What Is Hyperbaric Therapy? (Part Two)
I was unaware of its existence until about five weeks ago when a friend kindly introduced me to it. He has a diving background and knows quite a bit about oxygen treatment. Divers often suffer from something called 'The Bends' or DCS (Decompression Sickness). This can occur when there is a dramatic change in pressure during a dive. The most effective way to treat such a condition is to visit a hyperbaric therapy centre. Oxygen therapy is also used to treat various illnesses such as MS, neurological disorders, arthritis, radiotherapy damage and sports injuries. I decided to travel to the Rams chamber in Belfast to try it out.
My first observation when I arrived was how normal it looked. Well, as normal as a chamber can look when plonked in the middle of a waiting room. I took a seat and waited to be called. One or two people joined us and chatted easily among themselves. It quickly became clear that this was a place people felt comfortable in. If you have ever been in a hospital waiting room the vibe is usually one of awkwardness, concern, or sadness. The chamber room was none of those things. It was open, friendly and relaxed. Penny, the super nice woman I arranged my appointment with, called me in to her office where she ran through some questions. Once she was satisfied that I wasn't going to have a melt down when placed in the chamber she brought me back out to the waiting room where I was informed that I would be joined by a man named Frank. Frank had been using the chamber for quite some time and found it helped his chronic illness. For him, the chamber was part of his weekly routine. I spoke with the various people dotted around the room and asked them what they were using oxygen treatment for. Some were recovering from a stroke while others had back/joint issues. It was interesting to see such a variety of ailments treated with the same therapy. Just as I was finishing my chat with the others, Frank arrived. It was showtime. We both took our seats within the chamber and made ourselves comfortable. I was given some advice from Penny during the initial assessment and one of the things she suggested was to bring a book with me. Once the door of the chamber shut, that would be us for an hour and a quarter unless we needed to leave for a specific reason. Naturally I forgot my book but thankfully they had a cute little bookcase filled with novels. I sat inside the chamber clutching my ‘Lee Child’ and looked around like a curious four year old. It was impressive looking both inside and out. The windows were rounded and the equipment was what you would expect to see inside a submarine. I opted for the hand held mask instead of the more popular face mask for one simple reason. The mask was tight and covered most of your face and I knew instantly if I wore it my make-up would be ruined. I am so vein it is ridiculous! Once settled we gave the guys outside a thumbs up and the chamber door was shut. The first fifteen minutes was loud. We could feel both the pressure building and the temperature dropping. When the correct pressure was applied we basically just sat there for an hour reading, breathing and in my case, looking through the little windows every now and again. It was in no way painful, uncomfortable or frightening. I almost fell asleep during the first half however I felt more alert towards the end. The entire experience was very normal which may sound strange. It wasn't terrifying nor was it hugely thrilling. It was simply an hour spent sitting down reading about the latest Jack Reacher adventures. To think that something so non evasive could have such a positive effect on people with chronic pain or MS is brilliant and for that reason I would happily recommend you try it if you can.
Chambers are becoming increasingly popular especially in sport. It is reported (by my diver buddy) that Manchester United along with many other clubs have invested in a chamber to help players recover from injury. There seems to be no negative association with oxygen therapy from what I have been told. With that being said, I am not an expert so please seek medical advice before trying it for yourself. I had to have my GP write a letter on my behalf and I suggest you do the same.
Good luck if you try it and please let me know how you get on!