Helium PSA

I do not like balloons. I have the same opinion about them as I do with fireworks: they're pretty for about 30 seconds, but their uselessness eventually enrages me. Maybe I used to like them when I was a kid although I have a hard time telegraphing the positive emotions I may have felt around them back then, so I'll assume I've felt this way my entire life.


Once I had kids, I realized balloons only introduced chaos and discord into already challenging days, so my dislike turned to hatred. It seems like a sweet and innocent source of joy for kids, so why wouldn't you want to give them a balloon? The first problem is that balloons only tend to stay in the hands of children for a minute max. At that point, it will either float off into the atmosphere until it eventually lands in the ocean or be popped because the kid walked too close to a bush. Then, the kid starts screaming inconsolably for the next hour. This is the best case scenario. The worst case scenario is that you're stuck with a wrinkled, defeated-looking balloon that will sit in the corner of the living room for weeks. And you can't throw it out because your kid will scream the second you throw it out, so now you have to absorb the sad, misshapen object as part of your home decor.

For some reason, other adults are not convinced that this is enough of a reason to deprive your kids of a balloon every now and again, which is why I was overjoyed when an angel at Party City gave me a bulletproof reason to be a balloon prude. As the employee blew up the ten balloons Greg and I begrudgingly bought last minute for Darla's birthday party, she told us that she might not be able to blow them all up because there was a helium shortage.

"We've been having this problem since October," she replied when I asked her whether there was a missed shipment. "There's a general helium shortage, and usually hospitals get first dibs on it."

"Of course, yes, the hospitals need it a lot," I said and then whispered to Greg, "did you know hospitals need helium?"

He did not. After we left Party City with the ten balloons weighted down by my guilt and shame for depriving someone of the life-saving gas, we researched helium on our phones. We discovered that it is a finite resource produced by the decay of uranium extracted through mining. We had always thought scientists concocted helium in labs. And to make us feel even worse about the balloons bobbing around in our trunk, we found out that hospitals account for 20% of the world's helium use.

"Why?" you might ask. For many reasons! It's used to float oxygen up into the bodies of people on ventilators, and a combo of oxygen/helium is much easier for the patients to breathe that straight oxygen. If that's not enough, it's used to cool down the magnets in MRI machines.

Add to this the fact that NASA uses helium as a pressurizing agent for the space shuttle's ground and flight fluid systems, and Greg and I felt thoroughly suffocated by the guilty balloons. Despite this, we had to keep the balloons because a. we'd already bought them and b. we couldn't let that precious helium go to waste. We agreed right then that we'd never buy another balloon or accept a free one from the grocery store ever again. We, also, have become the local birthday party buzzkills since we've been spreading the word about the evils of balloons to every parent we know. You're welcome, world.