Between crochet, reality TV and her “little hobbies,” Vancouver resident Darlene Hunt has enough options to keep herself entertained indoors.
As someone living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, staying inside has been essential for Hunt, 76, as air quality has ventured into the unhealthy territory, where it remained Tuesday in Clark County and Portland.
Conditions are so bad now, everyone is advised to stay indoors.
Even indoors, breathing became so difficult for Hunt on Monday that she checked into the Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center emergency room and has continued treatment at the hospital.
She isn’t alone in that regard. Legacy Salmon Creek had 18 respiratory patients Tuesday who were affected by the unhealthy-air designation. The designation means that everyone, especially sensitive groups, should limit time spent outdoors, avoid strenuous activities outdoors and “choose light indoor activities.”
PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center had 25 inpatients being treated for COPD and asthma issues, which were likely tied to the poor air quality, PeaceHealth spokesperson Randy Querin confirmed through email.
Since Hunt has COPD, a chronic lung inflammatory disease that obstructs airflow, she falls into the “sensitive group,” which includes people with asthma, diabetes, heart and lung conditions, respiratory illnesses and colds, stroke survivors, children under 18, adults over 65 and pregnant women.
“It was just harder and harder to breathe (Monday),” Hunt said from her room in Legacy. “I think the smoke had a lot to do with it. My lungs are so weak that anything like that will aggravate them.”
Hunt has been admitted before to the hospital for similar reasons, and joked, “We’re practically on a first-name basis” when speaking of Legacy staff. About three weeks ago, Hunt was admitted into the hospital with pneumonia and bronchitis complications — a result that can appear for respiratory patients after days of poor air.
Hunt stays indoors when air quality is unhealthy, but she can still get sick in her home, which only has air conditioners that blow in air from outside. Hunt and her husband, Dutch, both have COPD, which can make it tough for the couple to run errands during unhealthy-air days.
“When it’s like this, I just gasp,” Hunt said. “I have a problem with breathing anyway, but when it’s nice, I can at least leave the house and go out and do things. When it’s like this, I can’t even come out the door. My car is parked probably 25 feet from the door, and my husband has to help me out of the car and into the car because I can’t make it.”
Sherri Freeman, a COPD educator with Legacy, noted that when bad air quality lingers for days, it becomes unsafe for respiratory patients in their homes, as the air indoors gathers pollution.
Daniel Seifer, who works in pulmonary critical care with PeaceHealth, said that many of the masks you’ll see people wearing right now don’t help at all in fighting the particulate matter in poor-quality air that stems from wildfires.
Seifer recommends those in the sensitive groups buy respirator masks that painters wear and are Occupational Safety and Health Administration certified. The masks cost about $30 and utilize reusable cartridges.
Freeman explained that those with COPD or asthma can use inhalers and other devices to treat their problems, but Albuterol, which helps prevent wheezing and shortness of breath, can also increase heart rates and anxiety if overused. At that point, it’s best to get professional care.
“There’s not a lot of options for them,” Freeman said, “and it’s kind of inevitable to see them here.”
The Southwest Clean Air Agency and Washington State Department of Ecology have extended an air-quality advisory that was set to remain in effect until noon Wednesday but will now expire at 5 p.m. for Clark County and other nearby counties.
“(A)ir quality levels can be expected to oscillate between unhealthy and moderate. Smoke may not affect all areas at all times,” according to the advisory.
In addition to lingering smoke, Wednesday is expected to be another hot day, with temperatures climbing into the low 90s. Things will start to cool off Thursday, when the high is forecast to reach 78.
There were no practice cancellations at local schools, but all Vancouver and Evergreen school district schools held practice indoors Tuesday.
A northeasterly wind overhead is carrying the particulates from wildfires in British Columbia and Washington, according to a National Weather Service forecast discussion.
“A significant pattern change develops when (stronger winds) arrive (tonight) and Thursday, with much cooler temperatures Thursday and continuing through the upcoming weekend,” the discussion says.