Under Pressure and Fighting to Live
“POP your ears! It’s important to pop your ears!” These were the first words I heard after surgery for resection of my colon. I thought: “That’s strange—it was my stomach they operated on. Why should my ears be affected?”
But gradually, as I became aware of my surroundings, I realized that this was no ordinary hospital ward. I was in a long, narrow, torpedo-shaped room—a hyperbaric chamber.
Complications During Surgery
I discovered that my operation had been more extensive than originally intended. The cancer had spread to my liver and I had suffered a massive internal hemorrhage. By the time I left the operating theater my blood hemoglobin level had dropped to 3.6. (Normal hemoglobin in an adult is about 15 g/100 ml of blood.) The doctors were alarmed and called my father to the hospital. He is also one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and declined to overrule my decision not to have a blood transfusion.—Acts 15:20, 29.
Urgently my surgeon sought permission to use the hyperbaric chamber at the deep-sea diving complex at Dyce, near Aberdeen, Scotland. This could help circulate oxygen in the small amount of blood left in my body. Permission was granted. There followed a five-mile [8 km] dash by ambulance from Aberdeen to Dyce where I was put under pressure equivalent to that of 50 feet [15 m] below sea level.
This was a new experience for all concerned, as the chamber was normally used to depressurize divers employed on the North Sea oil rigs. For its first use in postoperative treatment, two nurses and a technician, all in their 20’s, accompanied me into the unit where they had to stay until it was depressurized. Outside, hyperbaric specialists manned the complex controls.
As air was pumped into the chamber, the pressure inside rose. Breathing through a mask at two and a half times the normal atmospheric pressure meant that I was filling my lungs with two and a half times the usual amount of oxygen. Forcing the gas into solution in the fluid component of my blood (now bolstered by volume expanders) made up for the lack of hemoglobin.*
The next few days were quite difficult. Only visitors who passed stringent medical tests were able to enter the adjoining section where the pressure could be lowered. A small peephole in the nose of the torpedo allowed other visitors to see me, but all I could see was one eye!
My brother, who is also a Witness, visited me in the chamber for a short time. That greatly uplifted me. So did all the cards that my many friends so kindly sent in expressing their love and Scriptural thoughts. These messages all seemed to arrive at times when I was feeling particularly weak.
On the fifth day in the chamber, the doctor in charge of the unit approached me. He was obviously concerned and explained: “There is now too much oxygen in your blood.” As a result, my bone marrow was apparently no longer functioning. He said that my blood had taken on hemophiliac qualities, and it was expected that what little blood was left would seep out because of a failure of the clotting mechanisms. (By this time my hemoglobin had gone too low for the instruments to measure. It was about 2.6.)
The nurses burst into tears. I did what I could to reassure them and left the outcome in Jehovah’s hands.
On the doctor’s orders, the process of decompression was started immediately. The nurses were beginning to show the ill effects of having been under pressure for so long; three days was the longest anyone had been in before. This was already the fifth day for all of us! Now we had to wait two more days for the pressure to be lifted gradually.
Next time the doctor came in, he looked much happier and announced: “For some unknown reason, your hemoglobin level has risen ever so slightly.” He believed that the bone marrow had once again begun to function. I was overjoyed.
One week after the operation, I finally came out of the chamber with a hemoglobin level of 4.6 and was transferred to the adjacent ward to await the ambulance that would take me to the intensive care unit in Aberdeen. While I was there, one of our fellow Witnesses came in with the magazines that she had received at the Kingdom Hall the night before. The cover article “Medical Decisions—Who Should Make Them?” (Awake! July 8, 1984) came just at the right time! I used it to show the reason for the stand I had taken.
My hemoglobin gradually rose above 5, and I was taken off the critical list. I was receiving no treatment apart from good wholesome food. My body was now doing a remarkable job on its own. With my hemoglobin level at 7.8, I was discharged the next day.
Because of the length of time usually needed to recover from this type of operation, I was granted three months’ leave of absence from work to build up my strength. My blood hemoglobin now reached 15.3, and I gained back 21 pounds [9.5 kg].
How pleased I have been these past years to use my new lease on life to continue to share my faith with others! My grateful thanks go to Jehovah, the Sustainer of life, as well as to the kind medical personnel who gave me such unorthodox treatment so successfully.—As told by Doreen Strachan.
From a theoretical viewpoint, the replacement of body fluids with saline, dextrose, or dextran solutions in conjunction with hyperbaric oxygen is a realistic procedure in the immediate emergency treatment of acute blood-loss anemia. But, as with any form of medical treatment, there can be complications, and the safe operation of the hyperbaric unit requires much skill and care.—See the article entitled “A Lifesaving New Treatment” in Awake! of May 22, 1979.
[Picture on page 21]
Doreen, one week after discharge from the hospital
[Picture Credit Line on page 20]
By Courtesy of Grampian Health Board