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Friday, March 6, 2015

Agonizing Crisis of Pain

Leaning close to my face, the radiologist introduced himself, reinforcing the need for the Velcro straps that held my head at just the right angle on the molded foam. As he spoke, the natural reflex had been to nod my head.

“You can’t move your head or the test’ll be ruined. That’s why we strap it in there,” he said as he tapped the foam near my right ear. “You’ll not want us to repeat it because you moved.”

“Okay, I’ll do my best to keep looking straight ahead,” I said, turning only my eyes towards the space I’d heard his voice.

The radiologist chuckled, responding, “I know you will, dear, and the snug restraints will see that you don’t move.” After giving my shoulder a quick squeeze, the doctor moved away, followed by more clattering noises across the room.

While I lay on the hard x-ray table, my mind raced through a review of the events of the day. Had it really only been that morning I’d walked into the fuselage of Joe’s plane? Why had long chains of brilliantly colored pyramids obscured my eyesight? I reckoned we’d know after the cerebral arteriogram. I hoped the test wouldn’t make my already substantial headache any worse.

I’d just begun to thank the Lord that Mom’d arrived before they wheeled me to Radiology, and that my dear friend, Cindy, would be here to sit with Mom until Dad finished his shift at the refinery, when I felt another squeeze on my shoulder. “Okay, dear, we’re ready to start.” I recognized the voice of the radiologist. I smiled up at him, listening to his instructions.

“The catheter has been confirmed to be in just the right place. You may think it strange to put it up here at the top of your leg, but we thread it up to the spot we need to introduce the dye into your brain for the test. Down here the blood vessel is larger so it’s the safest place to begin.”

“Yes, I know. I used to be a student radiology tech. This stuff is familiar to me, but I’ve never been on this end of the test.” I laughed, probably as much from nerves as from trying to make a joke.

“Yeah? Good. Then you can anticipate what we’ll be doing. It might help to picture it in your mind and focus on that.”

“We’re ready, Doctor,” I heard the lady say.

“Okay, we’re ready, too,” he said with a pat on the shoulder he’d just squeezed. “I’m going to tell you each time we’re about to shoot some dye into your brain. It will be painful for a few seconds, but we’ll be fast about getting the pictures. We’ll stop in-between segments, so you’ll be able to relax. Try to take deep breaths. Don’t move any part of your body.”

“Okay, I’ll do my best. Thanks for doing yours, too.” As the doctor moved away from the table, I realized that my arms and legs also had restricted motion. I hadn’t remembered that part of the preparation, nor had I felt the Velcro straps being secured.

“Here we go. First set,” the doctor barked at the tech behind the glassed-in control panel.

Seconds later, a stream of white-hot fire poured through the right side of my head. Don’t move! Don’t move! I silently shouted, clenching my teeth together. My fingernails dug into my palms. I heard the whir of clicking machinery; I begged God to help me make it through the test. The duration of agony seem to last forever.

“Got it!” the tech said into the intercom.

“Relax,” the doctor said to me. “Just take some deep breaths while I check the images.”

I didn’t respond to the radiologist; I was busy talking to God. Please, God, let him see what he needs; I don’t want to do this again.

“Are you okay?” a female voice said near my head. I tried to smile, but my lips formed more of a sneer. “I know it hurts. I’m so sorry.” I felt her pat my shoulder before checking the straps on the head restraint.

I wanted to tell her she had no idea how much it hurt, and I wondered if my patients had wanted to tell me the same thing years ago. The squishing sound of the doctor’s soft-soled shoes interrupted my reminiscing.

“They’re good. Let’s move to the other side,” the doctor said as he returned to his position. “Okay, young lady, here we go. You’re doing just great. Hold still.”

At least, I knew I would feel the liquid firebrand on the left side of my head. Funny how that teensy bit of awareness comforted me. The more information I possessed, the easier I found trials to be, in general, even more so when the challenge included serious pain.

The element of surprise removed, the anticipation of the searing pain seemed less frightening. I concentrated my focus on an imaginary scene of a flower-filled meadow near a waterfall. My brief reverie careened off the backside of my eyeballs, dropping into the abyss with the first blast of fire to the left side of my brain. Relax; don’t move! Relax! I ordered my body. I felt my nails biting into my palms but couldn’t release their grip. The pressure on the joints under my ears let me know my jaws had locked into their clench just as hard.

Finally, the agony abruptly stopped. I hadn’t heard the audible exchange between the doctor and tech this time.

For the next couple of hours, the scene repeated over and over. The lady stepped in to wipe the sweat off my face, and place a few ice chips in my mouth between segments.

Somewhere near the end of the procedure, clad in the flimsy, backless gown and covered with the hospital’s flannel-version of a blanket, my body started to tremble. What the intense, relentless pain couldn’t evoke in me, the fear of moving and ruining the test did.

Tears sprang from my eyes. I felt the warm, wet streams rolling off my cheeks, creating a small puddle next to my face. Oh God, help me. Help me, I pleaded, so weak I could no longer even shout in my mind.

“That’s it,” I heard the doctor say, at last. Hands on both sides of the table began working to free me. “I’m sorry. It’s a hard test, but you did well. You’re a real champion.”

“At least, I didn’t die. Do I still have both legs?”

“Both legs?” Then, I heard the doctor let out a raucous guffaw. “Oh that, it’s the law, you know. The physician has to tell you that. Yes, you still have both of your legs.” I tried to smile, but I don’t think my facial muscles moved. “You’ll be taken back to your room now. I’ll call your neurologist, and he’ll come see you about the test. You did just fine.” The radiologist squeezed my shoulder, shook my limp hand, and I heard his shoes squish him all the way out of the room.

Aware of being lifted onto a gurney, I listened to the security buckles clicking into place. I closed my eyes. “Oh, thank you, God. We made it,” I said ever-so softly. When the tech near my head said, “Amen,” I knew I’d actually spoken aloud.

Soon, I’d know the results, but all I really wanted was to go back to my bed and sleep this nightmare away. Funny how slight the morning’s horrible headache seemed now--after that grueling test.

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