I’m not normally claustrophobic, but peering into the small space beyond the even smaller opening gives me the creeps. I’m looking into a hyperbaric chamber, a metal canister with pressure locks, an institutional cot, and many tubes and wires connecting it to oxygen tanks and a console. Portholes for visual inspections and an intercom system maintain communication between the patient in the chamber and the hyperbaric technician in charge of pressurizing and decompressing the air. In my imagination, it’s a terrifying ordeal; according to a friend who has had the misfortune of actually being in one, it’s frightening…and boring.
A hyperbaric chamber goes hand-in-hand with a diver’s greatest fear: decompression illness (DCI), more commonly known as the bends. Generally, a diver becomes “bent” when nitrogen bubbles form in the body and have difficulty squeezing through small passageways such as those in the joints, but more severe forms of DCI can result in death. Hence, the fear. A recompression chamber is a diver’s best bet for redissolving the nitrogen bubbles and relieving the pain. It’s also very expensive (two words: DAN insurance), and time-consuming, since each treatment can last for several hours, and several treatments may be required. Plus, you can’t bring anything to read or otherwise occupy yourself, since pure oxygen is highly flammable. So you sit, bored, unless there’s a TV conveniently nearby.
As for most divers, it’s an experience I wish to avoid, so for the time being I’m quite content to simply peer in, take a picture and walk away.