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.