Jeremy sat in an overstuffed chair in the doctor’s office, his hands folded tightly in his lap.
“Is this your first time visiting a therapist, Jeremy?” asked the doctor.
“Alright, good. Do you have any questions before we get started?”
“I can’t think of any, no.”
“Well, then, why don’t we start by telling me what brought you here.”
“Well, um, it was my girlfriend’s idea, actually. See, she wants us to go on vacation to Bermuda next month. She’s been planning it for three months now, and the closer we get, the less I want to go.”
“I see. Are you and your girlfriend having any problems in your relationship? Fighting, arguments, infidelity?”
“No, it’s not that. We get along great – I love Beth, I really do. I just…can’t…I don’t want to go to the ocean.”
“And why is that?”
“I have…I don’t like the ocean. It gives me the creeps. It’s so big, and…and it’s full of things. You know, like jellyfish and eels and sharks and stuff.”
“Have you ever been to the ocean, Jeremy?”
“Nope. I lived in Iowa most of my life before I moved here, and my family usually went on trips to the mountains. I read a lot, though, you know, and I guess it’s just always scared me.”
“Jeremy, I believe I can help you. Your fear of the ocean is not uncommon, but it will control you until you decide to take control of it. I want you to come back here tomorrow at three. Can you do that?”
“Tomorrow at three. I’ll be here.”
“Very good. I’ll see you then. Oh yes, please bring a bathing suit.”
“A bathing suit? For what?”
“I’ll explain it all tomorrow, I promise. See you then!”
The next day at three, Jeremy returned to the doctor’s office.
“Before we start today’s session, Jeremy, there are a few things we need to go over. Now, this will be an intensive therapy session, and some parts of it may make you uncomfortable. I need to know that you’re willing to see it through to the end.”
“Sure, yeah. I mean, I’m here for the whole thing.”
“Do you have any medical problems I should know about? Any history of heart or respiratory disorders?”
“Very good. Very good. Now, I just need you to sign this waiver, and then step through that door where my assistant will help prepare you.”
After a cursory glance at the waiver, Jeremy signed it and set it on the table. He went into the next room and was met by a large, muscular man in a lab coat.
“Hello, Jeremy. Please step into this dressing room and put on your bathing suit, then come out.”
Jeremy nodded, and stepped into the small dressing room. After removing his clothing and putting on the bathing suit, he came out and looked at the assistant expectantly.
“Good. Now, please place your feet in these boots.”
Jeremy did as he was told, wiggling his feet down into the tight boots. They looked like ski boots, but with a metal ring connecting them at the heel. When he was done, the assistant clicked the boots shut and handed Jeremy a nose plug.
“We’re almost ready. Put this on your nose and make sure it’s tight. The doctor will be in to explain everything in just a minute.”
With that, the assistant left. Jeremy looked at the nose plug for a moment before fastening it over his nose. He looked around the room and noticed an air tank in the corner. Near the tank was a large, bulbous black bag, which hung suspended from a frame. There was a pulley and rope dangling from the high ceiling. The air conditioner was blowing on him, and he shivered. As he rubbed the goose bumps on his arms, the doctor came in.
“Looks like we’re almost ready here, Jeremy. There are just two more things. I assume you’ve never been scuba diving before? Well, no matter. This is a scuba tank, and this is for you.”
He took one end of the long hose coming from the scuba tank and held up the end. It had a breathing mouthpiece on it.
“Place the mouthpiece in your mouth like this, and be sure to keep a tight seal. Breathe slowly and evenly, in and out, just like normal.”
“Wait a min—“ Jeremy began, but the doctor jammed the mouthpiece in his mouth. The assistant was suddenly behind him, and grabbed Jeremy’s arms. He pinned Jeremy’s arms behind his back and slipped a pair of handcuffs around his wrists. Jeremy’s eyes went wide, and the doctor smiled.
“Don’t worry, Jeremy. You asked for my help in overcoming your fear, and so you shall. The best way to overcome fear is to embrace it, to get inside it and experience it fully. Once you know your fear inside and out, it will no longer have any power over you. Now, as long as you breathe as I’ve shown you, everything will be fine. There is only one hour of air in the tank, so please try not to use it all up by breathing too much.”
