Weaning off Oxygen after COVID

Updated: Jul 2, 2021

Just my thoughts on what worked and what didn't work as well. Feel free to share it with other folks struggling with post-COVID recovery. My solution will not work for everyone, but it is certainly something that everyone can talk to their doctors about. Having backup plans to backup plans makes all the difference.

I came home from the ICU on oxygen 24/7 at a rate of 8L. There were few instructions on how to wean myself off of oxygen. The nurses said that my body would need it to heal my lungs, the doctors agreed with that sentiment as well. I was provided with a machine to help train my lungs and instructed to use that daily! I went from being able to pull 250ml of air into my lungs to be able to pull almost 2,500ml of air over a 3 week period. Still, I was on the oxygen, though I had lowered it to 4L so that I didn't get as many nose bleeds.


By week 4 the nurses and I were talking about possible ways to reduce the oxygen and how to go off of it completely. We discussed tactics of going off cold turkey for a few hours a day or lowering the output by .5L every 3 days. Let me explain what did and didn't work.


Didn't Work:

  • Going off of it for 15-minute intervals, worked for 1x per day, but the 2nd or 3rd time I tried to off of the oxygen, the rate fell and took a while to come back up. My little finger blood ox reader was beeping like a maniac!

  • Going down .5L every 3 days wasn't super reliable. It worked towards the end, but in the beginning, I had to go much longer.

  • Switching from the nasal cannula to a mask and vice versa. It was only after Family and Friends pointed out that the reason the hospital was able to send me home with a mask was that I was on 8L of oxygen. The mask isn't safe below that because the air exchange made it so that there was too much CO2. I am sure the hospital staff told me that too, but I was way to sick to remember and we (neither them nor I) wrote it down.

  • Trying to do stuff on hot humid days is still a total bust. It gets hard to breath, I get exhausted, and even with dragging around the oxygen tank, it just doubles down on the exhaustion. Just don't do it yet!

  • Eating a full meal! When your belly is full, it feels like (I don't know if there really is) a lot less room for your lungs. It is especially hard if you need to lay down. So just eat several small meals at first until you know that you can manage a big meal.

Worked:

  • Practicing with the lung machine at least 6x per day! I was told that every 2 hours I should pick up the machine and take 5 breaths. That would exercise my lungs and that is exactly how I started. I slid the little target gauges so that I had a goal and I plugged away. Once I was able to pull in 1,500L of air, I switched from exercising just 5 breaths to breaths until failure. I lowered my goal to 1,000 and kept pulling in the big breaths until I couldn't hit that 1,000 anymore. It hurt like the dickens for sure, but eventually, I worked up to 10 breaths, and then I raised the bar just a little.

  • Choosing the time of day to go off the oxygen for 15 minutes made all the difference. I started going with 15 minutes first thing in the morning. I was able to make my breakfast without fighting with the hose and was able to get dressed without taking it on and off. Then I monitored my finger O2 Meter throughout the day to see how things were going. By day 3 of that, I was stable enough to also start lowering the O2 Liter output by a little. Once I got it to 2L, I started taking longer off of the oxygen in the morning.

  • Putting the Oxygen back on when I am trying to do something strenuous. This was all the hubby's idea! At first, I was trying to do things like normal and I would be all out of breath and gaspy. Even now, I am still at a point where if I try to do too much activity, I can't keep up with my oxygen. So the solution to me wanting to do a little more is to keep the O2 with me when I am going to do something. The other day I climbed 3 flights of stairs to go to breakfast service. It was not graceful and I was huffing and puffing when I got to the top (with 3 breaks along the way). Once I reached the top, my husband pulled out the oxygen bottle and nose canula and I sat for a few hours with the oxygen on. I felt 100% better at the end of that and did ok going down the stairs.

  • Trying to be easy on yourself. I fail at this! My physical therapist tells me when I need to take a break because this lady would push to the point of collapse. Not highly recommended for recovery. Thankfully I have a great care team between home health staff and family and they have helped me see where the breaking point is. This goes for recovery on the O2 and on the weakness.

  • Eating several small meals has helped tremendously. It has both made the acid reflux better and made breathing easier.

As of 7/1/2021 I can sit in my living room doing not much and be off the oxygen for most of the day. If I try to walk around outside, then I may need to go back on depending on what the finger O2 meter shows. Last night was the first night I tried sleeping without the O2 on. I will say that I am extra tired this morning and didn't sleep well, so tonight it may have to go back on. If I am not actively telling my body to breathe in and out with deep slow breaths, I can feel the tiredness and can tell that my blood O2 levels are going low. I suspect that I am not doing this while I am sleeping.



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