Let me introduce myself first. My name is Carole and I live in the beautiful, quaint little town of Sussex, New Brunswick, here in Canada.
Around the middle of September, I received an amazing invitation to represent Canada in the 2nd COPD Global Summit in Paris, France (October 28-29-30, 2015). The last time I'd flown was in 1991, within Canada. Since that time, I have developed very severe COPD. I have emphysema, bronchiectasis, and my last CT showed atelectasis of the right middle lobe. I knew that flying with supplemental oxygen would be essential for me.
I checked the Air Canada and Air France online regulations for using portable oxygen on board, and also what brands of portable oxygen concentrators they permitted. Respironics Simply Go was one of the several approved POC's for each airline. I called my oxygen provider, Vital Aire, for help. They were wonderful and donated the 6 batteries that I would need to travel to the Global Summit. I would be in the air 10 hours total. The airlines required 15 hours of battery life. It was estimated that 6 batteries would provide that.
Vital Aire's Respiratory Therapist brought me the POC a few weeks before I left so that I could become familiar and comfortable with it. That was an amazing help to me. I wasn't sure what pulse I would need on the flights. We'd estimated a 2 pulse. I decided to test each battery's life at a 3 pulse. First, I made sure that each battery was fully charged. There are 4 little green lights that light up if the battery is fully charged when you press a little button on the battery. That tells you that the battery is full. If it's half charged, two lights turn green, etc. I identified each fully charged battery by putting little dots of different colors (little stick on dots from the Dollar store...they come off easily) on the white battery handles. I also recorded the time each battery lasted on paper with an identically colored dot beside the time. They lasted between 2 hours and 2 hours, 45 minutes. The difference was probably due to different breathing/inhalation rates, and also due to the fact that the machine was turned off and then back on a few times with some batteries. I had 15 hours of life at a 3 pulse, so I knew I'd have over that at a 2 pulse. I slept with it plugged in and set at sleep mode many nights. Worked like a charm.
When you travel by air with a POC, the airlines require forms filled out, and all their forms differ. I feel strongly that all airlines should get together and use identical forms. After several phone calls, I reached the Air Canada Medi desk. They have forms, multi pages, to be filled out by a physician and to be returned to them. I spoke to them on a Friday, asked that they refrain from faxing the forms till Monday as there was no one in my Dr.'s office till Monday. Nope, they said, they couldn't do that. I was told to call my Dr.'s office on Monday and if they hadn't received them, to call the Medi desk back and they would resend them. Do you know how long it takes to get through to a Dr.'s office or the A/C medi desk by phone? Too long! Finally that was a done deal, and on to Air France.
Air France told me that my Dr. would have to access a form on Delta.com , fill it out and return it. I asked if I could access the form, get someone to print it out, and take it to my Dr. and have him fax it back. Oh no, I was told, only Dr.'s could access this Delta site. It was a medical site. I said my Dr. does NOT have a computer, and even if he did, he would NOT go to Delta, and print out a form on my behalf. That was that for that conversation. I went online and found Air France and a link for a medical form to be filled out to approve a person flying with oxygen. Not having a printer, I forwarded it to our Senior Centre for print out. It proved to be a Delta form.
Next, was the Dr.’s appointment to fill out and sign the forms. That was extremely costly and took only a few minutes. Delta called me the following day to say the number I gave them as a reservation number was not a Delta airlines number. I said that it was an Air France number because I was flying Air France. They said they would have approved my form but it did not have a Delta number, so I was out of luck. Phoned them back a couple of times telling them how I came to get their form through Air France, and asking what I should do... to no avail. Online I got once again and called Air France. Sat on hold... finally got a real person and asked if Air France has a medi desk. They do, and I got through! Told her the Delta happening, asked how this could be.... Air France told me to download the Delta form, etc. She put me on hold after asking my name and flight locator number and some questions about my need for supplemental oxygen, came back, asked me what POC I was flying with, told me that I'd require a setting of 3 pulse, asked if I had enough batteries for 15 hours, said I was flagged for assistance and as of that moment, I was good to go! I have no idea about this Delta form to this day.
