Monday I started my pre-implant regimen of hyperbaric oxygen. This is recommended both before and after the stem cell implant. Fat cells, especially the swollen ones in the obese, are often oxygen-starved. The idea of pre-treatment is that the fat cells used to provide the stem cells will be less hypoxic with this treatment and therefore stronger, akin to those of a younger person.
An online friend, the late Dr. Ignacio Fogel, used to sing the praises of hyperbaric oxygen which he used for patients and the Argentine Olympic team alike. At the time the only hyperbaric oxygen I could find was in hospitals, often used for nonhealing sores or scuba diving accidents. Today, with the advent of portable units there are a variety of units in medical practices and spas. I’m a little afraid of claustrophobia, but I have had a hunger for oxygen since my EMT training days.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy puts oxygen in your fluids in a concentration that differs from say deep breathing exercises, an oxygen bar (which just uses compressed air) or oxygen tanks. The increased oxygen in the blood and body fluids bathes your cells with extra oxygen and has an anti-inflammatory effect on the par with 40 Motrin without the side effects. Apparently President Reagan used it to treat his cancer.
I promised to document both the positives and negatives. I called Downtown PMR which had a lie down chamber that looked like the blue one illustrated. A delightful young lady gave me forms to fill out and agreed to tell the doctor that I had awakened with some vertigo and suffer from mild claustrophobia.
The chamber was an inflatable blue vinyl lie-down chamber with two small portholes near the head. It has the ability to go to 1.5ATA or the equivalent of 7.35 pounds per square inch of pressure. That is about the equivalent of diving 15 feet down, but without the scenery. There are hyperbaric chambers that only go to 3psi, but less oxygen gets into your plasma. And hospital chambers get more pressure and higher oxygen than the 80% used here, but are available only for limited uses. You spend an hour and twenty minutes in the chamber, with one hour at full pressure. Most independent places charge $100-$120 per session.
The way it usually works is that most of the oxygen circulating in your blood is carried by hemoglobin with a small amount in the plasma. Under atmospheric pressure the oxygen gets smaller, more concentrated and significantly permeates the plasma, so you have much more circulating oxygen after a chamber session or “dive”.
The size was about 7 feet long but no more than 36″ in diameter, perfect for a tall skinny person. (They say a child could sit at one end but it would need to be a tiny child and I’m betting the illustration is of a larger chamber than this was.) The oxygen comes in through a face mask but the chamber is inflated and pressurized with air. You are zipped in and a bunch of oversized seatbelts are attached around the chamber. There is an inside zipper for emergency exits but an attendant would need to unlatch the belts.
They suggested chewing gum or airplane earplugs to help clear the ears. (It might be good to have suggested bringing it in advance!) You can read although the light isn’t very good but no electronics or batteries are allowed around the oxygen which meant no music, cell phone or hypnosis mp3s.
The PT promised to stay in the room and told me that she would stay in the room and would check on me. All I needed to do was to bang on the side of the chamber. Given that a woman was unable to get out of a chamber at a spa in Chelsea earlier this year without an illicit (and potentially dangerous) phone call for help I expected they would be vigilant.
The chamber seemed like an oversized sleeping bag but did expand as it inflated. It was pretty dark since the vinyl was blue (there is a white unit on the market that is translucent and more expensive hard sided plexiglass units.) The noise was loud but not intolerable.
My claustrophobia did kick in. I did a lot of yoga breathing, tried going to my favorite hypnosis imagery, read a little from two different books, tried to sleep and made a conscious effort to keep my mind in the present. The PT had stopped checking on me and I could tell she wasn’t in the room since the only chair out of sight was full of my clothing and backpack. To be fair there was nothing much for her to do there and she probably had the door open. But when I started banging on the side so I could find out how much time I had left, she was nowhere to be found. By the time she showed up I only had 5 minutes left but was in no mood to stay. It took several minutes to depressurize.
These are the things that would have made it better: a translucent unit or one with larger portholes. A clock within sight of the unit would have helped me calibrate my energy. Music or video just outside the unit would have distracted me. An attendant with work to do in the room would have helped when I needed assistance. And since the oxygen was drying, I should have had something to drink either before or during the dive. And for me, not wanting to trigger claustrophobia, a seated “diving bell” style unit would have been better, just as I always use a Standup MRI when I need an MRI.
Now I am sorry that my diving certification lapsed because I’d rather scuba dive to compress the oxygen!
However if you know of a sit-up hyperbaric chamber around NYC, let me know.
If I can’t find one I might be back, sedated with skullcap and kava, bearing a clock and an iPad with music to play outside of the window. Or perhaps with a dog to share the chamber with.