Thursday, January 31, 2013

Growing pains

Seven fifteen at night on a Thursday and I'm pulling into a nearly abandoned parking lot at MGH West in Waltham for a planned appointment at the Imaging Center. The building itself is more empty than the parking lot... dark even, minus the bright line of light creeping up from under the door of the MRI/CT scan office. I open the door, look around, feel my stomach drop as I see a flash of myself sitting in this very room years before, that time as a hand to hold, not a patient. I glance at the chairs we had been sitting in and jerk my head away, and then I approach the desk and get my clipboard of questions. A lady is alone and sits across from me; an older man waits for his wife, who emerges finally, and I wonder why she's there. We all scan each other in the waiting room, thinking the same thing about one another.

I am early, strangely, but only because I thought the appointment was a half hour earlier than it actually is. So I wait, and discover silence for my thoughts. But it is not a place where I want to welcome unrestrained thinking. So I roll my eyes at myself and pick up my iphone and I can't get service, and I roll my eyes at my iphone and then I stare straight ahead. And at last I hear my name and I jump up, looking forward to the distraction of discussion, instructions, brighter light, noise. I'm given my robe. Then I'm told, "front open and I'll meet you at the IV chair." IV? As in, the needle kind?

This is the first of many annual breast MRIs, which is the protocol for daughters of BRCA2 positive patients who have not yet worked up the balls to take the simple test that tells them which 50 percent they fall in. There is a 50 percent chance that you are exactly the same as the normal population. But if you ARE blessed with this itty bitty genetic abnormality? Eighty percent chance of breast cancer, 20 to 30 percent for ovarian, 3.5 to 8 percent for pancreatic, and other... unsettling stats. Boom! Shit! (What would you do? Really, I'm asking).

"Do you have a history of passing out with IVs?"

"No, not really," I say (remembering at least two occasions when I passed out with IVs. Just get this over with. We're wasting the night away.)

 "Okay, it's in. How does it feel?"

"It hurts a little." (There's a needle stuck in my arm).

"It does? It hurts?"

"Yes, there's a needle in my arm." (I'm typically very polite. But now I'm behaving as if I'm 16. Yeah, I'm 16 and I don't even care about you and your lame needle!).

"Well, it's in right." (It's in stupidly. And now I'm eight years old and I want to go home.).

"Another question. Are you at all claustrophobic?"

"Mildly," I say, "but it's not a phobia. Why? Will my head be inside the tube?"

"We just cover what will be imaged."

"OK..." (Head not being examined, we're good).

"I'll be back in a few minutes."

She returns. And I head to the main event in the MRI room. And here it is. It's an MRI, giant, just gigantic, with a little bit of a room around it.

"Now. Do you want the noiseless earphones or music?"

"Music." (Noiseless is just too damn... noiseless).

"The one thing you need to remember about this MRI is that you can't move. Not a muscle. If you do, radiology might find something and then you will have to come back for more images. Now... lie down on your stomach here and put your breasts here and your arms here and keep the needle over... here... and here's your music..."

"WOAH. No music. Nope. Can't have the music. But can't have the noiseless." Both are so disconnecting.

"Well, then I'm putting in ear plugs." One falls out a little as she hastily stuffs them in, but I don't let her know.

"Now, we're ready. Remember, no moving! It will be about 40 minutes!" Did she just say 40 minutes. She did just say 40 minutes. And the table starts moving in, in, more in.... and my head is covered by the tube... and now my head is severely covered by the tube. I'm in there good and snug, and I'm not allowed to move and it's dark and silent.

"No, I can't. No, I can't do this." I suddenly say. And the table moves out, out, more out... and I finally breathe.

"Hi. I can't do it."

"You are claustrophobic?" She looks baffled, as if she hasn't seen this type of reaction before.

"Well, no. I don't think... I guess maybe... no, not really. Yes, I am. Why do I have to go in so far? Do you have drugs? Medication I can take?"

"Your doctor has to prescribe it."

I think of my husband's face as I come home two hours later and tell him I didn't do it. It's not a look of anger on his face, but utter confusion... and perhaps some frustration that I'm not getting screened when I need to get screened. And I see my reflection in his eyes and I see myself ashamed. I look at the technician with what I can only describe as desperation. Help me. Get me through this.

My regression continues; I'm six now. I want home and I want my mom.

"The first picture will take two minutes. Want to just try it?"

"Fine. Just do it." I shrink down into the position I will hold for the next 40 minutes.

I am naked underneath this lead apron, without freedom to move, without any power at all. And I can't help but let go because there is nothing, not one thing, diverting my thoughts away from myself anymore.

I miss her so much.

I am an infant, her baby, and I am aching for her arms to be ready for me when I leave this room.

