It’s a good thing I’m not claustrophobic. I actually prefer small enclosed spaces to big open spaces. One of my favorite places I lived was in an apartment with one window. I like to feel cozy and know all windows and exits are secure.

When I’m feeling stressed out, I go through the Youngstedt’s Car Wash in Excelsior. Something about the isolation and being enveloped by the giant machine centers me. Strange, I know. It’s a good think they have an unlimited wash plan. Until I can find a good therapist, it’s car wash therapy for me.

When my doctor at Holland Biomedical Center in Minnetonka recommended hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatment, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew it involved time in a small enclosed space. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy, or HBOT as it’s called, involves getting into a chamber that resembles a mini submarine. You wear a hood that is sealed at your neck and connected by tubes. The air pressure is increased. Your lungs can get more oxygen because of the increased pressure, as opposed to breathing oxygen at a normal pressure.

HBOT is a well-known for treating decompression sickness from scuba diving. It is also medically used to treat injuries, infections and a list of other medical conditions. While in the chamber, your blood carries the oxygen throughout your body. This promotes healing by fighting bacteria and stimulating stem cells.

If you read my column or my blog Adventures In Living Aloha, you might know that I’ve been battling chronic Lyme disease since last fall. The bacteria that causes Lyme is anaerobic, which means it can’t survive in a high-oxygen environment. HBOT has been an effective treatment for healing from chronic Lyme disease as well.

I was excited for my first HBOT treatment. It’s something I’ve been working up to. When you are treating Lyme and there is a die-off of bacteria, they release an endotoxin, which increases your symptoms temporarily. It’s called a Herxheimer reaction. My treatment with Dr. Kelly leading up to the HBOT treatments have been things to increase my energy and make me stronger, so that I can tolerate what was to come with the HBOT treatment. She has done amazing things for me in terms on increasing my energy and relieving my pain.

As I said the chamber resembled a small submarine, complete with portals and a big locking door. There is plenty of room to sit or lay down. I couldn’t find a comfortable way to lay down with the hood, so I sat.

When the chamber started to pressurize, I could feel it, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. It was more comfortable than when a plane takes off or lands. I could see people going about their business outside of the chamber through the small portals. The technician provided me with a walkie-talkie in case I needed to reach him. He also showed me the signal for wanting to stop for any reason.

Even if I wanted to stop, it would still take about six minutes to depressurize the chamber before I could get out. I wasn’t too concerned about that. The time went by much faster than I thought it would. I read a book.

My current prescription has me in the chamber for an hour and 20 minutes. As I understand it, the time and oxygen level will increase. After my treatment, I was incredibly tired and had increased pain throughout the day, which was to be expected because of my specific condition. I felt back to normal the next day. If you were doing HBOT for a different reason, chances are you might even feel energized afterwards. Each person responds differently.

I’ll be going in twice a week for the next several weeks, more if I can tolerate it. Again, for most doing HBOT for other reasons, they feel just fine after and can do it five days a week if needed. Because of what I’m dealing with, it knocks me on my butt for now, and I can’t have that happening five days a week.

I’ve been sharing more and more about my experience with the different treatments I’ve been doing, especially on social media. If I’m going to go through this, I’m going to do my best to learn what I can from it and share that information. You never know when or who it might be helpful too.

My hat is off to anyone dealing with a chronic illness of any kind who keeps showing up in life. For me, the key has been to find the humor in every day, to be grateful for simple things like getting up and walking. Something I couldn’t do almost a year ago.

My experience in healing during the last year has also taught me to be more patient with others, especially strangers. You never know what challenge someone is facing, mental or physical. You would never know by looking at me that I have been dealing with what I have been dealing with. You wouldn’t know that when I’m overly tired it’s hard for me to enunciate let alone remember certain words, or that my bruises are because I still struggle with balance at times and bang into things like a drunk toddler when I’ve had an extra busy day.

I’m doing amazingly well over all, but I know that I’m walking a fine line between living a normal life and having seizures or not being able to walk again. I’m doing everything in my power to make that line stronger.

Do not take your health or your time for granted. If you know you should be changing your diet, getting more sleep, exercising or cutting out bad habits, do that now. Do it today because you don’t know what might happen tomorrow. In some ways my illness is a blessing. I’ve never taken such great care of myself. I’ve never been so chill about other people’s issues. I don’t take on the nonsense of others. It’s not how I want to spend my time. My time is my biggest commodity. I want to spend it happy and feeling good. I’m truly thankful for every second that I spend that way.

You can learn more about Natalie Webster and her adventures in the Lake Minnetonka area at WebsterEffect.com.

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