What is HBO like? Thursday Investigator

Dunedin member Sue McDonnell who had tongue cancer a year ago was offered hyperbaric oxygen treatment in Christchurch to help heal the recurring ulcers in her mouth. HBO is usually given to head and neck cancer patients who need dental extractions but it is also good for other problems with healing. There is more information under the article.

Sue tells her story here.

I did four weeks of HBO. It was an interesting experience. The staff were great and I felt privileged to be able to do it even though it was hard being away from home.

I was in the chamber for two hours every day Monday to Friday. Going down you get quite warm. Can't remember the physics of this but some will know. They take you down quickly in 10 minutes so you constantly have to equalise by blowing gently with nostrils closed. Similar to diving.

Going down quickly was definitely the worst part but it got easier and one nurse suggested having little sips of water all the time over the 10 mins which I did and it helped a lot to keep my ears popping. You get used to it after a few days and just try and remember to sip water and breathe slowly.

When you get down to 14 metres, you wear an oxygen mask for two hours. They let you take it off for 10 mins after one hour for a quick toilet break and drink. The unit is still down at 14 metres so the toilet is next door and pressurised behind a big heavy door.

Then it’s oxygen mask back on for another hour. For the last 30 minutes you come up gradually and during this time it gets very cold so they wrapped me in blankets. I was worried about catching a cold as I knew I would never be able to do the dives with a cold as my sinuses would hurt so badly. I got through with no problems but was always conscious to stay away from anyone that had a cold.

The pyjamas and red socks that I had to wear every day were for safety. You couldn't wear anything flammable so they had everyone wearing the same thing so it wouldn't be a fire risk. It's very flammable in the chamber because of the 100% oxygen you breathe in. They are very cautious. Every day they check: no cell phones watches etc allowed. You need a good book as all you can do is read.

There was always a nurse in with us and usually two or three patients with other problems such as prostate cancer radiation damage or leg ulcers that wouldn't heal conventionally. There many positive reports of how great it is for healing. The staff were great and would go out of their way to accommodate us.  If anyone has the need or the opportunity to have HBO, they have nothing to lose , except the time factor. 

They say we may not see any results for three months and can still get good results up to five years. I have noticed the ulcers on the side of my tongue heal more quickly now. They used to be there for months and now heal in a few weeks, so that's great. But they keep coming back.

I am really hoping it will help saliva to come or at least improve it but they give no guarantees. I have had a slight improvement so far.

I am hopeful I will still see benefits.

More information

Thank you to Sue for letting me interview her on Messenger. I hope this is an accurate record.



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  • Great story Sue, with lots of interesting detail. Well done for taking it on and succeeding.
  • Thanks for sharing your story Sue
  • That's very interesting.  Thanks Maureen and Sue.

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