I feel a certain sense of victory when I don’t have to wear a hospital gown for my scans. I don’t know why. I stopped trying to figure out the reasons behind my silly quirks and the odd things that run through my head years ago.
If I had to guess, I’d say it’s about the vulnerability, about being so very naked under that flimsy cloth. When you’re sick, being exposed and feeling fragile are often thrust upon you at a moment’s notice. And when you’re a hardheaded Irish gal like me, you don’t take too kindly to it.
I tried, in the beginning, to keep all the ragged edges tucked in. I planned and organized and dreamt of life after, when everything was supposed to settle into place. But that day never came. In the five and a half years since my diagnosis with a desmoid tumor it has been one new thing after another after another after another. Tests and bills and drugs and scans. In five and a half years I’ve never been able to catch my breath.
So, the gown matters. Well, the absence of the gown matters. When I can’t control the results of the test, when I don’t know if nerves will strike while I’m in the tube, the only thing I have is my victory over the gown.
In warm weather, it’s easy. I had my standard “MRI uniform” that I wore at every scan. At my new home, located in the grey doldrums of a wet winter, I was challenged. Must be warm, protected from the rain, yet have IV access. And always, no zippers, no buttons, no snaps, no underwire, no metal, nowhere.
I spent an entire morning thinking through all the possibilities while perusing the contents of my closet. Sleeves too tight. Fabric too thin. Buttons. Zippers. Ugly. Not enough. Far too much. Until my head was spinning and I almost made myself late. Because not having to wear the gown is all I have. Not wearing the gown matters.
It’s only when I climb in the car and head far enough north on I-85 where the traffic has thinned that I realize it’s not about the gown. Usually in all facets of life, whether we’re sick or we’re not, it’s never about what we think it is. The gown is just the spot where I place my fears. The gown is where the unknowns go.
I know the IV will hurt, even if they get it on the first stick. I know I’ll hate the taste of the contrast solution, that even though it courses through my veins will rise up into my taste buds for that wretched few seconds. I know that no matter how many pillows or blankets they give me, it feels awful to lie on a board trapped inside a claustrophobic tube.
The noises, the heat, the time alone thinking of all the things that I don’t know and what the future may hold. Has it recurred? Will chemo work again? Will it come back over and over and over? Will it ever end?
I hate that I can’t control any of those things, so I do what I can. And sometimes all I can do is dress accordingly so I don’t have to wear the gown. And I didn’t. And I was proud and it felt like a tiny victory. But it wasn’t ever about the gown.
I’m scared and I hate to admit it. I loathe the torrent of tears, the quivering lip that comes when I let it all out. So I focus on the gown because, for now, that’s all I’ve got.
My daughter gave me those socks. We have a thing with socks, her and I. I’ve given her silly socks for seemingly every birthday, holiday, and random occasion that calls for them since she was a little kid. And these socks, those ones with the corgis and the hearts, are the very first pair she ever gave to me.
Those silly corgi socks make me smile and, at the last minute, when I had spent too much time trying to put together the perfect winter MRI uniform, I chose to add them to the mix. It wasn’t planned. I didn’t control it. In fact, I had another pair, a more respectable pair, a warmer pair in mind. But the corgis were calling me. So I went with it.
As I was sitting in the chair, after wincing when the IV was placed, I was left alone just me and my thoughts and my silly corgi socks. And they made me smile. Even though I’m scared, even though I can’t control what is happening to me, even though I don’t know what my future holds, I smiled.
I heard a voice from beyond the curtain. Christine, we’re ready for you. Are you decent?
When she swung open the curtain the first thing she noticed was the socks.
Do you have a corgi? I have a corgi and he is so precocious!
And we talked about corgis and their persistent and loyal nature. We talked about how cute they are and what good dogs they are and we laughed about the socks. As they strapped me down and tucked me in, it was all about the socks and that was what I needed.
And when you’re in the tube, after your heart slows down, when your breath goes back to normal the fears start creeping in. When you’re left with just you and your brain and skull rattling noises of the MRI machine, it begins to sink in. It’s not about the gown. It never was. The socks helped, but it wasn’t about them either. It’s about the fear.
It’s about the things you can’t control. It’s about all the unknowns. It’s about the what ifs and the maybes and the possiblys and the whys. They are all there and I have them and I hate it, but at least I didn’t have to wear the gown. I had that. And the socks. Thank goodness I had the socks.