It looks a bit like a high-tech submarine, with portholes. But if you're ever inside, it could mean the difference between life and death.

After nearly half a century, Hennepin County Medical Center is replacing its 1960s-era hyperbaric medicine chambers -- used to treat carbon monoxide poisoning and other dangerous conditions -- with a $10.9 million facility that will open in June.

"This is the most advanced chamber anywhere in the world at the moment," says Dr. Cheryl Adkinson, medical director for hyperbaric medicine at HCMC.

The three-room unit arrived -- weighing 60 tons -- in one giant pod, traveling halfway around the world from Australia, where it was built.

The chamber, which started as a way to treat divers with the "bends," simulates pressure found 48 feet (or more) underwater. In this high-pressure atmosphere, medical techs can administer pure oxygen quickly enough to help patients recover from an array of problems, from life-threatening infections to diabetic wounds to radiation injuries.

In the old chambers, which look like relics from a Jules Verne novel, patients sit inside a large metal cylinder, while technicians use hand-cranked wheels and dials to run it. The new one is entirely computerized, with creature comforts including flat-screen TVs to help pass the time (a typical treatment lasts nearly two hours).

Dr. Bjorn Westgard jokingly suggested donating the old ones to the Walker Art Center. "We could put them in the Sculpture Garden."

Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384