Digging deeper now into week 1 of hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Have a total of 6 weeks to travel, 5 days a week. I’ve got it down to a routine at this point although getting up at 5:30 AM to make it to the treatment center at 7:15 AM is playing a bit of havoc with my evening downtime. That is, I keep it relatively short with dinner, a quick DVR of one of our cable shows (Smash, The Killing. Touch, etc.), add a few words to the Sunday NY Times crossword puzzle, and then bed. Baby Belle and Old Pepper don’t mind the early turn in either.

Hospitals are places I’ve become oddly comfortable with. In fact, while driving down Second Avenue in NYC, past the hospital where I had radiation treatments, I often think I’m driving thru the old neighborhood, another neighborhood where I grew up. I formed friendships and alliances with my caregivers – from oncologists, radiation techs, physician assistants, and nurses, right thru to the receptionist at the desks that greeted me. They’re part of my history – part of who I am now.

But becoming an active patient again brings to the surface some old anxieties and images. My wife – The Brunette – blanched when the oncologist mentioned that the pressurized oxygen treatments would be 5 days a week for 6 weeks. That was the exact schedule he gave 4 years ago when he outlined the radiation process. But the side effects and the recovery were far worse from that than the nominal effects predicted for oxygen therapy.

Although I’d done my homework, and knew from the results of the scan what the options were and what the oncologist would suggest, it’s still a transformation now on a daily basis. You can’t take anything into the chamber with you – and that means, as the tech said, you step out of the shower, get dressed, and show up for treatment. No skin lotions, no gels, not even deodorant. When you undress, all jewelry, from necklaces to rings, have to be removed. And as you remove them, piece by piece, you remove all the symbols and connections you have to the outside world and your identity there. You become a patient again, stripped down to the skin you were born in, belonging only to that encapsulated environment within the hospital walls, wearing only the cotton gown provided.

The treatment process is lengthy – takes about an hour and 45 minutes – and the physical experience can be claustrophobic. But the tube itself is clear, fairly roomy, and you’re able to bring along a DVD to watch on the overhead screen. It ain’t home theatre but at least something to distract you. This week I’ve watched The Rookie, Secretariat, and Coach Carter. Also watched Quantum of Solace which was basically indistinct dialogue, things blowing up, more indistinct dialogue, more things blowing up, Bond showing up at at a black tie dinner, chases suspect across rooftops, things blow up, more indistinct dialogue. Not the type of distracting experience I was looking for.

It may seem somewhat trivial to discuss watching DVDs while undergoing treatment – but it reduces the process to a routine. And that’s something that cancer patients – past or present – always try to achieve and recover…

View of the hyperbaric chamber with tech sitting by…

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