My treatment in the hyperbaric oxygen tank was like nothing else I had experienced. When you have a condition that is pain-related, it’s hard for people to understand what the whole fuss is about. I get that. We all get that, those of us who have silent illnesses – the sort you can’t wear, which aren’t signposted by crutches, slings, wheelchairs or sticks. So telling people I was to spend two hours a day, five days a week in an oxygen tank felt a bit like making a bad joke.
It was even more difficult when I got to the hospital. HBO is used for diseases of the nervous system but also for open wounds that won’t heal. Sarah in The Thinking Tank encounters such a situation when she meets a woman with damaged tissue on her face. If I dig deep, I guess what it made me feel was a fraud. Like if I don’t have some outward badge of pain, then I can’t possibly deserve this treatment. And when you feel like that you get all apologetic for even being there. Hats off to the amazing staff at the former Edith Cavell hospital in Peterborough who were real earth angels and did all they could to make visits to the HBO unit like a coffee morning. But that alone-ness, when everything is cool and separate in the tank – even the earth angels could not fix that.
Which is where the telly comes in – if you want it to. I’ve included a pic to explain a bit about how it works. It is surreal, so it’s hardly surprising that it’s hard to visualise. The monitor is outside the glass cylinder and sound – someone talking to you or sound from the TV – is piped in through an intercom system. And it works both ways. You can be heard too from the outside. It’s another way of making you feel less diconnected but the truth is, there is nothing like two hours in a treatment chamber to underline your disconnectedness – the fact that no one else on the planet can feel your pain – that pain is personal, be it physical or metaphorical, and let’s face it we all tend to think our own pain must be the worst. The truth is that whatever your worst is, is simply that – your own personal worst. We live by degrees. We get hurt by degrees. The more pain we encounter in life the more we are likely to cope with more pain – or if not, we go under.
We each of us live life in our own tank. We just don’t always know when we are there – and we forget that to connect we need to reach out from our tanks, from our pain and from our own private worlds. Sarah gets stuck in hers and to move forward she has to uncover the secrets that keep her and her daughter apart.
Like Sarah, I watched film after film in my oxygen tank. The difference is that whilst I chose my own films and the tank, the catalyst for The Thinking Tank, chose me, Sarah’s films choose her – and try as she might to make them stop, the tank just thinks for itself…