No, I’m not talking trains, not the London Underground. And I’m not talking the 80’s rock wordsmiths behind She’s a Beauty, The Tubes. I’m talking about what I call the tube, the ‘ol MRI machine. It is, after all, a tube. The part where they slide you in on a board like you’re a human sized calzone makes it more like a pizza oven, but I’m going to stick with calling it the tube.
Let’s just say I’ve had a few MRIs over these past five years. A few minutes before I was supposed to have my very first MRI, the one before I knew it was a desmoid tumor, a neighbor approached me and asked where I was going. When I told her I was going to have an MRI, my very first MRI, she began an apoplectic tirade about the horrors of the the tube.
Do you have drugs? You’re going to need drugs! Get a Xanax. You are absolutely going to FREAK OUT when you get in there! You may think you’re going to be fine, but when they start pushing you in there and everything closes in on you, you are going to FREAK OUT!
That very first MRI, the one where I did not need a Xanax and did not freak out, was where we narrowed down what the odd lump on my left hip might be to three things: cancerous tumor, non cancerous tumor, or hematoma. I had to google that last one. It’s kind of like a huge bruise. So, I made myself an honorary doctor and determined that it was nothing more than a huge bruise and therefore I had nothing to worry about.
I was, in fact, wrong. Rarely, if ever, happens to me. Let me assure you.
I got to know the people at my previous imaging center. I had my preferences. Luckily I only had to deal with the lady who couldn’t find a vein one time and one time only. There was the youngish guy that was precise and methodical, always set me up in exactly the same order each time and always apologized for being such a perfectionist. He liked his MRIs set up a certain way. He always found a vein and never let me speak of getting negative results. You never know. It just may be good this time.
There is a certain level of intimacy that you have with those who care for you when you’re ill. You’re often vulnerable, sometimes needing help getting in and out, up or down, around and through, usually in various stages of undress. Bodily fluids are almost always involved. Bonds are made, trust builds with professionals who are otherwise perfect strangers. Nothing brings you closer, faster to someone you don’t know than a painless blood draw.
There was the older woman who always smiled. She never missed a vein, even when they were being difficult. They’re hiding, but I’ll find one. She always had the kindest disposition. Why she even said to me, it’s going to be okay, when I came in for my MRI the day after I watched the giant orange oaf win the election. We’ll be alright. Her smile always made me feel better even when I knew I was going to get bad news.
And when those lovely folks get you all strapped in and leave the room and all you have left is their faraway voice coming through the headphones counting down the minutes and occasionally asking how you are, all you can do is think. You think about the good and the bad, the absurd, the benign. Your mind, it goes.
I’ve had some dark thoughts in the tube. It’s hard not to when you’re on a streak where nothing is working. Mostly, though, it’s mundane thoughts, wandering reflections. Like how my thigh looks eerily similar to a ham on an MRI image, which makes sense when you think about it. I think about the one report that deemed my pelvis unremarkable. I realize that is a good thing, medically speaking, but I find the term insulting. My remarkable pelvis and I are personally offended.
When I set up my first imaging appointment after meeting with my new oncologist I had a few apprehensions. It felt a little bit like gearing up for the first day of Kindergarten. I’ll be the new kid in a new town. Will I be able to find the place? Will I like them? Will they get the vein on the first stick? Almost like the first day of school, just a little more morbid.
Of course, I wasn’t able to find the place. It took me a few false starts and a mildly panicked phone call to get to the right building. I was issued the standard paperwork. Pregnant? No. Claustrophobic? No. Any allergies to contrast solution? No. Any previous MRIs? You got an hour?
Ricky was my guy and I liked him from the start. What are we here for today?
Well, I’ve got a couple of tumors in my leg….
Yep. And we’re going to see if they’re still dead.
Alrighty then, you’ve done this a time or two before then, haven’t ya?
Yeah, once or twice. I’m not pregnant. I’m not claustrophobic and I’m not allergic to contrast solution.
Well, you’re making my job very easy today.
It’s that, that small exchange that makes the difference. That acknowledgment that what we’re dealing with is pretty heavy, but that we’ve been dealing with it so much we must make a punchline out of it from time to time. In serious illness you’re constantly searching for that sweet spot. Your life has to be soft enough to let you fall, hard enough to keep you from staying there, and wise enough to know when you can’t do either.
And sometimes, when it comes to what I need and when I need it, your guess is as good as mine. I am constantly searching for that sweet spot.
Ricky got the vein on the very first stick and was equal parts wise and forgiving. It seems Ricky has done this a time or two himself. After making sure I had a warm blanket and strapping me in he asked, you ok? With an enthusiastic ‘yep’ me and my wandering mind were slid in.
I thought about hams, as I tend to. The visual makes me laugh, forces me to not take this whole thing personally, gives the term ‘just a piece of meat’ a whole new meaning. I wondered if Ricky could tell through the ‘ol MRI machine that I hadn’t shaved my legs this morning. I accepted the fact that, be it good or be it bad, visiting the tube from time to time is just my new normal.
Then, I thought about the question I was asked before being slid in.
Yeah, I’m ok. Just trying to find that sweet spot. Constantly searching for that sweet spot.