Dante’s Hell and wanting to breathe

I don’t remember much about my college philosophy classes, but I know I was always intrigued by Dante’s Nine Circles of Hell. Whether it was greed, gluttony or treachery, none of the areas seemed like a destination to visit. While I don’t remember the specifics of all the circles, I think it is likely Dante did not include “The Circle of Oxygen” which I would submit should be considered a 10th circle.

I have learned about Oxygen Hell as a by-product of my bout with the Coronavirus.

There are two parts of this particular hell, which I will explain: the procurement and operation stages. The first section, procurement, could almost stand as a level of Hell all in itself. It is infested by insurance companies, doctors’ offices and the devil himself, the oxygen companies. My stroll through this particular region is still ongoing, but suffice it to say, if there is a way to make an order and delivery of oxygen complicated, they have perfected it.

When I was released from the hospital in late July, it was recommended I use oxygen because my level was low. I was prepared to follow the advice, but before I could get home, there was a message on my phone from the company which did not ask to confirm my address, ask of my wellness or clarify a delivery time, but instead issued a stern warning there was a $37 monthly co-pay which had to be put on a credit card before any delivery would be scheduled.

I have often seen people having to live with the mechanical oxygenators, either portable types or home pumping devices. In fairness, the oxygen machines are a miracle for folks suffering from a variety of lungrelated problems, but I never appreciated what an inconvenience they are. In addition to simply being needed to breath, you are attached to this 50-foot piece of plastic hose which can snag equally well on permanent fixtures like doors and corners, mobile items such fans and footstools or constantly moving things such as dogs and cats. You never know how many obstacles there are in your home until your head is connected by unforgiving piping. When I go to the refrigerator, my hose will get caught in the door…every time. When my dog comes in from outside, he will sit on my hose…every time. When I get dressed, my shirt or belt will get caught in the line…most of the time, I’m not totally stupid.

The complications increase when you go to the portable devices, in my case bottles. You have a shorter line, but still about three times longer that the distance from the bottle to your face, plenty of room totangle around the wheels of the cart, under your shoe or catch on anything larger than a sand pebble on the ground. When I have to leave the house, I add 20 minutes travel time to allow for the unraveling of the oxygen hose from the backseat of the car.

Now there are alternatives to these large bottles: portable oxygen makers and smaller bottles, but to gain access you must step back into Hell’s Tenth Circle. The problem is, insurance companies don’t want you to have two types of portable devices so you must coordinate orders from your doctor with approvals from your insurance company and a time convenient with the oxygen company for you to take up their valuable time.

I am two months out of the hospital, but my oxygen needs are still in limbo. Now to work I have to haul my big bottles of oxygen around, but there is good news. In the weeks since I got my oxygen, they have not charged my credit card $37. The bad news is they sent me a bill and for the machine and bottles and my co-pay for the first month was $94. Please know Hell has no fury like an oxygen company awaiting payment.

As a final note, I usually remind everyone to please wear a mask, not because it’s a law, but because it’s the right thing to do. I was asked to add a note: if you are wearing a mask, wear it right. Keeping your nose hanging out or the bottom up around your top lip does no good.

To put it in perspective, if you don’t fear COVID -19, fear the Tenth Circle of Hell.

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