What are you now ? Ash, a vine, a portion
left to sleep, crying in your sleep.
They want to take your leg.
Your oximeter chirps behind you, above you
Bandit steals a kiss from the Frog.
We don’t speak.
Neglect is our common tongue. We smoke
and snort our way into the same bed, mother
and son, until one second before the only second
that counts. If the Snowman and Fred could see us
from the TV on the wall, they’d choke and chew
each other to the bone. We can win any race
where you have to beg to finish.
It is early in the morning, and I am in the basement of the basement of one of the towers at the UCLA Medical Center. I have been here for forty-five minutes, but without daylight, without the pulse of air and sound as doors open and close, time is sloughed. Nobody has hard-soled shoes down here. The clinicians are on their feet all day, I guess, or they love to make chirpy squawks when they turn corners, and the patients are in wheelchairs with masks over their faces. When I walk in the Gonda Hyperbaric Center, my steps percuss. I am here to see if I need hyperbaric therapy to heal the skin graft on the back of my left calf. It’s been two years. Frankly I haven’t cared much. It hurts only occasionally, and after I put a bandage on it, I go about my day. But after seeing my mother go through some anguish and misery in the hospital — much of it the result of general self neglect — I am motivated to heal this hole.
I didn’t know who to expect to see in a place like this but I didn’t think I’d see a cadre of healthy young men in wheelchairs with masks over their faces. It turns out they are construction guys who were doing some demo in a commercial building and were exposed to carbon monoxide. They all started getting sick the next day and now they are about to slide into a massive steel tank covered with NASA stickers for two hours. And after another session in the afternoon they will be good to go.
I leave without seeing the inside of a chamber. I’m not disappointed. I know that most things that seem cool aren’t cool when you’re inside them wondering if your blood is boiling. By the time I get home it’s still early morning. My neighbors are leaving for work. My dog is hungry. By the time I walk to coffee to read the paper I’ve almost forgotten that there are caves of science and suffering two stories under the streets.