The Star-Herald

In the pressure chamber

So many members of my family and friends ask me the question, “What is it like to go into the hyperbaric chamber? Do you get nervous or are you claustrophobic?” These are expected and perfectly appropriate questions, my friends. And my answer is no. I do not allow my mind to go down that particular path because every session is vital toward healing. 

The chamber itself is shaped much like an elongated, glass-encased tanning booth. It is seven and a half feet in length, approximately 28 inches in width, and just about five feet high. I lie upon a bed that is quite comfortable. I have as many pillows as I need, and warm blankets. If I wish, I can bring in some water to drink. Accompanying me is a band on my arm that grounds me from static electricity and an air mask that provides me with fresh, “normal” air for five minutes, twice per session. 

I am dressed in a pure cotton gown and nothing else. I must make sure that all lotions, soaps, and perfumes are rinsed away. As the pressure in the chamber increases, it is very important to swallow to relieve the pressure felt in my ears. I will compare this journey down under pressure to swimming under water or changing elevation quickly. Once the required pressure is reached, I am breathing comfortable, soothing 100 percent oxygen. When it is time to leave the chamber, I experience “going up” or the decrease of pressure. Once again, I must remember to clear my ears by swallowing. 

While in the chamber, I make use of the television that sits above my head. The program I watch faithfully each day is none other than “Gray’s Anatomy.” For the two hours I am in treatment, I concentrate on Merideth, McDreamy, Christina, Callie, Arizona, Dr. Webber, and the others that appear clearly before me on a television screen that has been my saving grace. 

Throughout my session in the chamber, there is a technician with me at all times. I have worked with five of these professional, compassionate individuals, four of them registered nurses, and one a certified medical assistant. There is always a medical doctor within the unit, as well. Each of these extraordinary individuals provide me with safe, competent care each day. I will introduce you to each of them in the next Northern Yarns submissions. 

Each day, I see new faces and unique situations that I am anxious to write about; lessons I am learning that influence and inspire me to become the woman I need to be. I am 66 years old, and I continually strive to become stronger and wiser. I listen to my heart. 

My husband and I were returning from St. Joseph’s Hospital, where I go each weekday, to our beautiful space at Sarah’s house, when I saw him. We stopped our car to allow him to cross, and I noticed he was holding a black nylon leash. He was not in a hurry to get across the street and traffic from both directions slowed to a crawl as he patiently held the leash at arm’s length. He was barely moving. On the leash was a dog who had great difficulty walking. The dog was quite large, with grayish, sparse hair, and a crooked tail that he pulled behind him. 

The man who so patiently waited for him, also appeared to be elderly, with a limp and a smile that told a story. It was apparent to me and to my husband that this gentleman loved his companion; loved him so very much that he walked across that busy street at a gentle pace; never once pulling on the leash. Once the two of them were safely across the street, the gentleman nodded his head and gave a hearty wave. 

“I would wager that dog was a cute puppy once upon a time,” I said. I could not think of anything else to say, and I found myself crying throughout the remainder of the ride to Sarah’s. 

I have been considering my mortality as of late. I have also been very bitter in regard to growing old. And now that I am facing yet another battle with my health, I am frightened. I am comparing myself to that sweet dog; now gray, with a crooked and injured tail. And yet, despite all of his challenges, he is out walking on a beautiful day with someone who loves him. With someone he can trust. 

I do not know what tomorrow brings. I am halfway through a tedious journey and I have faith and hope that this damage done can be treated and I can be on my way, taking my time, going at my own pace, forever surrounded with love. 

Be safe, my friends. Take care of each other and be kind. 

Belinda Hersey lives in Caribou with her husband, Kent, and their two dogs, Barney and Morgan.  You may email her at belindaouellette9@gmail.com.

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