I had an MRI today. I got excited about it when the doctor called last week; I appreciate science fiction aesthetics and non-invasive medical procedures.
I've had a lot of non-non-invasive medical procedures done in the last six months.
I had six transvaginal ultrasounds in February and March. I had one on my birthday and I waited for the nurse to say something after she'd confirmed my date of birth, but she didn't, so I just took my pants off. Happy birthday to me! I will remember turning 33. I had a hysteroscopy last month, and a hysterosalpingogram the month before that. Hysterosalpingogram is a much harder word to spell but a much easier procedure to endure. I passed out during the hysteroscopy. I was shocked for a day or two afterwards. "I have nothing to compare it to" I kept saying. I compare most things to the climb up Cruagh Road, which I can sometimes but not always manage on my bike. I compare invasive medical procedures to the cervical biopsy I had a couple of years back. I like to think I'm tough, that I can manage most anything once I know what I'm in for. It was very challenging to find that that doesn't always hold true.
Today was a walk in the park, by comparison. I was referred to St. Vincent's Private for the MRI, even though I have no health insurance. I half expected some kind of alarm to sound when I said as much to the receptionist. She made no comment, just handed me a safety questionnaire and waved me to a seat. Vincent's is like a hotel lobby and everyone else there was old. I'm used to Holles Street, where the bathrooms are grotty and the patients are anxious and the staff are exceptionally kind. I often leave there feeling lucky.
The radiologist who brought me through to the treatment room in Vincent's knew how to pronounce my name. That happens so rarely that I usually comment, but I didn't today. I just took off my clothes and put on the gown she'd left for me, then sat on the gurney, legs dangling, and waited for her to come back. I thought about taking a photo of myself in the gown, but I was afraid she'd catch me. I took off my wedding rings and clipped them together with the slide from my hair, then tucked them into my shoe. "Have you anything in your hair?" she asked me when she came back, and she gave it a look. It's humid today and I am Barbados Monica. "It's in my shoe" I said, and she looked at me like I was mad. "Come on" she said.
The room in which the scanner is kept is like something from a film set on a spaceship. Everything's white. I wanted more time to take it in. But she hurried me onto the scanner bed and placed a pair of padded green cans over my ears as the bed slid into the machine. "Can you hear me?" she asked through the comms. "I can thank you" I said. "CAN YOU HEAR ME?" she barked. "YES" I said. Like an automated fucking phone system.
I thought there would be music, I thought that's what the headphones were for. Maybe you have to have health insurance. I made my own, like Tyres at the traffic lights. The machine thrummed and thumped and I lay there trying really hard not to move and thought about how I used to listen to music not unlike this terrifying noise, back when I took drugs and went clubbing and fucked other people's boyfriends. These days I go to see kora music played in the concert hall with my husband and our parents and drink soda water at the interval. I book the tickets. I'm happier for it.
The scan took ages. My nose started to itch. The dull ache in my lower back began to creep down towards my tailbone. There's not much to look at inside an MRI machine. They should print some poetry on it or something, like the backs of the seats on old Aer Lingus planes. I am always happier when I have something to read, much happier than when I have something to write. Anything to distract me from the inevitability of death, yours and mine. That's mostly what I'm left with when I've nothing to read. The inside of the machine had scratches on it. Striated black marks, seven of them, ragged and uneven. Everything else in Vincent's looks box-fresh, unused. Something must have happened. The dull dread in my gut began to creep up towards my gorge and I felt again the rubbery bladder of the alarm in my right hand.
"FOLLOW THE BREATHING INSTRUCTIONS" she barked again, and I panicked, thinking I'd missed something. Then a recorded voice told me to take a deep breath, and then to hold it, and then to relax. Take a deep breath, hold it, relax.
She took the headphones from my ears as the scanner bed rolled out and told me to sit up as soon as I was ready and then to dress again behind the curtain and leave. The floor seemed further away than it had when I'd climbed up onto the bed. I walked stiff-legged back to my cubicle, the back of my gown flapping open where I hadn't managed to negotiate the ties. As I pulled the curtain, I noticed an elderly man in a gown sitting in the far corner, quietly waiting his turn. He was still wearing his black brogues. He nodded to me and then, hearing his name called, shuffled in to have his atoms rearranged.
I pulled my clothes back on, burying my nose first in the underarms of my dress, still slightly damp from the bike ride over. I rooted my rings out from my shoe and repinned the roll at the side of my hair, seeing only the bags under my eyes in the mirror. I could hear the machine clanking and banging in the next room as I switched off all the lights in my efforts to find the door release.
I was tired, upset, hungry. I'd brought a sandwich and a bottle of water in my bag but I was too embarrassed to sit outside and eat, so I set out for the office. As I rode back along the Strand Road, a man stopped and took a photo of me. I must have looked beautiful to him on my big black bike, my dress and hair streaming behind me and my worried head held high.