My flight began at 6:30 on the 27th from the Moncton, New Brunswick airport about an hour and a half away from my home. I was there by 2pm. No way I was missing that flight! The small aircraft was on the tarmac. Assistance was good. Took me, my POC and my carry on to the stairs of the plane. I was able to walk up the stairs. The stewardess crammed my POC, wheels and case as well under the window seat in front of me. I worried about it being damaged but it was okay. Put my spare batteries overhead along with my carry on. Then she asked me what continuous flow I was on. I said not a continuous flow... probably on either a 2, or a 3 pulse. She'd never heard of a pulse, so I explained it to her. Also showed her how my oximeter worked so that I would know by it's readings what pulse I would need to be on. She had never encountered any of this before and thought it was really interesting. Then piled in several noisy, rowdy boys about 12 years old, all shouting to each other in French. Not exactly what I needed to be surrounded by on my first flight with oxygen. I found I had to be on a 3 pulse to keep at 91/92/93. The flight to Montreal, Quebec was an hour and a half. My stress level was high.
Assistance was waiting for me on the tarmac when we reached Montreal. I could see the wheelchair and person right beside the stairs as the plane unloaded. I was unloaded last. It's a good thing I had assistance. I had an hour to get to my Air France terminal. At the Air France terminal, I asked for assistance. They didn't seem to know that I was flagged for it, or that I was travelling with a POC. But they were great about it. At first I was asked if I could walk through the enclosed tunnel to the aircraft while pulling the POC and carrying my carry on, so I had a look at where it began.... all uphill so I declined, and they called assistance. That was an awesome big Boeing 777. They seated me in an aisle seat with no one beside me. Took the Simply Go out of its case. Put it under the seat in front of me, along with my extra batteries in their case, and my carry on was put under the seat beside me. I felt more relaxed knowing the extra batteries were at my fingertip. Perfect! My “sats” were much better on this 7 hour flight to France. Was able to use a 2 pulse and be at 94/95/96. Too excited to sleep, I watched movies.
Arrived at the Charles de Gaulle airport
at 8am. Never have I seen so many people in one airport,
unimaginable chaos. It took the lady assisting me at least an hour to push
my wheel chair to get my baggage, with my carry on, on my lap and my POC perched on
one of the chair foot rests, with me steadying it. Decided that it was too
complicated to find the shuttle to my hotel so took a taxi, who literally
put my baggage on the road in front of the hotel and quickly drove away. I was
exhausted, short of breath and dizzy. I got everything in the hotel lobby, sat
down, attached the tubing to the POC, turned it on to 3 pulse and tried
to quiet my breathing. Once in my room, I had a five hour sleep and
was good to go! Let the Summit begin.
Coming home on the 31st, meant leaving from the bedlam of the Charles de Gaulle airport. I had no idea how I would ever find my terminal. A very kind and thoughtful person from the COPD Global event accompanied me, found me assistance after an hour and a half of walking through wall to wall people. I hope he made his own connection in time. The 8hr 10 minute flight back to Montreal went wonderfully. I was in a window seat (I do prefer an aisle seat) and the movies were once again good. Had to get up to the washroom once. Called a steward and asked him to carry the POC (which was once again out of it's case and on the floor under the seat in from of me, along with my spare batteries). I was not prepared for my “sats” to drop dramatically down to the late 70's. Once seated, they came back up fairly quickly. I wonder if this happens to others when flying?
An Air France employee took me for my checked luggage, checked it into the Montreal to Moncton baggage, ran back to close the plane up after the crew had left, and came back to take me right to the Montreal terminal. Once there, I asked the lady on the desk if I'd have time to go use the washroom. She said yes. When I returned, she said that I could board. The little Dash 8 was out on the tarmac. I couldn't walk out there with the POC and the carry on. The lady on the desk thought I could because she said that I ran to the washroom and back. Of course, I was SOB and the “sats” had fallen, but the thing is that so many people don't know these things about COPD. We need to educate, educate, educate to create understanding.
Would I fly with oxygen again? Absolutely, anytime, anywhere!