Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) for Colitis: A life-changing journey in the chamber
As first seen on BEATING BACK COLITIS A DOCTOR’S JOURNEY
Dr. Gelly explained my treatment plan. The published research studies showed that the optimal treatment pressure would be 2.8 ATM (a depth of 60 feet) for a total of 60 minutes. To minimize the risk of any oxygen toxicity, every 20 minutes I would use a provided mask inside the chamber and breath normal air, instead of 100% oxygen, for 5 minutes (aka an “air break”). Altogether, I would have a total of three 20-minute sessions at depth.
As my body would need time to adjust to the pressure, it would take about 20 minutes to get down to 2.8 ATM, and about 20 minutes to return to the “surface.” Thus the entire session in the closed chamber would be 2 hours.
I would have 5 sessions every week, with weekends to recover, for 4 weeks – for a total of 20 sessions.
Day 1…taking a leap…
The staff were great to work with, and guided me through every step. As 100% oxygen can fuel the fire if a spark occurs, electronics aren’t allowed in the chamber. I was provided standard operating room scrubs to wear. No watches, no jewelry, etc. I just wore these scrubs and my glasses. They put an electrical grounding strap on my wrist, took my vitals, and provided me a water bottle. The staff made sure to answer any other questions I had. Not surprising, when I asked, “given my condition, what if I have to use the rest room?” The staff member gently replied, “you do what you need to do.” Unless I was experiencing significant pain, difficulty breathing, etc., my goal would be to complete the 2 hours in the chamber.
The plan was to always be in the chamber by 6:00 AM, and out by 8:00 AM.
Before I went into the chamber, they placed one or two heavy warmed blankets on me. I quickly learned to profoundly appreciate these blankets (and make sure that my feet were covered before I went into the chamber).
The slim bed I was lying on was then gently pushed into the chamber. Though I couldn’t see it, as the bed came to a stop, I could hear a door firmly closing behind me. The staff came around next to me, and watched for me to give a “thumbs up,” or a “phone to the ear” gesture. I was also able to communicate to the staff monitoring me through a speaker system. I would “phone” motion to them, and they would pick up a phone handset and talk. “everything ok? they would ask.”
I quickly learned to get through the claustrophobia – by focusing on small segments at a time. I would tell myself “…only 10 more minutes until the next air break.” Through the glass I could see a large red LED clock, and a television monitor. They would put on the TV or play a movie as a source of distraction for me.
The loud hissing began as the 100% oxygen rushed in, continually increasing the pressure. The water bottle they provided was not only for my thirst, but to help frequently swallow – which helps re-balance ear pressure. The challenge was, I had to get used to popping my ears not once or twice, but constantly, for 20 minutes. In the beginning, those were always the longest and most challenging 20 minutes. It was always a relief after about 18-19 minutes had gone by to hear a click of the speaker system, and a friendly voice saying “you doing ok?….we’re at depth.” Depending on how I was feeling, they could stop the descent for a bit – to give me a chance to clear my ears, if I was having any problems.
After 20 minutes had gone by, I would wait patiently for the voice “5 minute air break.” I would grab the mask next to me, and happily breath regular air. Those 5 minutes went by way too fast.
There were many times I had to use the restroom- as mornings were always challenging for me. It was a powerful lesson in letting go – and not worrying about what might happen.
Finally, I’d hear the voice, “ok, we’re coming up.” Coming up was always easier than descending, as my ears would just pop themselves as the pressure decreased.
The chamber would open, and I’d feel my bed being pulled out. Back in the world again. I’d have my vitals checked, slowly sit up, and then carefully walk back (always a bit lightheaded) to the locker room get cleaned up and change into my regular clothing.
I drove back home, showered, and then went off to work- just a bit lightheaded, and with some mild abdominal aching. I was thrilled that I had made it through my first session. What I didn’t know was what that while I was working at my desk, the oxygen was impacting my body in ways that I hadn’t expected.