SOB, Once Again

Take a big breath!

Take a big breath!

Many hospice patients have MOM for one of their prescribed medications. And who wouldn’t want a mother’s love when entering into hospice care? Mom knows best, right? But wait! MOM is one of our hospice’s many acronyms, an abbreviation for the familiar Milk of Magnesia.

Then there’s SOB, which I’ve mentioned in past essays. But whenever SOB is one of the medical concerns for a patient, I’m one part amused and one part saddened. The acronym is for Short Of Breath and not the curse, “You son of a _ _ _ _ _!”

Being SOB represents many patients greatest fear. A number of illnesses compromise the lungs and regular breathing becomes a struggle. No one wants to gasp for air. No one wants to pause for long seconds between each word as they slowly, slowly, slowly try to communicate. No one wants to go to sleep at night, dreading a lack of air will force him or her awake or, fatally worse, that they will never wake. Another acronym linked to SOB is COPD. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, according to the Mayo Clinic website, “refers to a group of lung diseases that block airflow and make breathing difficult.” That’s a simple and a terrifying definition. On too many occasions, COPD is the primary diagnosis for a patient entering hospice and having “six months or less to live.” Bluntly, cigarette smokers are high on the bad scale for a future with COPD and SOB.

Take a breath. Easy, right?

Take a breath. If you’re in a city, ugly with smog and traffic, the air literally tastes bad. Ah, but how wondrous a deep breath when inhaling clean, crisp air.

Let’s get some air, we say, as we join in a jaunt around the block. Let’s air it out, we say, as we debate another and seek mutual understanding.

Take a breath. The so-called average person will breath 16 times per minute “at rest.” Which means 960 breaths an hour. If you arrive at 80 years of age, you will have taken 672,768,000 lifetime breaths. Keep breathing!

trailcrest1But our breath is limited. Literally limited because the atmosphere around our little planet called Earth provides a way for oxygen to be available, though that life-giving oxygen thins the higher you climb. As a young man, in excellent shape, I gasped for breath in the final thousand feet of elevation between Trail Crest Pass and Mt. Whitney’s 14,505-foot summit. And our breath is literally limited because we are mortal. There will be a last breath at some point.

What will you do with your hourly 960 breaths? None of us want to be SOB, but many of us—and I include myself—abuse the breath we have with the words we use. The acronym SOB isn’t just medicalese. Have you called someone an SOB? Have you been angry with another and screamed at them? Have you hurt another with your insults, sarcasm, belittling, bullying, criticizing, backstabbing, gossiping or silence? Have you held your breath back and not told another about your love, about forgiveness, about your fears, about your dreams?

How easy breathing is, until it isn’t. How abundant oxygen is, until it’s not. How casually we use our breath to say hurtful things to friends and family, but we more likely end up seriously hurting ourselves.

Take a breath.

There will be about 15 more in the next 60 or so seconds.

How precious each one is.

(Hospice vigorously protects a patient’s privacy. I’ll take care with how I share my experiences. Any names used are fictitious. Events are combined and/or summarized.)

Blowing bubbles image from here; Trail Crest Pass sign from here.

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