I’ve had an MRI before so I knew what to expect when I walked into the dressing room and the half-awake nurse with a name tag that said “Nurse Donna” who was holding in her right hand the largest cup of Starbucks coffee I’d ever seen went into her oral dissertation on what types of things I needed to remove from my body. Belt, rings, jewelry, cell-phones, shoes, MP-3 players and any other sort of items I may have that contains metal. I just sat in the gray industrial chair staring at the coffee cup in her hand and trying to figure out whether or not she had a freakishly large bladder or was the cup only half full.
“Cell-phones? MP-3 players? Really? People try to bring those things into a gigantic electro-magnet?” I asked as I shifted uncomfortably in my chair and diverted my eyes from her coffee cup to my shoes and started to untie them. “You would be surprised at what people try to bring in there. Last week a guy tried to bring in a PSP.” She stated matter-of-factly then proceeded to chug what I assumed was the rest of her coffee and throw the empty cup in the trash can by the double lockers. I noticed she was wearing black rubber Croc shoes that seem so popular today and there were a couple of little flower buttons and some rainbow buttons too. The buttons just sat there, mocking me, as if to say… “LOOK AT US! SEE! THE WORLD AINT SO BAD! WE’RE RAINBOWS AND FLOWERS DON’T WE BRIGHTEN YOUR DAY?” I mumbled some colorful metaphors under my breath and started to remove my shoes.
“What was the Mr. Novak?”
“Uh, nice shoes.” I said as I tried to look up at her face but just then “BOB” decided that I shouldn’t move my neck anymore by injecting mind numbing, stabbing pain into my brain and making both my arms numb and my hands tingly.
“Thanks, their Crocs. Really comfortable if you have to stand on your feet a lot. All the nurses wear them.”
“I see.” It was the only response I could think of since I was filled with Bob’s wonderful presence. I slowly stood up and started to remove my belt and empty my pockets.
“You can wear your street clothes in the machine or you can put on the hospital gown that’s in on one of the lockers. Also, you can keep all of your stuff in whichever locker you want. But, you have to take the key with you.” She offered.
“Um, no thanks Donna, I’d like to keep my dignity for now.” I stated a bit hollowly.
“Suit yourself, I’ll give you a few minutes to get ready and then I’ll come back for you.” she walked out of the room and closed the door, leaving behind the bitter smell of her coffee and the sweet aroma of her perfume.
I put my wallet, keys, loose change and pocket lint into a small dish on the top shelf of second locker. I then hung my belt on one of the hooks and stored my Chuck Taylors in the bottom of the locker, shut and locked the door. I took the key out of the lock and held it in my hand. Then, I sat down on the chair and waited for Nurse Donna to come and take me to the machine.
I was about halfway through AC/DC’s song “If You Want Blood, You Got It” in my head when a soft knock on the door came. “Mr. Novak? You ready sir?”
“Yup.” I said and stood up. I was a bit disappointed I didn’t get to finish the song but I figured I would get a chance once I was inside the machine.
“Ok,” came Donnas disembodied voice from behind the door “Please come out and follow me.”
I opened the door and stepped out into the hallway and saw Nurse Donna walking towards a room that had a sign hanging above it that said “WARNING!!! HIGH POWERED MAGNET! ABSOLUTLEY NO METAL ALLOWED!!!” or some such common sense verbiage. Standing beneath the sign was another nurse; she was leaning against the open doorway to the room where I was being led. She was older and had the lines of life on her face to prove it and a look in her eyes that spoke of life’s weariness and its ability to crush your soul on the jagged rocks of a daily work grind that kills you while you’re still young. Her name tag read “Laura” and there were a bunch of letters behind her name that I assumed she received from years of study at a respectable college.
“Mr. Novak? I see you’ve had an MRI before. A few years ago? Hmm, so you’re not claustrophobic then?” She shot at me without hesitation.
“No Ma’am. Not at all.”
“Good, well let’s get on with it.” And with that statement she turns and heads into the room with the MRI machine in it. I walk in after her hoping that they don’t find anything wrong with my neck that is too serious and what I exactly did to piss off Nurse Laura.
By the time I caught up with Nurse Laura she was already standing next to the behemoth of modern technology I realize that she has been talking non-stop about the Do’s and Do-Not’s of the patient while inside the machine. “Do stay still. Do NOT move around. Do try to breathe steadily. Do NOT shift around.” And on and on for about 5 minutes. I had to tune her out, and in doing so I was able to finish my song from earlier which is kind of funny, I was trying to nod my head in tune with AC/DC’s music but I think Nurse Laura thought I was just nodding at her since I can’t seem to move my neck too much.
When the song in my mind was over I noticed that both the nurses were looking at me with odd expressions on their faces. Nurse Donna was tapping her hand on the “Bed” part of the machine and asking if I was ok. I just grunted and got up on the machine and laid down. The nurses then did the precursory checks to make sure I was comfortable and in the proper prone position. They placed a pillow under my knees, asked if I needed music or water and once all the niceties were over with they placed a cage over my head and pushed the button that sent me into the dark recesses of the machine.
I closed my eyes as I traveled head first into that dimly lit hole of solitude and started to listen to all of my favorite songs in my head that I had memorized over the years. Warren Zevon, Megadeth, AC/DC, Bruce Springsteen, Willie Nelson, Hayes Carll, Johnny Cash, Ceann, Journey, Miles Davis… and just as I was about to push the mental play button a voice rings out in my ears “Mr. Novak?”
