Most of you will have no idea what a hyperbaric oxygen tank is. Well, good, I say – because it means that neither you nor anyone you know has had the kind of condition that means you have to spend time in one. It’s a glass cylinder, not unlike the sort of incubator they put premature babies in, except it’s adult sized and has a direct link to a TV screen. Why, you may ask? That’s simple. Because the treatment inside the tank – when they decompress you and remove the nitrogen from the air, leaving you in a vacuum of pure oxygen for two hours – is tedious and lonely.
Lonely because in that vacuum of pure air your ears will sing and your mind will wander and you are acutely aware that the world outside this pure space is carrying on as normal – and that you have an illness which divides you from everyday life with its need to be fed oxygen, pure and simple, for two hours, five days a week, for as long as you can foresee. That very separation is scary – and so the TV acts as a companion – a way of reconnecting with the world via Jeremy Kyle, Loose Women or whatever happens to be on at your appointed time. Or for a real treat you can lose yourzself in a film via the video link – Pretty Woman, One Fine Day, Basic Instinct, whatever you want. The oxygen tank becomes so much a part of your everyday life that it becomes hard to remember what life was like before an ambulance picked you up at ten to seven and consigned the rest of the morning to – get to hospital 45 minutes away – undress – don the cotton gown – remove jewellery – have a coffee – chew gum so the pressure doesn’t mount in your ears – hoist up onto steel trolley and be slid into tank. Wait for two hours, pass go and then do everything in reverse. Morning gone, life not lived, time evaporated into pure O2.
Where the main protagonist, Sarah, and I meet is at that point of The Thinking Tank. Together we have shared that experience and it was in that tank that the novel, The Thinking Tank, was born – in those moments of spaced outness when the air was pure and my ears were ringing – and it is in that tank that Sarah’s journey begins. Where she starts to reconnect with life and where the tank gives her no choice but to face a future which must embrace the past, its pain, its challenges and its secrets, which are yet to be revealed.