My voyage on the SS HBC

In World War I, submarine technology was in its infancy. One European country had a unique design, consisting of a steel tube that was so small the operator rode on top of it, not in it. An open-cockpit submarine as it were. SCUBA technology had not evolved to make this practical, so the model was quickly abandoned.

Enlarge that tube just a bit, and you have my home for 2 hours a day for the next 6 weeks: the SS HBC, or, a Hyper-Baric Chamber. The idea is that if you are in need of better healing than your body can provide on its own, you go in the chamber, put on an oxygen mask, they bring the pressure up to 2.4 atmospheres (the equivalent of being under water at a depth of 45 feet), and ram the oxygen into your system.

In my case, radiation therapy has robbed my jaw of the ability to heal after extraction of wisdom teeth, which my medico-dental crew has said is desperately required. It is scheduled for early February and the chances for healing will be enhanced with 20 dives before surgery and 10 dives after. Another voyager has had Type I diabetes since he was young, and has already lost one leg with another teetering on the edge. Another fellow traveler had an industrial accident. Two others were pretty quiet so I let it go.

Each dive takes about 2 hours. It takes about 10 minutes to bring the chamber to the requisite depth. You do not feel the pressure on your body, but your ears feel the change in pressure. I am lucky to have the ability to open my eustachian tubes at will, but I was still amazed at how quickly the pressure changed. They put a helmet on your head that looks like a clear plastic upside down pail, something out of a 1950’s sci fi movie. You then breathe pure oxygen for about a half an hour, then the pail comes off for 5 minutes as you get to take a break, back on for half an hour, another 5 minute break, then another half hour and back up to sea level.

Maggy is the Dive Master. She focused most of her time and attention on me since I was the newbie. The other 5 voyagers had already been there before and knew what to expect. She and I talked about the difference between the HBC, and the altitude chamber I had been in as a young pilot. She had a small rubber inflatable ball that she proudly displayed to me and asked me to watch as it collapsed in size during the dive, and later got back to normal size on the ascent. She is a Dive Master in the truest sense – she goes SCUBA diving too. 

The process sounds simple, but outside there is a panel that looks like something out of NASA that is run by another operator. 

They like the nautical analogy. They put stickers of fish on the walls of the chamber, and talk about dives, and depth, and descent, and ascent. The chamber is actually used for deep sea divers who get the bends and need to be brought back down to depth, and then brought up more slowly. 

When the massive door was closed at the beginning with a loud clunk, I was glad I am not prone to claustrophobia. Immediately the sound level got loud as the motors pumped pressurized air into the chamber and oxygen into the helmets. They had a movie going on a small screen on one end of the chamber, but it was hard to hear the tv due to the other noises. I tried to read some books and newspapers I had brought, but the optics of the inflatable plastic helmet were horrible, and I started to get nausea and gave up. I watched the movie, which was not much better, but I managed to get through it all, and am hoping the next 29 dives will be better as I adjust to the sensations.

All in all though, given the choice I’d recommend Holland America for your next voyage.

14 thoughts on “My voyage on the SS HBC

    1. No! You cannot bring anything metal into the chamber. No phone, no laptop, no earbuds, no nothing except your socks, shoes, undies (but no longjohns!) and their scrubs. Something or other about explosions in a 100% oxygen environment.


  1. What a description, Ken! We are praying this oxygen gives your body loads of extra healing power for your surgery in February. And through it all, you maintain your wonderful sense of humor – Holland America indeed! Love you!


  2. I love your sense of humor, Ken. I can tell you take this very seriously but a little levity helps the medicine go down, so to speak. I certainly hope and pray that this will be a successful journey for you. Thanks for the visual explanation as well. This helps to give an idea of what the ordeal is like. I appreciate your candor. Lori Wall


  3. Our thots and prayers are with you Ken. You are one brave soul who has suffered much in life but you always remain positive and conquer whatever battle you face. You are a hero 😃. Victory is on the horizon.
    Hugs from Bettie & Ron


  4. Thanks for the tour, Ken! Very interesting honestly. I know that at some point this was an option for David which didn’t ever come about but I remember him talking about it. Have you in my prayers!


  5. Jean & I continue to marvel at your ability to add humour to the most serious of medical challenges and to treat them as nothing more than a bothersome hangnail.
    Our thoughts are with you and Carol and we look forward to the next time we are able to hug in person. In the meantime, share a virtual one from us.
    With love


  6. Hey Ken,
    So happy you are writing again! Miss seeing you, but this helps a little…..:)

    Will Nolan, CFA
    Principal and Co-Chief Investment Officer
    (He, His, Him)

    Greenbridge Investment Management, LLC
    4248 Galewood St.
    Lake Oswego, OR 97035

    (503) 505-9699 (office)
    (503) 803-7781 (cell)

    Emails to and from this address are subject to archiving and to review by regulating authorities and supervisory personnel. Email is subject to transmission failures or delays. PLEASE DO NOT RELY ON EMAIL FOR TIME-SENSITIVE MATTERS such as orders to buy or sell a security, withdraw funds from an account, etc. Such orders or instructions are best conveyed, or at least confirmed, by a two-way telephone conversation to clarify important details and confirm our ability to act within the relevant time frame.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s