“You are familiar with the sounds the machine makes?”
“You mean all the clicking, clacking, buzzing and clanking?”
“Yes sir. That is what I mean exactly.”
“Nope, not familiar with that at all.”
“Good, just wanted to make sure you knew what to expect.”
And with that little exchange of witticism and sarcasm done I pushed the play button on the juke box in my brain. Up cued “So-What” by Miles Davis from the “Kind of Blue” album, a perfect choice. Sometimes, my brain is good to me.
And sometimes it is not good to me.
About five minutes and 30 clinks, clanks, clunks, buzzes and vibrations into my test my juke box froze up and I made the mistake of opening my eyes. I saw the cage in front of my face, and my breathing got shallow. Calm down, I said to myself. I closed my eyes again but now my mental image was of that plastic cage being transformed into a razor wire cage. I tried to think of riding my bike with my daughter but that thought was blown to smithereens by the thought of a Ford F-350 duely with razor wire for a bumper and front grill, bearing down on me and my offspring. I started to hyperventilate. I tried to tell myself that this was only a test that I would be done in just a few minutes. I erased the mental picture of the slaughter by the Ford and slowly sent my mind through the blood and gore mist of my ID. I pictured the top of a snow covered mountain in the Upper Peninsula, Michigan where I would ski as a child. But the crystal white snow that was slowly drifting to earth in my minds eye transformed into bloody flakes that melted onto my skin and started to gnaw away at my flesh looking for the tasty tidbits hidden underneath. CALM DOWN! I said again. You used to crawl into tighter spaces under houses and install heating and air units. You would spend all day under them. You used to crawl into ventilation tubes in the Navy, you’ve been scuba diving, you’ve been stuck in a snow covered car overnight, you’ve been deep inside the earth on spelunking explorations and have NEVER freaked out.
None of it worked. My chest got tighter, my heart was pounding so hard I thought it would burst out of my chest and paint the tube I was in a nice shade of pink.
“Um, Ladies? I think I have a problem.” I said and I really tried to sound calm, sensible, stable. But all that while all I could think of was the guy from “28 Days Later” where he wakes up after the Zombies have slaughtered all of England.
No answer from the nurses. My mind found this to be a joyful coincidence and decided to transform the nurses into maniacal, organ harvesting harlots who were going to inject me with a paralyzing drug and call the one Doctor in the hospital who is 1,000,000,000 dollars in debt to the local bookies. He was coming in the room at any moment, rusted knives and saws in a duffel bag. As for the Nurses, one was on her way to the morgue to get the blood draining tubes and the other was on her way to put “Out of Order” signs on the doors to the room.
My legs started to kick without me realizing it. My arms were moving of their own accord and beating on the walls of the tube. My voice seemed to be screaming and my eyes became wide with fear and desperation. I felt hands tapping my legs, a voice was worming its way into my consciousness, “Mr. Novak, calm down. You’re going to be ok. Mr. Novak? It is going to be ok; we are going to take you out.”
I felt my body moving, the noise of the machine was gone, I was shaking, sweating, cold and completely embarrassed.
Nurse Donna took the cage off my head and helped me sit up. Nurse Laura rubbed my leg with one hand and handed me a bottle of water with her other hand. I did not want to drink the water, my hands were shaking too bad. I looked at my pants to see if I had wet myself, good news, I didn’t. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’ve never had this happen before. I’m sorry.” I kept repeating.
It’s ok Mr. Novak. This happens all the time.” Came the reply from Nurse Donna. “I can’t get in this thing either and I am trained in this machine.” I noticed that her eyes were extremely dilated and there was a hint of compassion in her voice.
I tried to take a drink from the bottle of water but my hands were still working on playing “Moby Dick” ala John Bonom. “Can I stand up? I need to walk around for a minute.” I asked.
“We can reschedule for a later date if you want and give you a sedative.” Nurse Laura offered.
“No. I am doing this today. I’m not gonna let this thing beat me. I just need to walk around for a minute.” As I stood up I saw that Nurse Donna was walking out the door and Nurse Laura was just staring at me. I started to pace the length of the machine. I must have walked back and forth 10 times before my nerves calmed down enough. I was hot so I took off my work shirt and enjoyed the marvel of the hospital air conditioning.
As I set my shirt on a chair near the door Nurse Donna shows up with the most amazing thing I have ever had. A cool, damp wash cloth. “Here, wipe your face.” Was all she said. And, I did. It felt great, I felt refreshed, revived and ready to tackle the insanity inside my brain.
“Ok, let’s do this.” I said once I had finished with the great, white, cotton cloth of calming influence. And I climbed back onto the bed. “But this time, no cage.” I added. Nurse Laura’s face came into my peripheral vision, she was smiling and I felt her put something in my hand. “For your eyes.” Was all she said and backed away from my head. I felt her put the pillow under my legs. I raised my hand up to my face to see what she had given me. It was a clean, dry wash cloth. I smiled and placed it on my eyes.
“Mr. Novak? You Ok? Are you ready?”
“Yes.” I said and gave thumbs up. I then felt the bed being mechanically pulled back into the tube.