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Looking back at the start of the NBS journey

Updated: Nov 6

November 4, 2020 is the final day of our 35th year of hyperbaric service delivery at Richland Hospital. We started their program on November 5, 1985.

Our first patient (a rather dramatic acute thermal burn…his girlfriend had set him alight while asleep in bed for cheating on her) was referred by the head of the Trauma Service, Dr. Rick Bell. The chamber was located in the ED ‘Drunk Tank’ area and not yet fully operational. Dr. Bell asked if I could get it operational that day. The oxygen supply and exhaust lines were not yet completed. I said I thought so, by using high pressure oxygen cylinders and finding a length of exhaust hose to run from the chamber out into the ED parking area. He said, ‘do it now’? I thought it prudent to first run this by in house legal counsel, Howard West! Howard is still with PHA I believe. He said absolutely no way, we must wait to use the chamber until it had been formally interconnected. I relayed this to Dr. Bell, who angrily hung up. Five minutes later he called back and again said ‘do it now’. I asked about Howard. He said that he told Howard that if he could not get his patient into the chamber today he would write in the medical record, after amputating the patient’s leg(s), that Mr. West had denied access to medical standard care. I said well in that case give me a couple of hours. I drove into town to a swimming pool service company and brought an enormous length of flexible, having first asked the guys in Shipping/Receiving to deliver some oxygen cylinders. When asked how many I said, ‘a lot’. The cylinders were attached, and I ran the hose out into the parking area. A security officer was tasked with guarding the end to ensure that nobody walked by while smoking. Smoking was permitted in around the hospital in those days.

The patient was duly treated BID for about a week and made a full recovery…and I would like to think that this occurred with an assist from HBO therapy. He made the local newspaper. About 6-7 years ago, that same patient came by my office with the cutting from the newspaper. He showed me his badly scarred but fully intact legs and offered a belated thank you. With the enormous help of the HBO team, the hyperbaric service has achieved countless other and equally remarkable life, limb and central nervous sparing outcomes, due in large part to an unwavering commitment to 24/7/365 access. Thanks for that, team!

I gave that patient the first ID number 10050. Today we have a new referral, and their number is 17447, so a total 7,397 patients treated over that time span. In fact, that is almost as many as the 8,000 health care professionals who have visited Richland from all corners of the globe to learn how to practice hyperbaric medicine safely and effectively.

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