|Isla Mujeres Hyperbaric Chamber|
The Hollywood A-list actors have a big secret. It is a hyperbaric chamber, normally used for saving the life of a diver, or a lobster fisherman who has been too deep under water, for too long, resulting in decompression sickness.
For years we have walked past the local hyperbaric chamber located slightly behind the health clinic and beside the new public washrooms in centro. The unassuming building has an abandoned feel to it, and we never give it much thought. Recently when chatting with local friends, Sue Lo and Len Sacks, we discovered that Len was undergoing a series of treatments for a shattered humerus bone, that involved twenty visits to the local facility. “Really? How does that work?” I asked.
|Unassuming exterior of the building|
Called hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) it is used by many medical facilities including the Mayo Clinic in New York. The increase in barometric pressure squeezes the oxygen molecules to allow more oxygen to enter the blood stream, and increasing the healing ability of the body. Sue explained Len's orthopaedic surgeon in Mérida prescribed the sessions to speed the healing of his bone from an accident a few years ago. Patients with diabetes, or who have recently had radiation treatments also benefit from the therapy, allowing their skin lesions to heal over.
|Simulating diving pressures|
With each treatment the patient enters the chamber and remains inside for quite some time. First the pressure is slowly increased to mimic being the equivalent of 45 five feet under water. Then for thirty minutes he or she is given oxygen, then five minutes of regular air. This is repeated twice more; thirty minutes of oxygen and five minutes of air. The final time the barometric pressure is slowly decreased back to normal atmospheric readings. Len will do this for five days on, and one day off for until he completes his twenty treatments; pressures and times vary according to a patient's complication.
|Len - reading to pass the time|
Len is currently sharing the chamber with a young man from Cancun who has a broken leg, and a local fisherman who was diving at 120 feet of depth for a long period. I took a peek through the porthole into the chamber. Len was reading a book, the other two guys were just relaxing. They are in communication via a two-way radio channel with the operator of the unit. There is also an internal camera for monitoring during emergency situations such as when the fisherman was first brought to the unit.
Operation of the local hyperbaric chamber, including wages, is funded by the fishing co-operatives with government assistance for the utilities. At times when the fishing season is slow, or the lobster season is closed the funding is sparse or non-existent. The unit is supervised by long-time resident of Isla Mujeres, Rosember de Jesus Dzul Ochoa. He grew up on Isla, continued his education for eighteen months in Chetumal, before spending four years at the UNAM in Mexico City. (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico).
|Inside the chamber - photo by Sue Lo|
Rosember has worked with hyperbaric chambers for fourteen years, six of those on Isla. Part of his studies involved oceanography plus a week of studies in Cuba, sponsored by Pemex and the university, for specialized training. He says he knew when he was still in high school that this was the career that he wanted. Rosember lives on Isla with his wife and two young daughters. He really enjoys his work, helping out lobster fishermen, divers, and other patients. All of his training upgrades are paid for out of his own pocket. Starting in July 2016 Rosember will begin training local fishermen on the operation of the unit, allowing him to not be on call 24/7.
|Rosember Dzul Ochoa|
When asked approximately how much oxygen is used for the procedures, Rosember replied about one and a half tanks, depending on how rapidly or deeply the patients are breathing. These are not your standard recreational-diver sized tanks. They are much larger, standing about five feet tall, and costing about $1425.00 pesos per tank to refill.
The interesting side effect of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is a reduction in skin wrinkles for a short period of time! Now you know Hollywood's big secret. Of course if you live on Isla, the high humidity also significantly reduces skin wrinkles without spending hours in a hyperbaric chamber!
On a positive note, the young man who is currently undergoing treatments for a leg fracture is improving. For two years his leg fracture would not heal. The x-rays now show his leg is on the mend. How fortunate that we have the availability of the hyperbaric chamber and a trained operator, Rosember Dzul Ochoa, to save lives and limbs.
Lynda & Lawrie
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