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COPD Trouble Along the Way

So we're rolling back from Oregon over a Siskiyou Mountain pass into California on a day as bright as heaven, with only small wisps of fog and a few stringy clouds to intrude on a scene that is otherwise right out of a Magritte painting.

The pass rises to over 4,000 feet and as we come down toward Yreka, heading home to L.A. after a two-week road trip. I notice a funny feeling in my chest. My breathing has become labored, which is not too unusual when you are afflicted with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), as I have been for the past several years.

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It's time to use my nebulizer, a small electric motor that blows medicated steam into my


lungs. I plug it into what used to be a cigarette lighter, adjust a face mask and breathe deeply as we head south. Part of our trip preparations were to bring whatever equipment and medication might be necessary for a safe and comfortable journey; the nebulizer is an essential part of that equipment.

But this time, it isn't doing the job.

I begin to gasp, and my wife, the alert Cinelli, notices and says, "You need help." We are parked by the side of the road in the small town of Shasta, population 3,300, some 50 miles from the Oregon border. A town this small is not likely to have an emergency hospital but Cinelli begins asking everyone she sees and one directs her to Mercy Medical Center, miraculously just a few miles away.

A 25-bed hospital, it is not only good, it's amazingly good. I am whisked into Emergency, treated for my breathing difficulty, examined by x-ray and ultrasound equipment, have my blood tested, pulse monitored, given medications and attended to by three different physicians. You don't get this kind of treatment in L.A., unless you're willing to wait six months and stand in line.

It was explained that COPD involves fluid in the lungs and altitude increases its density. "You are essentially breathing through water," the pulmonologist, a young, goateed man in an open plaid shirt and jeans said. All three doctors, it turns out, were from Southern California, all came seeking a more peaceful climate in which to practice medicine.

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I was kept overnight at Mercy while Cinelli stayed in a nearby hotel. We continued our 2,000-mile trip the next day without further incident, grateful for the caring and expertise I received in Shasta. Expect the unexpected when you travel, but say a little prayer that if something does go wrong, you find a little hospital like Mercy near the side of the road.

Photo: C. Smith/Flickr


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