chapter 68– AND NOW, BACK TO MY STORY…


after my vulgar, accidental “f” word threat of a texting mishap to Dr. Y, i tried to smoothe things over, via 2 SMS messages and one phone call.  he didn’t seem to know what i was talking about; “i’ll have to check my messages,” he said.  “NO, NO, NO, YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO THAT!”  i hoped he wouldn’t.  i don’t know if he ever did.


on april 18th, monday morning, i showed up at USC after only 2 hours’ sleep.  to my surprise, despite the allegedly full schedule in Radiology, the guy at the desk told me the MRI machine was free all day.  a few conversations later, i was set for a cardiac MRI at 2:00.  i went home and took an hour nap, then came back and promptly put on the ol’ fashionable gown.

it’s a strange thing, to be a guy wearing a gown.  if you’re a girl in the hospital, do you feel like curling up with your teddy bear and watching a movie?  i have no memories of gowns; it’s like wearing a gorilla suit…i have no point of personal reference.  except, there’s something masculine about a gorilla.  for a guy, “put on this gown” is like “put on this sundress.”  “put on this lipstick.”  …”put on this panty liner.”

anyway, i suited up, but with hesitation:  should the gown be open-back or open-front?  i’m getting my chest scanned, but these machines go through skin, bone, and muscle; surely it can see through thin cotton.

in the MRI room, i was laid out like catering at a royal wedding.  positioning was adjusted carefully, a few inches up, a little to the left…until i was primed for the claustrophobic nightmare i was about to endure.  my old girl diane–and a chick and dude in pajamas–began piling blankets and all kinds of crazy stuff on me.  they plugged my IV into a machine, and it was soon realized that…

my gown was on backwards.


they unearthed me like layers of cheese in a nacho casserole.

taking off the gown was proven impossible due to the tube stretching forth from my vein to the machine containing the contrast dye.  the man in scrubs, whose name was ramón, grabbed the plastic piece which was securely snapped into the needle dug deep into my huge vessel.  soon ramón’s vessels were huge, too–they were protruding out of his neck and forehead like dolly parton out of shrink wrap.  his jaw was clenched as he tried with all his might to pull the plastic apparatus out of the back of the needle, just an eighth of an inch away from my skin.  after exhausting his strength, diane gave it a shot, one pale and constricted hand on the needle and the other bony claw on the end of the tubing.  then back to ramón, who was standing with knees bent to prevent a back injury.  he may have feared a hernia, but watching him strain his guts out at the insertion point of the needle embedded into my median cubital vein, i imagined him slipping and jerking out not just my vein, but my entire circulatory system, heart included.  i pictured my aortic valve bouncing off the wall like a new basketball, as i squirted out every pint of life like a stomped Capri-Sun.

and so i asked the obvious…

“can you not do that?  can’t you just unplug it from the machine?”

“no, this is the better way.”

the better way was to strip me like a wire in a junction box?

finally, they were able to disconnect the coiled tube which would soon enough fill me with iodine.  i left my nightgown off this time, and they stacked me with covers and coverings.  and then, like coal into a furnace, they shoved me in.

but first:

it hit me right before my entrance that every past MRI had been for my head.  this meant i only had to go partially in, about waist deep.  however, this time, they needed images of my heart.  i slid in, all the way to the middle of my shins.  the only thing hanging out were my feet and the coiled tube, which was basically my string for what felt like several days, as i was inserted into the machine wholly, like a giant tampon.  an abused and abandoned, forgotten step-nephew of Aunt Flow.  and toxic shock syndrome was a risk run, because it seemed like a forever that i was in there.  and in fact, it basically WAS.  an outrageously long…period.  i was in the machine for THREE HOURS.






i lay there, having slept very little the night before, and desperate to fall into a deep slumber…


i cannot sleep on my back:  if i doze off, i stop breathing.


sleep wasn’t possible, regardless of my position, because, for the entire time, i had to do three things, at the tech’s urging:  1)  “okay, deep breath.”  2)  “hold it in.”  3)  “let it out; let it out and relax.”  i heard these words over, and over, and over, and over.

and over.

“okay, deep breath.”  ahhhhuhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  the air fills me.  and then…

“hold it in.”  waiting…waiting…waiting…my lungs are full.  i’m a balloon in a cubby hole.  a wine bottle in a rack, my cork about to pop off…  the pressure is antagonizing my torso.  i’m still.  and under pressure.  a living, (not) breathing, bloated moment in time.

“let it out; let it out and relax.”  whooooohhhhhh….*sigh*…..

this pattern repeated.  and repeated.  and repeated.  and repeated.  and repeated…

…and some of the scans required very long periods of held breath, which was incredibly tiring.  the physical taxation of the process was enough to wear me out, regardless of my pre-bake, pre-menstruation energy level (remember the tampon analogy?).  but add no sleep to the breathing exercises, and then factor in the deafening noise encircling my head.


now consider the fact that, for the entire time, i can’t MOVE.  not a muscle.  or we have to do the same scan AGAIN.

insanity isn’t that far away.  from you.  from me.  it only takes the right stimulus.  the perfect blend of time and frustration.  of weariness and wear and tear.  of noise, perceived eons, physical exasperation, repeated mantras, forced frozenness, and claustrophobic torment.

my mind turned to mush.  was i still in the machine?  or suffering drops of forehead-puddled water from the Viet Cong?  or was i running for my life in a game of hide and seek, on a planet far away?  my mind wanted to sleep, as did my body.  but unable to do so, my thoughts drifted in and out of the netherlands of my psyche.  in between breaths and breaks, somewhere north of bedtime and south of bearings, i relived the past, created the future, and existed both fully and not at all in the present.

