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The Gadget That Saved My Mother’s Life

Why you NEED a pulse oximeter in a COVID-19 world

Laura Rosell
6 min readNov 10, 2020


If you read no further than the end of this paragraph, that’s perfectly okay. My objective is to save lives, so I’ll put the absolutely most crucial words right up front. Here they are: BUY A PULSE OXIMETER. Today.

How did a pulse oximeter save my mother’s life when COVID-19 hit our household last month? Here’s our story.

Silent hypoxia (also called “silent hypoxemia”) is a frighteningly real possibility* with COVID-19. Silent hypoxia is the condition wherein your oxygen saturation drops dangerously low without you even realizing you’re in the throes of a life-threatening emergency. (*Link also summarizes health risks at various oxygen saturation levels.)

I had read earlier this year that COVID-19 was causing silent hypoxia in some people, but frankly, when my family got sick, it never even occurred to us to ask if we could borrow a pulse oximeter from anyone, much less purchase one ourselves. These were devices we’d seen in doctors’ offices and hospitals; we didn’t realize that just anybody could buy them, and very affordably at that.

In other words, I didn’t know that silent hypoxia was something you could detect outside of a medical setting — but it is.

On October 19, my parents and I were tested for COVID-19. On October 21, the results came back positive for all three of us. On October 23 — just 2 days after diagnosis — my mother needed to be admitted to the hospital. For silent hypoxia.

October 23 happened to be a day when my brother swung by to leave some groceries on our porch. As a healthcare worker who’s spent months screening patients for covid testing, he had a fingertip pulse oximeter and offered to lend it to us for the weekend. If he hadn’t done this, our mother might not have survived the night.

Testing her oxygen levels that evening while she was awake, we saw that they were already somewhere in the 80s — low enough to cause organ damage. Cause for alarm in itself. However, we also knew that anyone’s (yes, even healthy people’s) oxygen levels drop a bit during sleep. We realized she couldn’t spend the night at home. (According to The Minnesota Department of Health: “Normal oxygen…



Laura Rosell

Love, sex, dreams, soul, adventure, healing, feeling. Available for projects.