As I discussed earlier this week, I’m having a series of hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatments for radiation damage going back to last year’s treatments. I’ve had two now and understand pretty well how the drill works.
Before I leave the house, I have to take 60 mg of Sudafed and a couple sprays of Flonase. This is to prepare me for the effects of oxygen compression on my ears. After breakfast, I arrive at the hospital around 8:00. I’m given a hospital gown and pants; while dressing, I make sure I’ve removed all my jewelry and put my glasses safely away. I also put on a pair of hospital socks to wear until I climb into the chamber. Margery (fake name), the take-charge hyperbaric technician/nurse(?), doesn’t allow anyone to walk around barefoot in the chamber room because she doesn’t consider the floor hygienic, even though it’s mopped.
I’m seated in a chair so Margery can take all my vitals: pulse, temperature, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels, plus she looks at my ears and listens to my chest. She also asks me to rate my pain. After these preliminaries, I’m directed to the hyperbaric oxygen chamber, which consists of a large clear acrylic tube with a “bed” device that pushes in and out.
The bed has been wiped down with disinfectant and covered with a clean sheet and pillowcase. I climb up, take off my socks, and get comfortable. I refused a blanket the first morning, which was a good thing because I get extremely warm during the compression stage. Even the top sheet is too much; I’ve kicked it off both days. I’m handed a mask-like device on a long tube; this is to provide normal air to breath during two “air-breaks” during the treatment. Margery also slips a metal bracelet over my left wrist, which is supposed to “ground” me.
Finally I’m shoved into the tube and the door is closed behind me. Margery tunes the flat screen TV secured to the top of the chamber to the channel I requested and moves it into a comfortable position for viewing. (The first morning I asked for the History Channel, which turned out to be showing an “American Pickers” marathon. I wound up with Mike Wolf and Frank Fritz in my face all morning. Today I requested TCM and was subjected to a horrid Bob Hope film from 1963 called “Call Me Bwana.” I really need to check the listings before I ask for a channel.)
For the first fifteen minutes, I have to constantly swallow and “click” my ears to keep them open. After that, it’s simply a matter of lying there like Sleeping Beauty in her glass coffin, except I’m peering at the television or trying to nap. Twice during the treatment I’m given a five-minute air-break, during which I suck regular air out of the mask-like device. This is to prevent oxygen toxicity (just one more thing I never realized existed).
Ten to fifteen minutes before it’s all over, one of the technicians alerts me that the pressure will be coming down. My ears pop a few times, but that’s it. At last the chamber is opened, the air mask is removed from my grasp, I’m pulled out of the tube, and the metal bracelet is removed from my wrist. The technician slips on my socks, then helps me down from the bed. I stagger over to the dressing room to get back into my street clothes.
Before I leave, all my vitals are checked again and I rate my pain level. This is more complicated than it should be because I actually have three different levels: how bad it hurts when I pee, how bad it stings afterward and for how long, and how much it hurts just because. Yesterday I had some hope, even though I knew one session wasn’t going to work miracles–I didn’t sting and burn as much all afternoon into the evening and I even avoided taking any ibuprofen (I’ve been taking it every four hours religiously over recent weeks to tamp down the intensity of the hurt.)
However, last night around 11:30 I started feeling a sharp pain, as if someone was pressing the point of an awl into my vulva. I was uncomfortable sitting in the chair in the living room and when I went down to the computer to get some work done. I was still a little sore today, then went through an evening of positive hell, so no use expecting too much too soon. But everyone keeps telling me how wonderfully this treatment works, and I’ll cling to that as I lie in the clear chamber waiting for time to pass.