Just months after undergoing radiation and chemotherapy for an aggressive form of cancer, MLA Gordie Gosse has taken up diving.
But not in the way you might think.
Gosse is undergoing treatment in Halifax in a hyperbaric chamber — the kind used to treat scuba divers who get the bends. The daily treatments are known as dives.
Hyperbaric chambers are typically small tanks or rooms, where the air pressure can be altered. It promotes healing by delivering a high concentration of oxygen under pressure.
"In a nutshell, it is breathing 100 per cent oxygen at pressures greater than one atmosphere," said Dr. Debbie Pestell, the diving and hyperbaric medicine consultant at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre. In Halifax, the hyperbaric chamber is at the Victoria General site.
"The normal atmosphere we breath at sea level is 21 per cent oxygen and 79 per cent nitrogen. In a hyperbaric chamber, patients go into the chamber and the chamber is pressurized — we call them treatment dives. So it doesn't go underwater and the chamber doesn't go anywhere, but they are called treatment dives," said Pestell.
"Once the chamber is pressurized to a specific treatment depth, then we put special hoods on the patients and they breathe 100 per cent oxygen through the hood. So they're breathing oxygen under pressure. And that has very specific mechanisms of action to heal certain medical conditions that we can't heal any other way."
Those conditions, according to Health Canada, include decompression sickness, carbon monoxide poisoning, embolisms and thermal burns.
Pestell said the treatment also helps heal persistent wounds or infections.
'Interesting mode of therapy'
Gosse, the New Democrat MLA for Sydney-Whitney Pier, said he's been receiving treatment at the hyperbaric treatment for an ongoing neck infection following radiation treatment last year for throat cancer.
"In six weeks time, after I finish the hyperbaric chamber, I will have surgery on my jaw. Hopefully the oxygen generated by the hyperbaric chamber will clear up my jaw, and my infection in my teeth that they're going to remove," said Gosse.
"What it does, it protects the body from further damage. So it's quite an interesting mode of therapy, I must say."
There are about 20 hyperbaric chambers across Canada, most attached to major hospitals. The chamber at the QEII is the only one that's available to patients in the Maritimes.
There are four more chambers specifically for the military, including one at CFB Shearwater.
Pestell said there is a waiting list for non-urgent cases at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre's hyperbaric unit of nine to 12 months.
She said the unit recently received funding to add one more dive per day, meaning there are now two dives each weekday, with three patients per dive.
She hopes to eventually reduce the wait list to less than three months.