The next morning my mom and I piled into a van with ten other Mayo Clinic patients and rode through the snow to Rochester. The driver dropped us at our hotel across the street from
the Clinic. As we got out and I retrieved my pink suitcase from the back I looked up once again to marvel at the high rise made of steel and glass. Sadly, this place was starting to feel like home. I had been here way too many times in the past year. The bell hop who had walked us across the street for my first surgery greeted us at the door saying, “Welcome back! Glad to see you made it through the snow.”
I sighed and thanked him and my mom and I went upstairs to meet my dad who had managed to fly in the night before on an earlier flight before the airport had closed. We dropped our bags, grabbed a quick breakfast and then walked down the street to get my MRI. This was also routine. Check in, fill out a questionnaire saying you don’t have any metal in or on your body and that you’re not allergic to contrast, get a beeper, wait about ten minutes, beeper goes off, go back and get your IV line put in, go over your questionnaire and tell the nurse you have no metal in or on your body and you are not allergic to contrast, strip down and put all your clothes jewelry and hair pins in a plastic drawstring bag which you lock in a locker and put on your standard hospital gown and booties, wait maybe five or ten more minutes, walk down the hall to the MRI machine, check once again to see if you have any metal in your body or are allergic, lay down, put in your ear plugs, wrap you up in blankets, shove tons of pads around your head so you can’t move it, pull the cage down over your face and then hand you the panic button in case you freak out and tell you to relax and not to move, then slide you inside the tube for 30 minutes where the machine will make loud buzzing noises and vibrate. After that they’ll pull you out of the tube and pump some contrast into your line. MRI contrast is not bad compared to CT. It will feel cold going in and you may get a weird taste in your mouth but it passes quickly. CT dye feels cold going in, then you will feel warm in your upper body and extremities for a few seconds then that warm feeling will plunge south and settle in the lower portion of your um, pelvis, making you feel kind of like you just used the restroom in your hospital gown. Where’s the bedpan now guys! Once they shoot you up with dye its back in the tube for another 15 and ding! Just like a Stouffer’s lasagna in the oven you’re done.
I’ve sadly had so many of these by now I actually nap while I’m in the tube. The pulsing vibration of the machine can be somewhat soothing.
Sometimes though, there can be a lot of people getting scans at the same time you are and in that case, after you get your IV line and change clothes you have to sit in a separate waiting room for a bit. Today was one of those days but I didn’t mind. One of the things about traveling for medical treatment is that once you get there you have nothing but time. I would sit in a waiting room here or I would sit in the hotel room. It didn’t matter. At least here they played soothing music over the speakers and there was a high def slide show of nature scenes on the flat screen mounted on the opposite wall.
As I settled in to wait I looked around the room and smiled at the others in the chairs around me. There was an older gentleman in a wheelchair with his head slumped forward who I hoped was just sleeping…and being very still about it. Across the room there was a woman probably five years my senior tapping her foot and reading a magazine. She seemed tense and impatient. To my right there was a couple perhaps in their fifties quietly talking amongst each other and holding hands and to my left there were two women talking as well but a little louder.
Now for some reason in college my sorority and many of the young ladies that I lived with in the dorms were from Texas. And after getting to know them all for three years I will agree that the Lone Star State grows a special breed of the XX chromosome combination.
Texas women do it BIG.
Perfectly manicured nails, three inch heels, flawless makeup, bright white teeth, outfits that hug every dangerous curve, hair with so much body that even an architect couldn’t figure out how to construct it with just a blow-dryer and a round brush, and lastly the accent. I’m from Kentucky. Our accent is not one that instills confidence in an employer of your sophistication or intelligence so I have always worked very hard to remain “regionally neutral” in the rhythm of my conversation. The Texas accent however is slow, drawn out, and distinctly southern. It makes me think of ranches, front porches, and lemonade.
And Texas women own it.
These beautiful creatures of the south are unmistakable. Which is why I knew the two ladies to my left were both from there. My guess was Dallas and as they discussed the recent game they had watched together at Cowboy Stadium I knew I was right. I chimed in mentioning that I if I ever had the chance to see a game there I would. “Oh honey you have GOT to. It’s not just a game it’s a show!” said the blonde of the pair (who was dressed for the MRI).
“Oh definitely. You’ll never see anything like it” said the brunette. The two went on to tell me about their friend who was a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader and we bonded over our love of the reality show which chronicles the iconic dancers’ tryout process called “Making the Team” (I have many vices people, and mindless reality TV is definitely one).
We were chatting about how the Cowboys Cheerleader uniforms were so much classier than the BenGALS uniforms when a mother-daughter duo came in. The daughter was in traditional MRI garb and the mother was pushing her in a wheelchair. The daughter was slumped to one side, with a deadpan expression, and she looked exhausted. There were stains on her face and her cheeks were flushed from where she had just finished crying. They parked the wheelchair and her mother began slowly and meticulously helping her from the chair to the sofa to wait. She was silent until her mom accidentally banged her elbow on an armrest and she screamed. It startled the man sleeping from his nap (thank goodness. He’s alive!), the couple looked over concerned, the impatient woman only looked annoyed, and my Texans both offered up exclamations of “Goodness!” and “Oh Lord in heaven!”