While the doctor had been speaking, the assistant had fastened the rope to the metal ring between the boots. With a motion from the doctor, he began hoisting the rope, pulling Jeremy’s feet out from under him. The doctor caught him as he fell backwards, and kept his head from hitting the ground as his feet went up to the ceiling.
As the room upended itself, Jeremy found himself paralyzed with dread. Something was very, very wrong here. He willed himself to move, to struggle, to scream for help, but all that came out was a whimper.
The doctor wheeled the bag-in-a-frame directly underneath Jeremy and nodded again to the assistant, who began lowering the rope. As Jeremy descended headfirst into the heavy black bag, he noticed that it was moving.
“This bag is filled with eels, Jeremy. Slimy, squirmy eels. They won’t bite you, but they will be very curious about you. You will feel them slithering around you, trying to figure out what you are. Be sure to keep a firm grip on your mouthpiece.”
With that, the black water swallowed him.
He could feel them immediately, rigid shapes moving around and around next to him. They brushed against his skin and nibbled on his ears and fingers. He tried to scream, but the mouthpiece filled his mouth and absorbed the noise. The cuffs bit into his wrists when he moved his arms, and the sides of the heavy bag prevented him from moving his body more than a few inches in any direction. The mouthpiece nearly fell out as he screamed and flailed, and he spent a ten-second eternity pinning it against the side of the bag and pulling it back in with his lips. When the mouthpiece was firmly in place again, he sucked at the air in huge gulps.
Somehow that brush with an unthinkable fate forced a tiny window of clarity to open in his mind, and he realized that he was hyperventilating. Slowly and evenly, he thought. Slowly and evenly. He held the last breath he had taken and let it out with a slow shudder. The next breath came in fast, and he forced himself to draw slower. Slowly and evenly. He let that breath out slowly, counting to three in his head. His next breath in was a little slower, and the next slower still. His jaws began to ache from the pressure he was putting forth, keeping a tight seal on the mouthpiece. He could still feel the eels gliding back and forth, brushing against his closed eyelids, trying to burrow into his swim trunks. Slowly and evenly. Slowly and evenly. Slow. In. An eel rubbed against his scalp. One had made its way inside his trunks and was struggling to get out. Even. Out. The handcuffs were biting into his wrists again, and his shoulder blades were cramping. The eel in his trunks managed to poke its head out through the waistband, and wriggled its way down along his back. In. He thought he could hear muffled sounds, maybe coming from the eels, maybe coming from outside the bag. Out.
After a very long time, he felt tension on his legs. The bag of eels disgorged him as the doctor’s assistant hoisted him by the boots up to the ceiling. The doctor climbed up on a ladder, his upside-down face level with Jeremy’s. Jeremy stayed very still, not wanting to provoke the doctor into lowering him into the bag again. The doctor put two fingers on Jeremy’s neck, counting quietly to himself. When he was satisfied, he climbed down the ladder and wheeled the bag out of the way. The assistant lowered Jeremy to the ground, and the doctor caught him and placed him on his feet.
As the assistant unfastened the boots and removed the handcuffs, the doctor pulled out the mouthpiece with a wet pop. He eyed the teeth marks in the mouthpiece, then removed it and threw it in a corner.
“Well, Jeremy, you’re alive and safe, and none the worse for wear, I trust. Now that you have lived among your fears and survived, I don’t think you’ll ever let them dominate you again. If I’m wrong, of course, I will gladly repeat the treatment at no charge.”
Jeremy shuddered and coughed. He shook his head weakly.
“I…I think I’m cured.”
“Are you sure? You don’t sound sure.”
Jeremy nodded quickly. “I’m sure. Thank you. May I get dressed now?”
Ellen sat in an overstuffed chair in the doctor’s office, her hands folded tightly in her lap.
“Ellen, I believe I can help you. Your fear of flying is not uncommon, but it will control you until you decide to take control of it. I want you to come back here tomorrow at three. Can you do that?”
“Three tomorrow, okay.”
“Excellent. I’ll see you then. Oh yes, please bring a bathing suit.”
Site Contents © 2004 Robert M. Rowan