by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

My philosophy of life is simple: Anything you can do lying down is OK by me.

Which is how I came to be here, Joe Louis Arena, pulling a mask over my nose and mouth and sliding into the infamous hyperbaric chamber that now sits behind the Red Wings locker room. The chamber has made quite a stir as the latest techno edge in sports. As I understand it, you put injured or fatigued hockey players inside, they breathe pure oxygen for around half an hour, and they come out as Michael Jackson.

No. Actually, they are supposed to come out healthier. As Jim Flannery, the smiling technician with this OxyMed chamber, says, “oxygen speeds up the healing process for injuries,” so we should think of the chamber as “the ultimate ice pack” — the only difference being if you place the chamber on your head, you’ll be crushed to death.

“Are you ready?” he says, closing the lid.

“Mmmphzt,” I say.

You don’t have to be naked or anything. But you do wear that mask, which makes it hard to speak. Eventually, you start acting like fighter pilot Chuck Yeager, smiling and giving the thumbs-up sign through the glass, even if what they’re saying outside is, “Should we blow up the chamber now?”

“All set?” Jim asks.

Thumbs up.

“Here we go.”

Thumbs up.

“I’m going to lower you one atmosphere.”

Thumbs . . . u . . . what?

Pressure builds

Now, personally, I don’t even like long car rides. So I definitely don’t want to leave my atmosphere, especially without a change of underwear.

“It’s just a term,” Jim says through the exterior microphone, as my ears begin to pop. “We’re pressurizing the chamber. That’s how they measure pressure, by atmospheres. One atmosphere. Two atmospheres.”

Hmm. A few more, I’ll be able to visit Dennis Rodman.

I should mention here that I am breaking no rules. John Wharton, the excellent trainer for the Red Wings, agreed to let me try the chamber, in between Slava Fetisov and Slava Kozlov. Sort of a Slava sandwich.

Many Red Wings are now using the chamber, which is about the size of coffin, if the person you’re burying plays for the Dallas Cowboys. Perhaps Wings like it because there are no phones inside, and you get to watch TV. Also you can’t hear the coach yelling at you.

Speaking of the coach, Scotty Bowman, who’s normally rather secretive, escorted me right to the chamber, and said, “Let Mitch go in and try it.”

Maybe he thought I’d come out as a foreign correspondent.

“The oxygen should start now,” Jim says. “Breathe regularly.”

I should mention that, before I got here, I kicked myself hard in the shin. Since the whole idea of these tanks is to heal quickly, I figured I should enter with an injury. Steve Yzerman is trying to recover from knee surgery by using this chamber. The Blackhawks’ Gary Suter is using one for his bad hand.

Chambers work, experts say, because what you breathe inside is 100 percent oxygen, while the air we normally breathe is 20 percent oxygen, 70 percent nitrogen, and 10 percent exhaust fumes from Chinese restaurants.

“I heard Michael Jackson sleeps in one of these,” I’d told Wharton.

“Nah. If you took in that much oxygen, you’d start acting really kooky.”

Well. Like I said. The chamber has landed

Whhhhhhhuuuu. Whhhhhhaaa. I breathe in. I breathe out. This is not my first encounter with a closed chamber. A few years back, I tried a flotation tank, which is supposed to relax you, so you can do more with your life. This, of course, is necessary if you spend two hours a day floating in the dark.

“You OK in there?” Wharton asks. There is a hissing sound, and some smoke from condensation.

“We’re bringing you back up. Slava needs to get in.”

A few minutes later, my ears pop again, and I hear the latch unbolt. I expect a flight attendant to say, “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Kennedy Airport . . . “

Instead, there’s Jim, all smiles.

“How do you feel?” he asks.

“Billie Jean is not my lover.”


Just kidding. I feel fine. And my leg even stopped throbbing — although, to be honest, I didn’t really kick myself very hard. Anyhow, the lesson is: Do not fear technology, no matter how weird. In fact, I heartily recommend the hyperbaric chamber for all the Wings.

The only drawback for me, personally, is that — and this is really small
— when they shut the chamber lid, there was a fly in there with me, and now I have a fly’s head.

Other than that, I feel great.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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