I’m Having Surgery Tomorrow (Friday); also, I’ve Been Getting HBO For Two Weeks
Thursday October 20th 2011, 11:26 pm
Filed under: Denver, Leukemia

Last Monday (Columbus Day: freedom, hope, genocide!), I began undergoing daily two-hour hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) therapy sessions at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Hospital in Denver. This entails spending two hours in a big, metallic tube called a hyperbaric chamber. It may or may not be a submarine that may or may not have crashed into the second floor of the hospital. Judge for yourself.

Grinder, hoagie, or submarine: you decide.

It doesn’t actually look as white and plasticky as it does in this picture. In person, it looks more metally. It’s probably made of those metals that only look like a metallic submarine in person, and then when someone snaps a picture of it, the metals react and look like they’re part of an Apple Store. Wow, that’s pretty high tech, covert stuff.

The basic theory behind HBO therapy is that if you smush a whole bunch of oxygen into a patient’s red blood cells, those overloaded cells will take the oxygen to places that normally doesn’t get enough oxygen. To accomplish this smushing, hyperbaric chambers create high pressure environments comparable to being under different depths of water, and the patients inside wear oxygen hoods (which should really be called 1950’s spacemen helmets, because that’s what they look like) or oxygen masks (I use one of these) that deliver 100% oxygen. The pressure forces the oxygen into the red blood cells. In practice, I’ve been the youngest person by at least five decades, in a group with only males, all interestingly with radiation burns from cancer, all really nice guys. We go “down” 45 feet “underwater” (at altitude) for two hours, during which time I am happy because no one is bothering me. I normally close my eyes and just enjoy my inner thoughts as my red blood cells are smushed silly.

Supposedly, according to the official Presbyterian/St. Luke’s HBO webpage, some “simple laws of physics and chemistry” are behind the healing powers of the whole thing, which sounds right, but hell if I know. Actually, if you’re interested, that goes into more depth than I can. The term “simple laws of physics and chemistry” just makes me scoff. Scoff uncontrollably.

“So, why the hell have you been doing HBO treatments, Reid?” you ask. Or, alternately, a voice written in the second person to represent what you should have thought to ask asked. Although, if you thought of everything but the word “hell,” because cursing isn’t really your thing, that’s okay. Anyway, I think your lack of foresight has knocked me off track here.

Oh right, why the hell I’ve been doing HBO treatments: To get blood flowing to the ulcerated radiation burn on my back. And I’m doing that so that tomorrow (Friday), when a surgeon cuts into my radiation burn and the surrounding tissue, there will hopefully be some good blood flow at the site. And that’s happening to finally get rid of my radiation burn once and for all. For nearly four years, this thing has caused me nothing but pain, grief, and the nearly unbearable ongoing ache of un-itched itchiness.

At first, it was almost intolerably painful. It was mistreated over and over and over, but it still managed to keep healing even while I was on chemotherapy. In a lot of ways, it is something I came to terms with, something I simply grew used to. In other, more medical ways, it’s still a big hole in my lower back with the tip of one of my vertebra sticking out of it. As well as it healed in the past under bad circumstances, it is almost certainly impossible that it will ever heal fully without surgery. In trying to heal this immense wound, my body grew new, healthy skin over old dead, radiated tissue. Between the bad tissue, and the aforementioned vertebra poking out, it’s like trying to grow a flower in dirt with no water or sun or dirt.

The surgeon will basically be removing all the bad stuff. He’ll be taking out bad tissue until he hits good tissue (with good blood flow, this should be easy to identity) and with that nubby vertebra, he’ll just be nipping the tip. He thinks he’ll be able to use surrounding skin to seal the whole thing up. He thinks I’ll be out for two hours, that I’ll be in the hospital overnight, and that I’ll recover in a couple of weeks. I’m keeping somewhat more conservative projections in my head, based on my past few years of experience. That said, this surgeon specializes in reconstructing breast cancer victims’ breasts disfigured by radiation, and that’s about the closest specialization I’m going to find to a lower back disfiguration due to the overexposure to fluoroscopy radiation surgeon.

The day after my surgery, I will be wheeled down, on my gurney, into the hyperbaric chamber. The process of HBO therapy will begin to help my back heal again–but this time, permanantly.

I hope.


P.S. Oy. There are still 15 other things I have to tell you about that lie ahead of me before I am “recovered.” I’ll get to those. I promise. Among them is a big reason I haven’t been posting much: exhaustion.

6 Comments so far
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Well wishes and prayers are being sent your way, Reid!

Comment by Corey 10.21.11 @ 4:31 pm

good luck!

Comment by Aaron 10.27.11 @ 8:14 am


Hope your recovery is going well!
When you were talking about HBO therapy it reminded me of a documentary I watched (I’m pretty sure it was FOOD MATTERS) and it talks about how bad stuff aka cancer can’t live in an oxygenated environment.

Not really sure how much merit is in that, but I’d like to believe it’s true.

Thinking of you.

Comment by Lauren McCullough 10.27.11 @ 11:31 am

Thanks guys, I really appreciate your support.

Lauren, it’s pretty amazing what scientists have figured out and are continuing to discover about what can be done with oxygen. The more I learn about the ways in which it’s currently used and the more I hear about its potential applications to save lives, the more I think it’s really quite remarkable.

I know it’s helped me in more than one way.

Thanks a lot!


Comment by Reid 11.03.11 @ 5:44 pm

[…] in my left eardrum. The inside of my left ear has been giving me trouble since at least the time I underwent hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Maybe the HBOT is to blame–it was, after all, a giant pressurized chamber that got its […]

Pingback by Reid Levin Dot Net 07.13.12 @ 5:25 pm

Time to face the music armed with this great inotomafirn.

Comment by Sandy 07.12.16 @ 4:44 am

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