The magnets abruptly begin their work and it's louder than almost anything I've ever heard. I am glad I somehow avoided both options, music or noiseless, and that there is a pounding resonating through me.

I think, my throat swelling, that this evening would have been a tiny blip for her, not a thing to write about or think much about at all. I've witnessed too much to be this melodramatic. Because that's what I've been. All night. I have reasons to be tough and I know how to be tough; I've been given some seriously frightening knowledge because of my mom. And, I guess, I'm still lying here, so I'm actually sort of doing something with it.

I open my eyes, which are exhausted since they've been clenched so tight. I stare at the square platform beneath me. I picture the back of my baby daughter's head in its place; I feel warmth, a light brown single layer of the softest hair barely covering her tiny snowy white head. I want to kiss that head forever. I am a mother now, not as strong as my own, not as brave, not yet, but I'm willing now to agree that this night in this giant MRI machine is probably a pretty good use of my time.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Rudolph rant (that poor deer)

I had a conversation with Noah the other day about Rudolph (the red nosed reindeer) that went something like:

Noah: Mommy, can you sing Rudolph?
Me: Yes (then I sing)
N: OH... again?
Me: (I sing)
N: Mommy, can you sing it now?
Me: (I sing)
Repeat request, repeat song.

Noah: So, the friends weren't nice to Rudolph... because of his nose.
Me: Right. They were very mean.
Noah: But then later, when he could help Santa, they were nice; they loved him.
Me: That's the idea.
Noah: But, they didn't really love him though, right?
Me: You know, it doesn't seem like they did, does it.
Noah: No, it doesn't.

This is not the first time I've thought about this. I've actually thought about this a great deal... and starting well before I had kids... starting, I think, when I was a kid. And this is what I've concluded. Those reindeer friends were little shits. And I didn't bring it up with Noah, who has never seen the movie, but let's not forget about our dear old Santa Claus, who says to Rudolph's dad, upon observing Rudolph with his shiny red nose, "Donner... you should be ashamed of yourself. What a pity. He had a nice take-off too."

And what Christmas-special loving child doesn't have the alarming mockery of Coach Comet etched permanently in his little head, sitting right next to those visions of dancing sugar plums. I haven't watched the movie in years, but I can still hear the inflections in his prideful, jovial instructions to the reindeer students:

"All right, all right, my little yearlings, back to practice."
And to Rudolph: "Oh no, not you. You'd better go home with your folks. From now on, gang, we won't let Rudolph join in ANY reindeer games. Right?"

I fact checked this and he indeed asks the swarm of bright eyed little black noses to emphatically agree with him on this plan. As in, "You're with me, yeah? We don't like different, NO! We all gonna be dicks about this, right?" Santa was there and I can't be sure (it's really been many years), but I think he went along with this ruling just fine.

So, here it is, kids. You're born with a big red nose in the North Pole, you don't have much of a chance... unless...UNLESS... you happen to almost blind Santa just as he's about to cancel Christmas because of the weather and this happens to lead him to discover that your "abnormality" could actually be used to his benefit. At that point, you can start to be loved.

Speaking of beloved Christmas specials, the Grinch gets a bad rap, but turns out this poor lost soul actually had a giant, exploding heart just waiting to be pumped full of love by all the people from whom he robbed clean. Comet could only hope to be half the Who the Grinch is.

This show has been on the air since 1964, almost 50 years of joyful Christmas bullying! Here's a reindeer game we can all play. Try inserting new adjectives and nouns into the song for a moment. Sing it in your head!

"Rudolph the big nosed eight year old... had a very giant nose..."
"Rudolph the black skinned new kid... had a very different look...."
"Trevor the 13 year old gay boy... was an outcast in his school..."

Am I taking this too far? It's...possible. I'm okay with that. But I'm also not about to try and explain to my four year old that it's fine for a reindeer kid (and reindeer grown-up) to be cruel to his friends, but that it's completely not okay for a human kid to do the same.

I am not campaigning to get the movie Rudolph off the air or the song Rudolph out of the air during the Christmas season. I appreciate traditions and understand everyone has theirs, including gathering the family around the television on Rudolph-Frosty night. I can choose my own traditions, and I will always be willing to sing the song, no matter how many times it's requested. I do hope that Noah and I will continue to knowingly shake our heads at each other as we sing, "then how the reindeer loved him..."

The whole thing makes me question the criteria for the naughty (versus the nice) list. If ganging up on your buddy/student doesn't get you coal in your stocking, we're dealing with some pretty low standards here. Assuming the actual, real Santa Claus reads my blog, I am wondering if he might kindly weigh in and set the record straight?

Happy New Year! Here's to all the Clarices of the world!