Preeti Talwai

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

They say hyperbaric treatment simulates scuba diving. And like scuba diving, there are many things to learn. I learn how to scoot into the chamber that looks like a submarine excavated from the ocean floor. I learn the hiss of the machine as the pressure rises, and the sounds of crinkling tissue paper in my ears. I learn how to yawn, sip, swallow, pop. I learn to never hold my breath.  I learn how many blankets I need to stay warm. I learn that pure oxygen feels deceptively like air, except it dries out your mucus membranes.  I curl my tongue to search my lips for cracks, to make sure they’re giving me the real stuff. I learn how to gauge the shifting heaviness in my abdomen – when to tolerate it, when I need to come to the surface early. At the start of each treatment, I lie stiff as a starfish plucked out of water, hyper-aware of every bodily sensation. But an hour in, I notice how my hair and arms and oxygen wires are tentacled across the cotton pillow lava. I trace the patterns where my skin is mottled by fluorescent sun, filtering through the portholes. Drifting in and out of awareness, I watch schools of scrub-clad torsos gliding past. And it’s almost oceanic.

Preeti Talwai writes from the California coast, where she is also a researcher at Google. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Typehouse, Right Hand PointingUnbroken, and One-Sentence Poems among others. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and her fiction has been acquired by the Rare Book Collection at UC Berkeley.