Beeps, Boops, and Prayers
Saying “I had a medical scare” seems melodramatic. It was medical but I was never really “scared.” Concerned? Yeah. Spooked? Sure. It’s just that calling what happened a “medical scare” seems unfair to people that have actually had medical scares. Semantics aside, I woke up Friday morning with numbness and tingling in my left hand and foot, which over the course of a visit to our local urgent care facility spread to my leg, arm, and—for a delightful short period—the left side of my face.
The doctors at urgent care felt like this all warranted a visit to the emergency room and so I spent most of the day at one of the fine hospitals in our city undergoing a battery of tests. To cut to the chase, I didn’t have a stroke. Whatever was going on with the left side of my body was likely some sort of combination of a bulging disc between two vertebrae and possibly stress. So there are lessons to be learned.
To reach these conclusions, I had to get a couple of MRIs done. I had never been in a MRI machine before and I now have no desire whatsoever to get in one again. If you had asked me prior to Friday whether I was claustrophobic, I would have laughed and said, “Oh, of course not.” But after that session in a high tech coffin, I totally understand why people are afraid of enclosed spaces. I get it. I guess the thing I said at the beginning about never really being scared isn’t exactly true.
Before they slide you into the machine, the lab technicians put a mask of sorts on you—an antennae is what the tech called it—that sits maybe an inch from your face. Then beyond that mask is maybe another inch, maybe two if we’re being generous, then white plastic that completely encases you. I quickly figured out that I should keep my eyes closed because looking at this suffocatingly tight space was setting off all kinds of emergency sirens in my brain.
My first ten minute go-around with the MRI machine was, per the surprise of some doctors and nurses, unusually short. It still felt long. “I did not like that” was one of the first things that I said to EA when they wheeled me back into my room. Yet the result of the MRI was I did not have any sort of stroke. That’s great news! Then later that afternoon, I was told that I needed to go back for a longer session in the MRI machine.
Hearing that I had to go back for a second, longer stint in the tube of terror fired a jolt of fear deep inside me. I didn’t say anything. I kept a good poker face, but I was scared. Because I didn’t know how I was going to lay there in that enclosed space 20-30 minutes longer than I had the first time. I was about to enter into the Dark Fortyish Minutes of the Soul and my soul was not prepared.
For the second time that day, they slid me into the white plastic darkness. I shut my eyes and tried to pay attention to my breathing because that’s what the people always tell you to do when you need to be calm. And it worked, but not for long. My breathing became too quick, too shallow and it was getting away from me. I was scared and alone and I didn’t know what to do.
When you are in the MRI machine, they give you earplugs because the magnetic pulses that create the images of your insides make quite a lot of noise. The noises sound like electronic beeps and boops and there is somewhat of a rhythm to it. Not a great rhythm, nor a consistent one, but there are at least patterns. It sounds like the work of your cousin who has just decided he’s going to be a DJ and he is not remotely good.
I latched on to this excuse of a beat and tried to make some kind of song, some kind of techno-medical-Gregorian chant out of all the beeps and boops. Basically I prayed the prayer of someone who was at the end of their rope: trapped in a death cocoon and not sure what was happening to my body. “God help me. God be with me. God help me. God be with me.” In my head, over and over again to the beeps, boops, and whirrings of the MRI machine.
The rest of my time in the machine was still scary, uncomfortable. It still seemed to take forever and I still wanted to get out more than anything else in the world. But I felt like when I prayed/sung “God be with me” that God heard me. In that death cocoon in which there was only room for me, I did not feel as alone.
And in that moment, that was enough.