I finished my sixth hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) dive on Monday. Already, it’s becoming routine. But getting to that point took all of last week. Here are some lessons learned, so far:
- It’s really important to have some meaningful entertainment when you are confined to your back, lying inside a glass-and-steel chamber for 2 hours and 20 minutes. I decided to immerse in the best fiction writing I could find at the library. Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, narrated by the author, proved to be the perfect choice. Her language is magnificent, and her artistry is both an inspiration and a thought-provoking guide to revising the first draft of my novel (finished in late winter, incubating since then due to all the hand mishegas).
- Definitely go with a light breakfast for an early morning dive. I do not want to have to take a bathroom break in the midst of the dive—that would either truncate the day’s session or require a second dive/reverse of pressure. Too anxiety-provoking.
- Meditation breathing really helps to counter claustrophobia. During my third dive last week, I suddenly began to feel trapped in the chamber. Focusing on my breath enabled me to calm myself and focus on the audio novel.
- Bring a granola bar or other healthy snack for after the dive. I have yet to do this, but I realize it would be a good idea. I’m very hungry when finished, and I still have to spend nearly two hours redoing all my dressings. The dive increases your metabolism rate.
- Ear tubes—which I had inserted on Friday—definitely ease the pressure on eustachian tubes during the dive (in the first 15 minutes or so, pressure in the chamber increases to 2 atmospheres, the equivalent of being 35 feet below sea level). However, the tubes have also caused some additional muffling of my hearing, to my dismay. My right ear cleared a bit over the weekend, so I no longer sound to myself as if I’m talking under water. But my left has yet to clear, and I can hear my pulse in my left ear.
- Sometimes I am very energized when I come home, and other days, I need a nap. No clear rhyme or reason. But I have been able to put in a productive afternoon of work every day, so far.
- The therapy works.
- Exhibit A: I have had an intractable ulcer on my left inside ankle for almost a year, which had mostly healed over the summer, but was persistently flaking and threatening to reopen. After two days of HBO, the skin was completely healed. Miraculous.
- Exhibit B: The donor site for my skin grafts on my right thigh shrank by about 50 percent last week. I was finally able to flake off the very dry scab Sunday, which had become quite itchy.
- Exhibit C: My finger pain has decreased even more than it had from just the grafts. I am now able to drive again. The vibrations of the steering wheel no longer hurt my fingers. I put this to the test on Sunday and was able to drive us to a wedding over an hour away, and back. First long-distance highway drive since July.
- Exhibit D: My health care team unanimously thinks my grafts are healing well. I spiked an infection in my right middle finger, so am back on antibiotics. But it appears to be healing again, thank goodness.
Tuesday morning is Dive Number 7. I plan to vote in our local elections on my way home. I’m grateful that I feel up to it. Whatever your health circumstances, I hope you do, too.
Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.
Image Credit: The HBO chamber I’m using looks a lot like this image from Long Beach Medical Center in Long Beach, California.