To Chew or Not to Chew?


A Cottage Industry Solution to Noisy Alarms

Mother, age 90, sits in her La-Z-Boy chair by the sunny window, chewing gum. This is where she spends most days. “Where’d the gum come from?” she asks, popping yet another stick of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit into her mouth.

“Me,” I say. “I’ve got a job for you!”

She looks at me curiously, jaw slack for the briefest of seconds.

“I need a wad of gum. My ventilator alarm is driving me nuts!”

She nods agreeably. “Sticky or thick? How much d’ya need?” she asks, and, taking yet another stick from Wrigley’s Plen-T-Pak, resumes the job in earnest.

During a routine ventilator reassessment, I had been challenged on my PLV-100 pressure alarm settings. “Your alarms aren’t working,” the respiratory therapist (RT) said.

“No,” I replied, “they’re just turned off.” On purpose. I don’t need them. I wake up immediately if I don’t get enough air, and adjust the leak or deal with whatever’s caused it. During the day, I only use the vent periodically with a sip pipe and a narrow tube, so it’s only in my mouth delivering pressure intermittently. Just imagine the noise and irritation as the alarm keeps going off… the disruption to telephone conversations! The interference with my voice-operated computer, voice-dialing and speaker phone! The distraction to friends who drop by for a visit! The reaction of the delivery man frantically tripping over his packages as he desperately dashes for the phone to call 911! That alarm is so loud it’s meant to wake the dead!

When the alarm triggers at night, I awake in such a heart-pounding panic that it takes me forever to calm down and go back to sleep. It’s enough to trigger a serious arrhythmia! My personal attendant gets upset when her dreams are disrupted and wants extra pay for having to get up and deal with it. Even my cat hurtles off the bed like a shot from a gun, claws screeching across the hardwood floor as he dives for cover in the closest. Only my mother sleeps on, her rest unshattered… but then, she’s been deaf for years.

I live in a home, not an ICU. I do breathe on my own, after all, so why do I need such aggravation?

“But you could get sick, or have a bad cold or drink too much or not be able to wake up,” the RT reasoned. I pondered this. I searched my brain for a logically compliant solution. I responded with a seriousness I sincerely hoped was suitable to the gravity of the situation: “Hmmm…”

Reducing the decibel level just might be the best compromise, I thought. So I tried covering the alarm outlet hole with masking tape, electrical tape, surgical tape and gaffer tape, with various combinations of sponge, styrofoam and cardboard in between. Nothing worked. The alarm continued to scream so loud it would blast a permanent hole through the densest Maritime fog.

Several hours later, my mother yells. “It’s ready!” She spits out her personally prepared chewing-gum wad and, as directed, applies it to the alarm outlet hole. Wow! It works. Fabulously! The sound of a now far-distant foghorn is music to the ears.

Mother shuffles her way back to the La-Z-Boy chair. She reaches for the Plen-T-Pak and stuffs her mouth again. She begins to chew like a madam on a mission and I stare at her, puzzled.

“Now I’m making one for Sheila’s ventilator,” she explains. “I had one already done, a nice big fat one, but it disappeared from the window sill. Seems like the cat stole it. Just look at him. He’s having so much fun playing ball with it all over the floor.”

(Writer Audrey King is breathing easy in Toronto, Ontario.)


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