My pneumonia has turned the corner, and now everything feels like a really terrible chest and head cold. My doctor extended my antibiotics for a few more days to make sure the infection in my lungs will not return. It doesn't feel like I have coughed everything out of there yet, but it's not for lack of trying. The past few days have all seemed about the same. Low energy. Runny nose. Cough, cough, cough. This morning I took an extra dose of prescription cough syrup, bundled up and headed to the hospital for my brain MRI re-check.
I haven't seen the radiologist's interpretation of the MRI, but I have—to the horror of my doctor friends—looked at the images myself (which I took home on CD). As good as I am with my Mac for using Final Cut Pro, Motion, Photoshop, and composing software like Sibelius and Finale, I have acquired comparable skills with OsiriX. The latter is a free program that enables you not only to view all your scans but convert them into three-dimensional spaces where you can literally fly around the inside of your head as you might in a video game. It is purely for entertainment purposes (at least for me) and is not for serious diagnosis. But I have learned a fair amount about parts of the brain by studying my own MRI scans from before and after the two surgeries to remove the craniopharyngioma. It's fascinating.
This was (by my count) my tenth MRI or CT scan since October 1, 2009. Most of them occurred during the first panicky month when no one knew what I had. Since then, I have had them at increasingly wider gaps apart, the last one being six months ago.
This morning, I learned two tricks: bring earplugs (they really help) and check the box saying you are claustrophobic (so you have a better chance of being assigned the nicer MRI machine). There was an old ad where Ricardo Montalban said the seats of Chryslers were made with "Corinthian leather" which sounded so exotic. The larger and brand new MRI machine at my local hospital has a table made from what I would guess is something like Corinthian leather. Soft and luxurious. Feral kitten, perhaps. I hoped by checking the "claustrophobia" box I would get this machine today. I was so tired of MRIs!
As I put my earplugs in, my favorite technician came into the dressing room to retrieve me.
"Oh, it's you!" she chirped. "We saw you with the symphony a few weeks ago. I'll tell them to switch to classical music."
Beyoncé would have perked me up more, but I hate to burst anyone's bubble when they get excited about classical music. I was escorted into the newer room with the luxury MRI machine.
The last time I did have a serious problem in the smaller machine and—even though I don't have the same claustrophobia issues today—I was elated to see I had snagged the roomier model. With the Corinthian leather. In its own way this was like being upgraded to a suite instead of a standard room at a hotel when you had just paid at the front desk with coupons. As I settled onto the lush, padded table I heard the speakers click as the technician searched for another radio another station. A moment later the final scene from "Don Giovanni" piped into my headphones. The Commendatore was approaching and knocking on the door. The technician covered me with a blanket and clamped my head to the table.
Turn thee, ere heav'n hath doom'd thee. There's time yet for repentance!
For me there's no repentance. Vanish thou from my sight!
Dread then, the wrath eternal!
Away, thou spectre infernal!
On that note, I was slid deep into the MRI machine, resting on Corinthian leather.
I have had enough of these to tell subtle things from the tech staff regarding how things are going during the long test. There is a mirror titled at 45 degrees above your eyes which allows you to see out the machine and into the other room with the monitors. I could see my tech going through the motions, then—after he had injected me with dye and told me it would be just six more minutes—I saw him spot something on the monitor and call over the other technician. They discussed something, then picked up a phone. A third person wearing scrubs came into the room shortly thereafter, also peering into the screen.
Don Giovanni, long burning in Hell, was now the Mozart Clarinet Concerto. The music quit inside my headphones and the tech's voice spoke, "We're going to do a few extra scans to be sure we got something. Another ten minutes. Just relax and stay still."
All three of the techs watched over the monitor as the loud noises erupted from the MRI machine again and fought with the Mozart in my headphones. It reminded me of Kraftwerk, quite honestly. Kind of trippy.
"You're done," the voice said after a few minutes. "You can change back into your clothes."
I gathered myself out of the machine. "Are you calling for a hot read? Any flags?" I asked, intentionally baiting him.
"Your surgeon will be in contact," the tech said, which is the only thing any technician is allowed to say.
As soon as I entered the dressing room, another man staggered in after me, also wearing a gown. He had just had an MRI too and he was visibly shaken.
"Those are rough, aren't they?" I said to him.
"I'm used to it," he said. He looked disheveled and about ten years older than me. Then again, I look that way too. On both counts.
In the way patients tend to make small talk in waiting rooms, I offered, "I had a brain scan. Re-check."
The man looked me up and down. "Me too," he said, then turned the key to open his locker. "They called a hot read for me. Again. Looks like 'fluid,' they say. Again. And we know what that really means, don't we?" Then his tone of voice became more angry. He continued icily, "Well OF COURSE there's going to be all this shit in there if they keep going back in my head. Procedures over and over and over. Never any end to it. Never any good news. Never."
I wanted to hug this man. I realized the scan the trio of technicians were hovering over in the tech room was not my scan at all. It was this other man's. I was the lucky one today (or so I have surmised so far).
He also said, "I hate that smaller machine, you know. I hate it. Feels like you can't get out. I'm so sick of it." He disappeared behind a curtain.
Right then I vowed I would N.E.V.E.R. say I am claustrophobic again unless—on that day—I am truly feeling that way. And even then I might not because there are certain drugs I can ask for. I am a larger person than most, but I am also getting what are considered "healthy" scans. Others are more sick than me and I can suck it up for forty minutes if it will make the time easier for them. I have never felt so selfish.
In the waiting room this morning there were people with me (the odds say this is correct) who are dying of something, and dying right now. Those are the people who are looking for dignity. Those are the people who are looking for special treatment. Those are the patients who are looking for and deserve a little luxury right now, perhaps in the form of Corinthian leather caressing them as they endure yet another MRI. I'll never stand in someone else's way for that again.