My CT scan is scheduled for 8 a.m. at Toronto Western, which is an hour drive from where I live. It will be rush hour, which means the traffic will make it even longer. The mere prospect of driving into the city kicks my anxiety into high gear. Kevin can’t go because he has to watch the kids, so I ask my friend Karen to take me.
I arrive at her house shortly after 6:45. I’m already tired because I’m used to getting up around 8:30. (I take a moment to be thankful that the babies and Morrigan sleep that long—and that they’re mostly sleeping through the night at such a young age.) I pop an Ativan. The euphoric effects have mostly worn off, but I didn’t want to take it before I drove.
It’s raining. It’s been dreary since the day I got my diagnosis. If I were critiquing this story, I would say, “Using the weather to parallel character circumstance is a little too obvious. Can you use subtler symbolism?”
The traffic is horrible. It’s a good thing Karen is driving. We talk. I cry. She and her husband both lost their mothers to cancer recently. I try not to think about that. I am strong. I am young. I am healthy.
We’re late, and I hate being late to anything, let alone an important medical appointment that holds the answer to whether I’m going to live or die. She drops me off at the front and I dash in, frantically trying to figure out where to go.
When I get to the correct place and register, I notice that I am surrounded by old people.
The antibiotic I’m still on from having the tooth extracted makes me run to the bathroom. I’m having abdominal cramps. It’ll get worse, I remind myself. Suck it up. It’s just an antibiotic.
They call my name and lead me around a corner. The nurse hands me a giant cup with a straw. “Drink this,” he says. “You have one hour. It could cause diarrhea later today.”
In the small CT scan waiting area are two old women in wheelchairs, also drinking their barium. I open my phone and look at videos of Morrigan and the twins I took the previous night. I can’t help it; I start crying again.
Here I am, missing my babies because I haven’t been away from them in the morning since they were born, and the other two patients look like they’re on their last legs. I feel bad for thinking of them in such a callous manner, but it feels like death in here. Like, “Here, sit in this corner with the others and wait for the inevitable.”
I text with Karen to guide her to the waiting area. She’s struggling to find a parking spot. I’m once again glad I didn’t drive myself. For one thing, I would have been closer to forty-five minutes late to my appointment rather than twenty, and I’d already left at 6:30 a.m. for an 8 a.m. appointment.
I hate driving in the city.
Upon seeing my tear-stained face, she asks, “What’s wrong?”
“The usual,” I tell her.
“I thought maybe something happened.”
No. Nothing happened.
We talk, and she does her best to cheer me up. I drink the barium. It tastes like chalky oranges. The nurse hands me two hospital gowns and directs me to take off everything except my underwear.
It’s a good thing, too. Yesterday, Aunt Flo busted through a wall like the Kool-Aid man. “HEY HEY HEY! I’m here!” What a reminder that it feels like there’s nothing fucking wrong with me. It’s my second period since I stopped breastfeeding. It came a little late, but it’s fierce and bloody and screaming that my uterus is ready to breed again.
The nurse tells me to follow him into a room. He explains about rare allergic reactions to the stuff they’re going to give me. He pokes me with a needle and hooks up an IV. I try not to cry. He tells me he’s taken the metal needle out, and it’s plastic in there, so I can move my arm. When they inject the stuff when they start the scan, I will feel warm.
He directs me to a chair in the hallway. Sitting next to me is a woman who is knitting and chatting with another man in a wheelchair.
This time, I do cry.
It’s starting. All the medical procedures. My body no longer mine. On loan to the hospital until they can get it working properly again. I will have things injected in me and scans probing every part of me and parts of me removed or killed off for being unruly.
I manage to wipe away my tears before the technician comes to get me.
The machine looks like something out of the X-Men. He has me lie down on a pallet barely the width of my body. “When we start the scan, we start the IV. You’ll feel warm and maybe have the sensation that you’re peeing. Don’t worry, you’re not peeing. Put your arms above your head and hold them there.”
He walks away. The table moves me through the large metal ring. They’re going to take me apart and put me back together again. The table stops. Better, faster, stronger. I am the bionic woman.
“Don’t move. Don’t swallow,” orders an angry-sounding man’s voice.
I close my eyes as machinery whirs.
“You can swallow, but don’t move,” says a pleasant-sounding woman’s voice.
Why the two voices? Why the two intonations?
The technician comes out looking worried. “I just did a practice scan. Are you wearing any metal?”
“Shit. My bra.” I think about apologizing, explaining that I’m not exactly operating at peak mental capacity, but don’t. I unhook it and pull it through the hospital gown’s sleeve.
Back onto the table I go.
The real scan starts. The IV does feel warm, in my arms and in my chest. The heat in my crotch area feels less like peeing and more like something I’d describe in one of my romance novels. It passes fairly quickly. The angry man yells at me not to swallow; the nice woman soothes away his ire. This happens several times.
The technician hands me a card that I’m to bring to the ER if I have a severe allergic reaction within the next seven days.
I take it and walk to the death-warmed-over waiting area.
The two wheelchair women are gone, but a middle-aged woman is sitting in there. I am bereft, sad, numb. Karen gives me an encouraging look. I rustle around in my bookbag to pull out my clothes. As I head toward the dressing area, the woman speaks.
“Wow, you look so sad!”
Her voice sounds like she’s talking to a three-year-old who’s upset she has to share her crayons.
Rage curls inside me. I don’t look at her. If she speaks again, I will unload every last bit of hurt, anger, and betrayal at my diagnosis. A tiny bit of rational me tries to tell furious me that it’s not her fault, she doesn’t know.
But her tone. Her fucking tone.
I don’t know if she sees something in my face, but she doesn’t speak again.
I get dressed.
I am done for today.
But just for today.