Yesterday was my first hyperbaric chamber treatment, and I will admit that I was anxious about how I would do. I tried to follow my mother’s advice and not think about it too much, but the combination of a confined space and Valium had me worried. Fortunately, I was scheduled for late afternoon so Gene was able to arrange his schedule so he could go with me.
As soon as we pulled out of the drive way, I opened the container of Valium and took one pill. The label said to take 1-2 pills 30 minutes prior to arriving at the hospital. Having prior experience with Valium, I decided to just take one pill. I then turned to Gene and said, “I’m sorry.” He told me not to worry about it because lots of patients have to take Valium before procedures. I laughed and said, “I’m not apologizing for taking the Valium. I’m apologizing for anything I might say or do once it takes effect!” He laughed with me.
As we neared the hospital, I could feel the effects of the Valium. I decided that God has a great sense of humor because as we took the downtown exit, tons of green people were walking around in odd costumes. It seems that yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day and the St. Paddy’s Day parade was just letting out. Gene dodged all types of green characters as I tried to focus. I stumbled over words and phrases as I tried to tell Gene a story, and he was very helpful when we got into the hospital elevator and I leaned in to stare at the elevator panel and tried to make up my mind on which button to push. I felt like I was grinning a lot.
As I checked in, there were two nurses and each asked me a question. I told them they were going to have to slow down because I was pre-medicated and having difficulty following the conversation. Then I grinned at them and asked, “Did you ask me a question?” There was a brief discussion about my port, and I was just proud that I remembered that I had one, but they were asking me for details and I just shrugged my shoulders. I seemed to have missed the significance of their questions.
As we sat in the waiting room, my doctor and nurse came out and once again started questioning me about my port. It seems that safety protocol says that they have to call the manufacturer to make sure my port is safe in the hyperbaric chamber. The doctor asked if I had been given a card with the name of the company that manufactured my port and the serial number and model of my particular port. I assured him that I had been given a card like that. “Do you have it with you?” he asks. “Nope,” I reply. I told them that I was sure it would be fine. Gene just shook his head. The doctor asked if I had taken my Valium. “Yes, and I brought the whole bottle just in case.” I think they should change the warning on the prescription bottle to read: “Taking this medication alone or with alcohol may lessen your ability to drive or perform hazardous tasks” (ADD) “or make safety decisions.” Fortunately, I was not in charge of safety protocol.
Gene was helpful and started going through my wallet to look for the card. At some point he reminded me that I had cleaned out my wallet prior to our vacation and put all the non essentials in a safe place, and apparently my port card didn’t make the cut. I told Gene that I knew EXACTLY where the port card was. (a big fat lie) One of the nurses called the operating room department and they were able to pull my chart and find the manufacturer and serial number and call the company and get assurance that my port would be safe. Meanwhile, Gene asked me what I was thinking about so hard. I told him that I was trying to figure out a way of escaping. He laughed. In fact, I had just remembered that I meant to bring a note to give to the nurses to tell them “I’m not normally this way.” I was trying to figure out where I could get some paper and a pen.
I was finally cleared to “dive” and taken to the dressing room and instructed to remove all my clothing and eye glasses and change into the designer hospital gown. No socks, no underwear, nothing but my birthday suit. No books, no phones, no smoking materials (duh!), nothing flammable. There were big charts on the walls listing the things you could not take with you on your “dive” but without glasses, they were just fuzzy photos.
The nurse took my vitals and went through a check list to make sure I wasn’t trying to sneak anything in with me. With the caution that they didn’t want anything to spontaneously combust while I was in the chamber, I wasn’t taking any chances. I was covered with two hospital blankets and handed a water bottle (maybe this was so I could put out any fires?) and an oxygen mask. Neither of these items comforted me. In fact, when the nurse cautioned me to keep the lid open on the water bottle so it wouldn’t explode during my dive, the wheels in my brain started turning. That sounded like fun. Then she had me practice using my oxygen mask. Claustrophobia raised its ugly head and I wasn’t even in the chamber yet. The nurse told me that if I got nauseated or light headed, to just use the oxygen mask and I would be breathing “normal, room air” and it would help. The logic escaped me, but I nodded my head.
The nurse asked if I was ready, then pushed me half way into the chamber. The Valium was doing its job and I hadn’t started crying and pleading for my release yet. At this point, she put an elastic band on my arm and explained that it was a grounding wire. What???! That didn’t sound good. I was then instructed to push a button to verify that I was indeed grounded. That didn’t sound like a good idea either, especially when I failed the test. After jiggling the wrist band a few times I was finally able to pass the grounding test. I was not reassured. I’m thinking I should have paid more attention when Gene explained how electricity works.
The nurse pushed me the rest of the way into the chamber and softly closed the door. I tried not to imagine a bank vault closing with me on the inside. She immediately picked up the phone and started talking to me in a reassuring voice. I had a death grip on my oxygen mask and water bottle and stared worriedly at my grounding wire. She said, “Here we go.” We? How about WE trade places and you let me know how we are doing?
I hear a fan start up and the chamber immediately begins to smell like warm, humid chlorinated water. I told the nurse it smelled like an indoor pool. She explained that they sanitize the inside of the chamber with chlorine bleach between patients. I decide to pretend I’m at the pool instead of being stuck in a “one holer.” My right ear begins to pop immediately and I’m glad that we went ahead and put ear tubes in.
The inside of the chamber is a bit roomier than it looks from the outside. There is room to move your arms around and wiggle your feet. With some effort, you can actually bend your knees and rest your feet on the mattress to give your back some relief. I’m a figitter, so I wiggled and shifted often and tried to not think about escaping.
Since I was allowed to bring DVDs with me, I took the first season of “Downton Abbey” with me to keep me entertained. Because the chamber is a cylinder, looking through it to watch television was similar to looking through a prism. The images on the TV were a bit blurred and distorted, so I entertained myself by shifting now and then to watch the people sway like the reflection in one of those carnival mirrors. When the first episode ended, I prayed that it was a two hour episode rather than one hour, because I could not imagine spending another hour in the chamber. Unfortunately, my prayers were not fruitful. I did get a kick out of looking through the chamber and seeing the nurses and doctor watching the TV with me for a few minutes.
When I was finally released from the chamber, it was 5:30 and I could not wait to get out of the hospital. There was no happy buzz left from the Valium and I had had enough confinement for the day. Gene looked like he had been through the ringer as much as I had. He told me that some patient had tuned the waiting room television to a marathon of “Criminal Minds” and he nearly lost his mind trying to tune it out for two and a half hours.
Gene told me that he was very impressed with their safety concerns and making sure my port was not going to be an issue. Then he mentioned that he was surprised that they weren’t more concerned about my temporary implant since it was filled with saline. I thought about the warning with my water bottle and imagined my implant growing larger under pressure and then exploding, and we both started laughing. I will have to ask the doctor about it on my next dive. I can’t believe I’m actually going to go back.