Thursday, January 27, 2022

Life Before Piped in Oxygen - Tanks A Lot

Physiology pivots on the oxygen pinnacle

I thought those gigantic "H" cylinders of oxygen, not to be confused with their lesser sized brotherern, would be with us forever in the hospital. Oxygen delivered to wall outlets in patient's rooms seemed like a pipe dream because we had enough problems with our common old ordinary plumbing. There were steam leaks from autoclave pipes that resembled Old Faithful and recurrent problems with clogged drains. Pipes and problems went together like tweedle dee and tweedle dumb. How in the world could this ever work with a gas under high pressure?

I couldn't imagine oxygen pipes being exempt from similar pipe problems and, of course, I was an ace with the skills necessary to course these massive green cylinders around and about hospital wards and halls. Who needs fancy piped in O2?  A weak mind and a strong back were the only prerequisites for being an oxygen delivery boy, and of course the eager nurses and cyanotic patients were always overjoyed to see me with my life sustaining cargo. Just what a fragile adolescent male cast adrift in a sea of estrogen needed for an ego boost. I was really doing something worthwhile! This is why I chose nursing as a career instead of an auto mechanic.

Oxygen tank storage rooms were special places and out of bounds for most of the fairer sex. Green monsters chained to 2X12 wooden planks and weighing in at over 150 pounds required some muscle and lots of practice to safely handle. I used a trusty dolly to transport these bemouths and once they were set in motion inertia took over. Stopping these rolling monsters was akin to putting the brakes on a battleship.

The other tricky part was maintaining the correct incline while tipping the dolly into position. There were dollys with training wheels for the more cautious, but the tiny caster like wheels used on the trainer support system were prone to gyrating like a belly dancer and slowing the entire delivery process. It was no fun pushing these bruisers down a hospital corridor with those tiny wheels doing the watutsi.

Training wheels also impaired the ability to maneuver the tank into position at the patient's bedside. It was possible to fine tune the position of the tanks when it was released from the dolly by carefully rolling the base of the tank which was all fun and games until you rolled an "H" cylinder over your toes. I preferred the dolly sans training wheels.

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and the conversion of cavernous hospital wards to semi-private rooms was a game changer. Wrestling a colossal "H" oxygen cylinder into the cramped confines of puny 2 bed hospital room was akin to stuffing an elephant into a phone booth, these green monsters longed for the circus big top of a spacious ward where there was ample room to roam.

The construction required to section off individual rooms from the big tent arena of a hospital ward provided an opportunity to run pipelines for the bedside delivery of oxygen, and an end to wrestling with the big green monsters.

Endings like this are usually bittersweet. Yes, piped in oxygen was very convenient, but the bedside delivery of something as life sustaining as oxygen afforded the delivery boy an entire cosmos of goodwill. It was heartwarming to witness the relief and gratitude of patients and nurses alike, while I quickly switched out regulator yokes and twisted my oxygen wrench to the on position and noted the swing of the needle on the pressure gauge from near empty to full, good for another few days of life sustaining oxygen. I was transformed from lowly delivery boy to a genuine care giver and that was good enough for me.


  1. Hahaha oh my sides. Your posts like this make me wish you had a youtube channel. Go boldly into those rowdy whippersnapper lands and show them who's the boss.

    Once again I report of those monstrosities being far from gone where I work at least, although the shape and size had changed significantly. They are much smaller and are only used for supplying O2 to the patients in transit when they willy-nilly have to be weaned from the generous bosom of the stationary supply. This is generally the time when I can finally show everyone how much of a macho I am by swinging into the patient's room with one of those on my shoulder as if they weight nothin` (they are relatively light indeed. Especially compared to the patients. Especially compared to SOME of the patients). Then we hook up the bloke up and get him a-rolling to wherever he is heading.

    Next time tell how CTs and X-ray looked back then! When I see X-rays being done by those little portable carts being wheeled around by the radiology techs not unlike those heavy tanks you were telling about (and certainly much closer weight-wise) it makes me wonder how much more of a cumbersome procedure these were before.

    As always, best of health

    Yours truly

    whippersnapeRN (soon to be, hopefully)

  2. Back in the day the X-ray department could be easily identified by the pungent/sweet smell of photographic fixer. The quality of digital X-rays is so much better. Old school portable X-ray machines were indeed monsters and some of them were self propelled by battery powered motors.

    We still had to use gas cylinders in the OR, but they were a much more manageable size and were cleverly pin indexed, so it was impossible to hook a nitrous cylinder up to an oxygen circuit.

    Thanks so much for your comment and enjoy your time as a student. Nursing school was a bear, but I made some great memories and lifelong friends there. Cheers!