Concerned, I studied the girl closer.
Her mother apologized profusely and slowly lowered her on to the couch which only seemed to make this poor young girl more uncomfortable. Her eyes began to well with tears and you could tell she was holding back sobs. She started to whimper as her mom began walking away. She stopped and told her daughter “its ok, I’m going to find the doctor to see if we can get something to help you feel better. Hang in there baby.” As she turned to go I saw her face. It was a mirror of my own mother’s. Filled with strength but unbelievably tired. It was the face of someone who was carrying the burden of her child’s pain and her own burden of worry. As she left the room I turned to face the young girl. She was biting her lip to stifle her sobs and flexing her arms and legs slowly stretching them and arching her back and then coming back to a relaxed position. The man sitting in his wheelchair was looking annoyed that she was keeping him from passing back out, the couple were once again talking to each other, politely ignoring the girl so that she could battle her discomfort on the couch in peace, my Texans were decidedly silent looking at her intently, and the woman tapping her foot sighed in exasperation and muttered under her breath “I’m sure she’ll get to go back before I do.”
And me? My heart broke into a thousand pieces as I watched her. We have all used the figurative term “writhing in pain” but I will guess that few of us have ever actually witnessed it. It made me feel panicked. Her mother had been walking quickly but why hadn’t she been sprinting to find a doctor? We need some Versed in here STAT! and also bring ice cream, unicorns, and puppies! This girl needs a trip to Disneyland!
I looked down at my empty hands. I had nothing to help this poor girl. I had been literally stripped of all my possessions when I walked through the door. (not that I would have had some magic draught in my purse but sitting there with just a hospital gown on made me feel even more helpless)
All I had was a microwave blanket my nurse had given me earlier because she had felt how cold my hands were when giving me my IV. I rolled it up and crouched down on the floor near the couch and offered it to her as a pillow to support her head as she was now lying on the couch instead of sitting up. It was a futile attempt but it was all I had.
My move with the blanket seemed to galvanize my Texans into action. The Brunette patted her Blonde friend’s hand as if to ask “are you ok?” and the Blonde nodded ever so slightly and her raven haired friend walked across the room and joined me on the floor by the couch. In that slow soothing southern drawl she calmly talked to the young girl, “Hi honey my name’s Amber and that’s my friend Alex” motioning to the Blonde. “What’s your name?”
“Well Claire, you seem like you’re hurtin pretty bad baby, would you mind if I helped you?” The girl gave her a timid yes and she began to talk again in a low soothing tone, “I’m going to guess that you have fibromyalgia and you know what? So does my husband. He got hurt and lost his legs in Afghanistan and had to have a big surgery and now he’s in pain all the time too. But the good news is when it gets really bad there are things we can do to trick our bodies into feeling just fine.” I looked over at this young woman, shocked and embarrassed for having misjudged her. I would never have guessed that under all that hair and makeup she was a fighter just like everyone in here wearing a hospital gown.
“Claire let’s think about a part of your body that doesn’t hurt ok? Maybe it’s the palm of your hand, or your ears, wherever it is just think about it.”
“ok, my palms don’t hurt”
“ok, good girl, here we go. Think about your hands getting warm. Lots of warm energy flowing into your hands. Focus on only your hands and the sound of my voice. How are your hands? Are your hands getting warmer?” She kept speaking in a steady rhythm using visual imagery of warming your hands by a fire, holding a warm cup of hot chocolate and every few words she always said the word hands in a long slow drawn out way. If she had been singing a song it would have been the same note at the end of each measure. As that gorgeous woman continued to “sing” to this young girl she began to relax. Her breathing slowed down to a steady rhythm and she was able to hold still. By the time her mother and a doctor arrived she was almost completely calm. She was even able to move herself back into her wheelchair to go back for her MRI with minimal difficulty.
As we returned to our seats back on the other side of the room I complemented this beautiful siren on her composure in the face of crisis. She looked at me with a calm confidence that was almost unnerving “Oh honey it was nothing. We’ve all been through something. It just makes you tougher and gives you the skills you need to help other people when it’s their turn. If you don’t have what you need it’s a safe bet that life has put somebody near you who does” She gestured to the couch where minutes before a young girl had sat writhing in extreme pain only to leave sitting up straight in her chair and with a new found confidence in conquering her pain. “Case and point”
Huh. I had not thought about it that way. As I laid down a few minutes later and prepared to slide back into the tube I thought about what I was going through, how difficult it had been, and how difficult it could potentially get. But for the first time I didn’t do this to feel sorry for myself.
I thought about the fact that it was turning me into the strongest woman I had ever been.
And that one day I would get the opportunity to use that strength to help someone else when they needed me most.
“This pain that you hold is yours, there is not a single pain quite like it. Nobody else on God’s green earth can feel it, or have the indescribable feeling of pride you will have when you overcome it. This pain is not your curse; This pain is your privilege.”