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The "Steel Ball," Cleveland.

The other night I was lying in bed trying to get to sleep and I thought
of the cable channel HBO for some reason. I guess my brain wasn't working
right, because for the life of me I couldn't remember what HBO stood for.
After thinking about it a few minutes I gave up and grabbed the Blackberry.
I did a quick Google search for HBO acronyms.

Here's what I got:

  • HBO Home Box Office
  • HBO Hyperbaric Oxygen
  • HBO Hyperbaric Oxygenation
  • HBO halo.bungie.org
  • HBO Hoger Beroeps Onderwijs
  • HBO Help A Brother Out
  • HBO Honey Bunches of Oats (cereal)
  • HBO Humboldt, Nebraska (airport code)
  • HBO Handled By Officer (police communications)
  • HBO Horrible Body Odor
  • HBO Hamilton Basketball Association
  • HBO Hand Baggage Only
  • HBO High Band Operator
  • HBO Huff, Barrington and Owens

Home Box Office! Duh! How could I forget that one?

But then I checked out the list. Hyperbaric oxygen? What the hell was
that? Didn't seem to remember that one from my chemistry classes.

So I looked that up too.

Turns out that hyperbaric oxygen is simply oxygen (or air) kept at a
higher barometric pressure than normal. It has been used over the last
century or so for medical treatment.

The interesting thing that I found was the hyperbaric treatment center
built in the mid-1920 in Cleveland at the Cunningham Sanitarium. The
treatment center was a big, steel ball 64 feet in diameter and was 5
stories tall. Patients lived in the big ball during their treatment. It had
individual patient rooms and included a recreation room and a dining
room. It was also air conditioned — very unusual for that time.

"In the 1920s Dr. Orval J. Cunningham was a leading exponent of
hyperbaric therapy. In the mid-1920s, he operated the then largest
hyperbaric chamber in existence, in Kansas City. An industrial tycoon,
H.H. Timken, heard about this work and gave Cunningham $1,000,000
to build what would end up being the largest hyperbaric chamber ever
constructed. Timken's industry, ball bearings, was based in Canton,
Ohio, but the chamber was built in Cleveland, to Cunningham's speci-
fications. While in existence it was known as the Timken Tank and the
Cunningham Sanitarium.

Air was pressurized (in the rectangular building next to the sphere) and
pumped into the air-tight sphere, so that occupants inhaled air at 30
pounds per square inch. This is double normal sea level air pressure of
14.7 psi. The theory was that the pressurized air, by providing double
the normal oxygen concentration, would alleviate many diseases (wrongly
attributed) to anaerobic bacteria, such as some cancers, diabetes,
pernicious anemia, and others."

The exact date of construction of the ball was 1928. Evidently the
treatment center stopped being used in the 1930s. There being a serious
need for metal during World War II, the center was sold for scrap metal
in 1942.

Though early HBO treatment using compressed air fell into disrepute,
it ironically led to the use of 100 percent compressed oxygen to treat
divers suffering from decompression sickness ("the bends"). It is now
also used for a small number of medical conditions. Perhaps the most
famous modern use of a hyperbaric chamber was the one used by singer
Michael Jackson.

By the way, Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy should not be confused with Home
Box Office Therapy. According to reports, too many episodes of The Sopranos
can actually be harmful to your health, not beneficial.

As for the other acronyms on the list, I'll leave those to your own fun-filled

A modern decompression chamber for divers.