for Patient & Family Centred Care Week, I am wearing portable oxygen.

I’ve got a portable oxygen concentrator. It’s a little machine about the same size as very small carry-on luggage that you would see going to the airport. It’s got a little trolley to roll it around. It also has another little bag that’s the size of a Kleenex box that carries extra battery and power cords in it. This machine takes the oxygen from the air, concentrates it, and delivers it through the hose and the prongs that I’m wearing in my nose. It delivers pure oxygen.

I’m hoping that wearing the oxygen and understanding all the inconveniences is a first step to getting an insight to what my patients have to deal with when I put them on oxygen.

And trust me: a lot of people don’t like to wear oxygen. First of all, when they are prescribed oxygen, it means their disease is getting worse. And then the other thing I hear a lot from patients is about the whole social stigma of wearing oxygen. And the social stigma exists. I ran into one of my colleagues on the elevator this morning and she said, “I looked at you differently because you’re wearing oxygen.” She didn’t recognize me at first. That’s powerful.

Patients describe to me how inconvenient it is, and I’m already experiencing that. I can’t just get up and walk across the room to get something. It’s really tricky getting in and out of the bathroom with oxygen. I can imagine putting on a sweater or getting dressed is tricky. Same with getting in and out of the car. I’m thinking about it all the time.

In the clinic, I’m always trying to find ways to help patients use their oxygen more regularly. And now, I’m seeing how inconvenient it is, and I really understand all the reasons they don’t want to wear it. It’s hard. It’s really hard. And it’s not comfortable.

By doing this, I think I’m getting a better understanding of just this one little piece of what they have to go through. I wouldn’t say I now understand everything that my patients go through. I’m getting a handle on just this one little piece, and it’s important.

I’m a patient myself. I have a chronic health issue. I get it when you’re misdiagnosed and things don’t go the way you think they should go. I understand that piece. But my illness is completely different than what my patients deal with, so I wanted to better understand.

I think I do now.


Dr Charlene Fell

Pulmonologist, South Health Campus