As they waited for a lung-function test during a recent “Taking a Breather for Wellness” health fair, a long line of people compared notes.
“Are you worried about your lungs?” they asked each other. “Did you ever smoke?”
Not many admitted to ever using cigarettes themselves, but several of the non-smokers had concerns, mostly regarding secondhand smoke.
“My mother died of lung cancer,” Jean Spindler of West Pittston said as she waited her turn. “She never smoked, but she worked in a dress factory where a lot of people smoked. And my father smoked.”
Remembering how stained the walls became in a room where her husband had smoked, Mary Ann Petrenchak of Plains Township said her wash water became dark and murky. “It wasn’t yellow,” she said. “It was brown.”
Fortunately for many of the people who visited the lung-function station at the health fair, which was sponsored by the Lung Association and took place at Mohegan Sun Hotel & Convention Center in Plains Township, respiratory therapist Chris Tino was able to give them a good report.
But first they had to take the tests.
“OK. Put this clip on your nose,” Tino told the next person in line.
“Take a couple of normal breaths,” he advised the woman.”Then, when I tell you to breathe deep, breathe as deep as you can, real deep.”
After holding her breath for an instant, the woman spent six seconds exhaling as hard as she could into a tube connected to a machine called a spirometer.
The results showed a forced vital capacity of 122, meaning the woman was able to expel from her lungs 122 percent of the volume of air that would be considered normal for her age, sex and height.
“That’s pretty good,” said Tino, who directs the respiratory therapy department at Luzerne County Community College. “A normal reading is at least 80 percent.”
Tino’s station at the health fair seemed to be one of the most popular, a place where he told people what the spirometer had revealed about their lung function and the amount of air they could expel in the first of the six seconds. Most did well, though one person, a 25-year smoker who had quit more than a decade ago, appeared to have an obstruction in her lungs. The therapist advised her to seek medical attention.
Visitors also were welcome to slip an index finger into a pulse cooximeter that resembled a clothespin. That little gadget shone a light through a fingernail to give a reading for carbon monoxide and oxygen levels in the blood.
While oxygen levels should ideally be 97, Tino said, anything down to 90 is acceptable.
As for the carbon monoxide, he said, non-smokers should have a level of 2 or less. Testing person after person, Tino was able to tell many their level was 2, though a few had 4, 5 or 6
“If you’re in traffic a lot, if you’re a taxi driver or a delivery person, if you have a kerosene heater in your home,” all those things can raise carbon monoxide levels, he said.
Though Tino said the cooximeter is not the most reliable of tests, non-smoker Angel Marsico of Old Forge was distressed to have a 5.
“I think it’s from going to the casino,” she said. “From now on I’m going to Tioga Downs (in New York state). They’re 100 percent non-smoking.”