Monday, April 20, 2015

Through Crossfire

I'd been waiting for five months for this day. Finally, it was here. The ceiling sky attempted to assure me that I was fine, and everything was normal. A large print of treetops was displayed overhead, similar to the trees I looked up at while lying on a yellow and white checked blanket in Central Park with my last boyfriend.

But I was underground, on floor B2, double below street level, just like I was when I worked in the Empire State Building three years ago. Except rather than sitting at my cubicle laughing with colleagues, I was lying down on a table, seemingly too close in shape to that of a coffin.

But I had asked for this; I had placed the request on November 16, 2014, to be rolled into an MRI machine to see if the imaging might be able to find abnormalities in my brain contributing to the health issues I've been battling since my return from Africa. A Stanford study recently revealed that there are three distinct features differentiating the brains of those who battle chronic fatigue syndrome from those who are healthy. In hearing about the study, I felt compelled to find out if my brain fit the profile of typical CFS cases. That's why I pushed for this MRI to be done.

But suddenly I was scared. And I hated that there was no one to hold my hand through all of this. While in the waiting room, I envied the couple sitting across from me. I didn't know their story - who and why they needed an MRI at University of Michigan's hospital - but by their wedding bands I knew they were married, and by their interactions, I knew whatever health issue they were up against, they were in it together.

After boxing in my head, and covering my gowned body with a blanket, the technician placed a squeeze ball in my hand. He instructed me to squeeze it as an emergency out to the MRI machine. I had been asked on a questionnaire and by the technician if I had problems with enclosed spaces or claustrophobia. I proudly answered that I had been spelunking (caving) before, and should be fine.

But suddenly I was terrified, and I feared I might have some sort of panic attack any moment. One last glance at the tree canopy overhead, and I closed my eyes as the technician rolled me into the machine.

I had been given ear plugs and headphones, yet the noise of the machine was only muffled. The shotgun sounds of the MRI suggested that I had entered a war zone, yet I couldn't move an inch to escape the crossfire.

Visualize good memories, I instructed myself.

With the squeeze ball in my right hand, I borrowed my last boyfriend, even though he was no longer mine. We walked the mall of Central Park, holding hands, the way we had last Memorial Day weekend.

The Mall

"We're going to get you better," he insisted. And suddenly we were on that same yellow and white checked blanket that we had grassed stained in Central Park, gazing at the dome of stars over my lake in Michigan.

With a shooting star, we wished together that I would get my health back. Having him there by my side, holding my hand, made everything better, even though my health wasn't.

Stop. I reprimanded myself. You can't keep thinking about him. He exited your life months ago. He's not in this health journey with you anymore. You're on your own.

Visualize good memories, again I instructed myself.

And so I visualized my day at Malibu Creek State Park, rock climbing with a great crew, and traversing the rocks around the creek with a lawyer far too young for me. We were both Michigan-raised. As we entered a cave he shared, "Sometimes I ask myself, 'am I in L.A., or am I in paradise?'"

That day we were in paradise. And as our group hiked out of the park well after the sun had set, the crescent moon smiled down on us. But that day ended, and so did my visualization and I started weeping. Mid-MRI tears streamed down my face.

It felt too near death to be thinking the way that I was. My good memories suddenly haunted me, as if I was allowing my life to flash before my eyes - the way one might as they pass from the now into eternity.

With tears still streaming, my thoughts took me back to New York, this time to Bryant Park. Sitting at a table on the north side of the green, under the shade of the trees, I told my last boyfriend, "I'm not going to let you date me until I have stuff figured out with my health." In speaking, tears well up in my eyes and escaped their holding place.

He gently wiped the tears that had slipped down my face. "You're going to get better," he assured me, speaking with a confidence that I lacked after fighting for so long already.

The crossfire suddenly stopped.

Still inside the machine, I opened my eyes and was blinded by the light shining down on me.

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