Philips Respironics Recall Triggered My Health Anxiety

Brianna Albers avatar

by Brianna Albers |

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I’m about to give myself credit where credit is due: I didn’t freak out for several months.

I have undiagnosed, but undeniable, health anxiety. So, I was surprised by my reaction to a recall announced last June by Philips Respironics of 13 respiratory machines, including the BiPAP machine I’ve used for years. (BiPAP stands for bilevel positive airway pressure, and refers to a type of ventilator that assists with breathing.)

I read the report and contacted my pulmonologist to see about getting a new machine. All the while, I was incredibly, uncharacteristically, chill. When I realized my chances of getting a new BiPAP were slim to none, I shrugged and went on with my life.

You might be wondering if I was replaced with an even-tempered, well-adjusted doppelgänger. The truth is, I have no idea. Maybe the antidepressant is finally doing its job.

For the uninitiated, Philips’ explanation went a little something like this: The breakdown of polyester-based polyurethane sound abatement foam could result in the user inhaling or swallowing “black debris.” Listed among the risks from exposure were headache, sinus infection, asthma, and “adverse effects to other organs (e.g. kidneys and liver) and toxic carcinogenic affects.”

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I have suffered from chronic sinusitis for years. At one point, my headaches were so frequent the hypochondriac in me defaulted to brain cancer. It’s no understatement to say that my quality of life has diminished from having to deal with issues like anxiety and pain management.

Cue the sense of impending doom

It didn’t occur to me that the sinusitis might be connected to my BiPAP until I saw an open letter by the Disability Visibility Project regarding the recall. I sent it to my friends, who freaked out on my behalf. The group chat was in a frenzy. The word “carcinogen” rattled around my head like a ping pong ball until I realized with startling clarity that, uh, maybe this situation was more serious than I thought.

I spent an hour or two in that liminal state of impending doom. I begged my mom to find my old BiPAP, a perfectly mediocre machine that smelled like a basement. I was falling back on old habits, which is to say, I was fighting the urge to Google “symptoms of cancer.”

Eventually, my friends talked me down. There was no evidence of “black debris” in my machine’s tubing. My old BiPAP, with its incredibly subpar performance, would last at least a couple of months. Contrary to what my brain was telling me, I was not dead yet.

Better, but frustrated

I’ve been using my old BiPAP for a couple of days, and while I’m still congested, I am seeing improvement. Of course, it could just be the placebo effect, or unrelated to the recall. All I know is that I’m not dealing with 24/7 sinus pressure right now. It’s too soon to tell, but it would be nice if the solution to my never-ending allergy problem were as simple as switching machines.

Now that I’m mostly past the anxiety stage (my heart still twinges every time I think of carcinogens), I’m considering the impact of this recall on my community. By registering their devices via serial numbers on Philips’ website, BiPAP users can sign up for either a repair or a replacement. In the meantime, the company’s recommendation is to stop using BiPAP and CPAP machines, but continue “life-sustaining ventilation prescribed therapy.”

The advocate in me worries about those people who are dependent on respirators, but don’t have access to another model like I did, until they can have their machines repaired or replaced.

So, I admit I’m a little frustrated about this. I only found out about the repair and replace program on social media. I received no direct notice that replacements were underway. If it weren’t for my community’s advocacy, I would still be in the dark about the entire issue.

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Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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