“okay, deep breath.”  …  “hold it in.”  …  “let it out; let it out and relax.”

“okay, deep breath.”  …  “hold it in.”  …  “let it out; let it out and relax.”

“okay, deep breath.”  …  “hold it in.”  …  “let it out; let it out and relax.”

“okay, deep breath.”  …  “hold it in.”  …  “let it out; let it out and relax.”

ad infinitum.

but, like all things, even loops have an end.  there is no eternal circle…  the human experience has a way of bending even the most stubborn orb, changing up the monotony, and, in my case, freeing me.  but only physically, at first.

at the end of the three hours, when they pulled me out, i thought i was going to punch everyone in the face and run like Forrest Gump crossing the continent.  it never felt so good to be on my feet.  and crazy.  i wanted to fire through the wall like Wile E. Coyote.  smack everyone i saw.  in the head.  with a broom.  run out into traffic, drag everyone out of their cars, and kick them like footballs fated for field goal glory in a tie-broken Iron Bowl.  i was absolutely CRAZED beyond belief, ready to rip coat hangers off of bathroom stalls with my bare hands, like an AWOL renegade from the Guild of Vandals; take my newly gained, curved metal grapplers into the Mall of America; and hook every set of nostrils in sight.  nasally drag everyone into the food court, and then fry up shoes for an Elvis-movie style Clambake, with dancing, leather eating, and maybe a talking piranha.  with bowlegs.  and then laugh all the way to TimbukTHREE, because “TU” seemed entirely too sane.

i felt like a PSYCHO.


once i was just rational enough to put on my clothes, i dressed and walked the property a bit, my head trying to pop off like a July 4th bottle rocket, my legs attempting long distance runs in opposite directions.  my entire being felt like john ritter after electro-shock in Skin Deep.  but in the medical building, the parking garage, and eventually my parked car, i slowly melted back into a more common state of mind, like black ice into white snow.  once the transformation was near complete, i went to McDonald’s.  nothing like a cheesburger after a heart test.

as it turned out, despite my sense of liberation once my MRI was finished, there was one more rapid to be braved…  not only did ramón foul up on my IV/gown situation; he also had forgotten to…shave…my CHEST.  BEFORE placing the largest, stickiest tabs imaginable on my left pectoral.  i’m not tom selleck, but i’m also not 11.  as i was dressing after my test, i realized what he’d done, and i knew there was hell awaiting me.  i got home, grabbed a friend, and showed them my situation.  their face lit up IMMEDIATELY.  i laid down, took deep breaths, prepared myself, and yelled, “MESS ME UP!!!!!!!!!”  but in a more colorful phrase.  i told them–  “you have to RIP THIS WITH ALL YOUR MIGHT.  otherwise, it won’t come off all the way.”

i took a deep breath.  with each tear, my screams rang out across the San Fernando Valley.  and then, it was done.  and so was i.  i’d like to someday dip ramón in Crazy Glue.  and then pieces of burlap.  and then…THANK HIM.

a few days later, i got my test results.  my heart was in great condition.  my body was well.  my time was near.  i was primed and approved for surgery.  it would be coming soon.  and so i had my period of ponderance, my time for the Green Mile, just me and my considerations.  to look back.  to reflect.  to think about my life.  where had i come from?  where had i ended up, so far?  if this was the end, what difference had i made?  this was my time–maybe my last time.  but at least, my time to remember.  to relish the life i’d been able to live.  to look at my successes.  and also my failures.  to take an account of my life, good and bad, and to ready myself for that operating room, with the full scope of my years on this earth, clear and complete in my mind.  if this was to be my last week on earth, i wanted to end it with the full knowledge of the beginning and middle.  the first and second act.  if this was to be the end of the third, there was certainly a lack of dramatic tension; my life was at best nearing the end of act 2.  but, i’m not the sole author.  or the director.  i’m simply trying to assert what control i have, for my part, and my character’s choices…our lives are dramatic works of art, which veer to and fro, running the gamut of genres.  comedy, both light and dark; melodrama; satire; we are contract players without the luxury of choosing each project on its own merit.  each turn of the plot takes us into a new direction, whether we are willing or not.

and so, having thus far lived a life in and out of good control, i paused.  i thought.  i weighed my experiences, my choices, pitting good vs. bad, intention versus accident, mine versus that intangible friend and foe of happenstance.  fate.  God.  clumsy circumstance and the indelicate thrustings of a cosmic force.  how had i overcome obstacles?  how had i folded to adversity?  how much of my life had i chosen?  and how many choices had been right?  why?  how?  when?  and where was i, then and now, in relation to where i’d hoped to be?  i took an inventory.  but more simply, really, i told myself a story.

i told myself a story.

the story of my life.

i went back.  all the way to the beginning.  back to Bessemer, Alabama.  back to childhood.  i took a look, at the 37 years i’d had.  and i looked…slowly.  this was my time to stop living my life for a few moments, and to instead recount those moments already passed.  as so i did.  just like in the MRI machine–  “deep breath; hold it in…”

i looked back.  who was i?  what had been my dreams?  my loves?  my passions?  and what had i done, toward and away from attaining my goals?  who had been important to me?  and why?  what had my life been?  i took my time.  and pondered.  and wondered.  and most of all, remembered…  my life…

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s