The weight of the plastic chamber rests on my shoulder as I strain to get the inside zipper completely closed. After a moment, success. I quickly roll onto my back and wait for the tube to inflate. Slowly, the plastic structure that was a formless, empty sock when I crawled into it becomes a firm sausage of air. I shift carefully on the padding, wanting to end up in a level state once the chamber completely inflates. The chamber creaks around me as it moves from flat to cylindrical. Shifting my hips, I remember the tubing for the oxygen being delivered to the mask I’m wearing. 90%-95% pure oxygen for my healing pleasure. I realize that the tubing curled under my thigh as I rolled into the structure, and quickly adjust it so oxygen can flow freely. The steady, pleasant flow of oxygen against my nose says all is well.
Once the tube fully inflates, the real action begins. Pressure starts to build in the chamber, heading towards 1.3 atmospheres. I can feel the increase in my ears. An exaggerated yawn relieves the building pressure, like when I’m in an airliner gaining altitude. My ears pop but pressure quickly builds again. I grab my earlobes and pull down, then out until the next layer of pressure is released. When that doesn’t work, I pull the top of my ears up, away, front, then back, until my body fully adjusted to the higher pressure. Conveniently, I can control the rate that the pressure builds in the tube. But, since my first few sessions where me and my body got to know the routine, I now let the tube pressure build as quickly as possible. Efficiency and all.
I know the appropriate pressure has been reached because the mild blow-in from the compressor creating the pressure within the chamber is drowned out by the moderately loud whistle of the pressure relief valve. Strangely, exactly how much the pressure relief valve sound bothers me seems to vary. I’m not sure if the noise level actually varies, or if it is simply my sensitivity that varies – but some days I barely notice it, some days I need ear plugs to keep from going crazy.
Size-wise, the chamber is comfortable for me. I can’t sit up in it, but I can lay on my side if I choose. Most important for my sense of freedom, I can bend my knees comfortably. In fact, if I am careful I can pull my knees all the way up to my chest. At 5’3″ tall, a smaller-sized hyperbaric chamber is completely reasonable.
While lying on my back for an hour, there are a limited number of activities available to me. I can read. But it’s reading on my back when I have to hold the weight of the book above me at all times (although I guess I could lie on my side… hadn’t thought of that). I can play on my phone, or more specifically check my email and message people back who have messaged me, or see what the weather will be for the next few days. Screens are overstimulating, but for half an hour or so I’m good. Most often, I rest with earplugs and eye covering and give myself Reiki.
That has been one unexpected perk of this chamber. I’m stuck there, in one place, for an hour. Usually, any time I have any hint of energy, I’m doing a task – fixing something, making phone calls, writing, gardening. During HBOT, I can’t. I might have energy, but there is no place to go. So, why not do something helpful and healing during that time? It’s not like I can do anything else. That’s why I tend to give myself Reiki on a daily basis now, as I pass the time until I am free of the chamber.
Or, sometimes, I make videos of myself like here:
I’ve noticed that people who get my blog via email don’t get the youtube link, so here it is directly for your clicking pleasure: https://youtu.be/7860uP-9bjQ
When I decided to giving HBOT a try, I made a commitment to being open. Being open means not just being physically open or financially open to trying a new treatment, it also means being energetically open. Being energetically open isn’t just a state of mind involving my brain, it is an energy, an attitude involving my whole self, my whole spirit. And, as I said in my sleep blog here The Beauty of Sleep, this brain injury has made it important for me to communicate directly and repeatedly with my “self” – mind, body, spirit – in order to get a message across. Every time I get into the hyperbaric chamber, I remind myself that I am open and that I want to experience the maximum benefits possible from each treatment. That messaging is an important part of the healing process, because, for me, fatigue and impairment makes it easy for my mind/body/spirit to miss stuff on all sorts of levels. And I definitely don’t want to miss any benefits of this therapy. So I remind myself of my intent – to heal completely and to thrive.
So far, I’ve had 13 treatments. The wisdom I’ve heard is that I’ll need 20-40 treatments to notice significant improvement. A 2011 U.S. military study found positive results in veterans who had experienced blast-induced mTBI after a month of treatment, either once or twice a day. Success stories I’ve read have similar veterans getting anywhere from 80 to hundreds of sessions and having benefits. So, I need to be patient. I’ve been at it two weeks. I will reevaluate at the end of the year, and see if there are notable changes.
To help me remember how I feel each day, I have started a daily HBOT log, noting any large or small differences I noticed before and after treatment.
So far, I have observed a few effects of HBOT on my body and my functioning:
- The HBOT makes me hungry. I need to eat at least a few bites of granola bar right after a treatment, even if I had a big meal before. Then I need to have a substantial meal within a few hours. If I don’t, I’ll have a meltdown just like I would if I didn’t eat all day.
- I’ll get a headache if I decrease the pressure of the tube too quickly, if I don’t wear earplugs during said depressurization, or if I don’t allow transition time between crawling out of the chamber and driving.
- Being in HBOT for an hour replaces my need for an afternoon nap. I finish a session positive and energized instead of waking from a nap grumpy and sluggish. A very fine thing.
Other benefits? Cognitive benefits? I haven’t noticed any, yet. I remain hopeful and open. Energy increase? Maybe… slightly… it is notable that I no longer need an afternoon nap (although I rest for an hour during HBOT) and that I’m able to drive an hour round trip every day. As I’ve been told, effects are cumulative. I expect as I get into the 20s, 30s, 40s in my number of treatments, changes will become more obvious.
When doing a new treatment, more than one thing changes. I keep that in mind as I evaluate the effectiveness of HBOT. Am I feeling more energetic because I am giving myself reiki every day, or because of the treatment? Am I feeling so positive because I am excited about a new treatment, or is it the treatment itself? I don’t know. Really, I can’t know at this stage. As I evaluate HBOT, I maintain awareness of all of the changes in my behavior, not just the addition of HBOT. And I remain cautious classifying improvement as real, after so many months and years of being on a blind rollercoaster of recovery.
So, for another month or so, I’ll be giving HBOT a try. I’ll report back on my experience, let you know if it changes my life. I am happy, I feel blessed, that I have had the opportunity to try this therapy, one that seemed so out of reach to me even six months ago. To have the universe align and provide an HBOT site within my driving ability (30 minutes) and that won’t absolutely decimate my ability to pay my bills ($100/wk) … that is amazing. A blessing. A wonderful thing. I thank the universe, the Goddess, and all the wonderful people who have made it possible for me to receive HBOT in a condensed and focused way these last few weeks, and in the coming months.
May you all have a similar experience of being blessed in your healing.
Que nunca tengas hambre. Que nunca tengas sed.