Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Musings in an MRI

My friend Kara, who has had more than her share of time in the bellows of an MRI scanner, now warily refers to any type of this machine as a "snort."  Borrowed from the tender children's book "Are You My Mother?" the nickname appropriately describes the noisy and unfriendly grunting that greets you as you come face to face with this gift of modern medicine.

Earlier this week, as I lay for what seemed an eternity in the confinement of one of these monstrosities, I wondered what kind of responses one might get should they interview a few guests wrapping up their visit with one of these magnetic monsters.  It occurred to me that many unsuspecting victims may in fact have no concept of what they have just agreed to crawl into, and with the experience fresh on my mind, what better time to do a public service in making sure my fellow MRI mates know exactly how to prepare for their own deafening journey through what I have affectionately nicknamed "Monstro."

Yep, that's exactly it, the gargantuan whale from the terrifying old Disney movie Pinocchio; Monstro.  Most fitting name I could come up with, seeing how this thing is gigantic, yet when you're inside it you feel less like you are stretching out in the roominess, and more like you are being squeezed through the intestinal track of something intent on digesting you.

The first hint of concern that popped into my head occurred as the man who would be operating the machine walked me back to where it would take place, and his first sentence was, "this is gonna be a long haul."  As he proceeded to explain how the extent of my MRI exams was going to take hours as they scanned, gave injections, and then re-scanned, and how if I so much as had a sniffle or a deep breath it would throw the whole thing off and they would have to start over, I almost felt as though he was trying to talk me out of it; send me screeching back out the long, slick hallway, aborting the mission in my terror, and thus sparing him whatever agony he was about to endure sitting behind that tinted window.  Well, since I didn't have the luxury of opting out of the information my doctors needed from this scan, I assured him I could keep still long enough to avoid prolonging the process for either of us.  Seemingly satisfied with my response, he ducked back behind the mysterious tint of glass to make sure this process was ready to move along.

Another young man directed me to lay flat on this bobsled of sorts, thus baring my legs to the temperatures of the room, which somehow felt colder than the blizzard gusts of snow I had gotten caught in on my way in from the parking lot.  Mind you, I was already wearing two pairs of loud and ridiculously mismatched socks because I hadn't been able to get my feet warm all day, but now with my bare legs stretched beneath the short hem of a hospital gown that offered no further warmth, I hoped they would have a seatbelt to keep me me from shivering myself right off the table.  As I scrunched myself up to where he wanted me, I was laying still for him to place some sort of space capsule over and around my head, clipping it down so my head wouldn't move, and he began expressing again that I wasn't to cough, sniff, open my eyes, clear my throat, wiggle, or anything else that might shift their view a fraction of anything.  I had assumed the shivers wracking my body were apparent by now, but sensing the seriousness in his lecture, I finally piped up that I was unsure I could control the goose-bumped convulsions of my body for any amount of time while in the spare cold storage room they had decided to set up shop.  He responded that he would get me a blanket, although most people get hot, so if I wanted the blanket off I could just wait until they talked to me on the little microphone to let them know, and they would come in and remove it.  Right.  I'll be lucky if I thaw to a normal body temperature by the time this thing is over.

Next question was had I taken any sedation.  No.  Should I have?  Should this have been offered to me?  What have I done...

Tucked in with the blanket I wouldn't need, he asked what kind of music I liked to listen to, before snapping an air-traffic-controller-sized pair of headphones on me that swallowed both of my ears and half of my eyes.  I love all music, never have settled into just one genre, so my reply: "anything but rap."  He suddenly lit up when he realized we apparently have the same taste in music, punched a few more buttons, tucked a "squeeze in case of emergency ball" in my hand, and bounced out of the room with a final "Hold still!"

With a swish of air I was dragged deep into the center cavern of this contraption, and that is when I realized my mistake in being so vague about the music.  He had selected for me some random assortment of teeny bopper slash oldies, blasting at such a decibel there was no way to ignore it, let alone entertain the idea of dozing off.  If I hadn't jumped at the deafening blast of the music, I most certainly did at the first thundering roar of the machine as it fired up to do its thing.  Oh please don't yell at me for moving!!

As the music screamed and the machine shook and buzzed, I tried to distract myself.  First I wondered how claustrophobic people must feel in here.  My 5' 2", 105 pound frame had about a stretched out hand's width of space between me and the ceiling, and I don't think I would have had room to roll from stomach to back if I had tried.  How on earth would a person of a bigger chest diameter even breathe in this thing, I wondered. Then a deep breath, but not a big deep breath, because that would bring someone flying out of that room to tell me we had to start all over because I messed it up!  No, little deep breath, and then aaaaaagh, pot.  Where is that coming from?!  Are they pumping that in through the small air circulation vent?  Little breath.  Eew, it's a skunky smelling marijuana, no doubt the lingering scent of whatever poor soul got crammed in here before me having tried their best to relax them self before their scan.  If I could take a deep breath maybe it would relax me too.

Something else that deserves to be passed on to future MRI passengers, is the wisdom in choosing your pre-scan meals.  You know how a syringe full of liquid is repeatedly flicked to bring the bubbles to the surface to be expelled?  Yeah, imagine your body, containing whatever you last indulged in, lying straight and still, being thumped and shaken by the clunking of whatever this machine is doing beneath you.  I suspect those bubbles you feel blipping together in your insides are gathering to find their way to the nearest exist, and depending whether you chose a ham sandwich or last night's left over chili for lunch, I imagine you could find yourself wishing that stale marijuana smell was the only thing you were stuck inhaling inside your cramped cell.  Not that I speak from experience, but I had enough time to think it through during this day-long escapade.


My feet dangling somewhere I presumed to be outside of the tube, I was pleased to discover my body was beginning to feel warm, despite my feet feeling like large bricks of ice attached to my legs.  Wait, never-mind, this is not comfortably warm, I am suddenly sweltering... which is making me feel panicked, which is making me breathe faster, which  is about to boil down to one big wiggle as I tear this thing off my head and bust out of here.  The microphone! He said tell them I'm too hot when they come on the microphone.  When are they going to come on the microphone?  I haven't heard them say anything since telling me I was almost nearly halfway through.  (What kind of an update is that anyway?!  Give me something concrete!)  I feel like a Thanksgiving turkey, roasting from the inside out.  All the energy being directed into my body has efficiently warmed me up from a chilly winter morning to needing to take shelter from a midday sun in Phoenix.  Should I squeeze the emergency bulb?  It's not really an emergency... what if I do that and it resets everything and we have to start back at the beginning?  I better not.   Anyway, I'm pretty sure my hands have become one big melted blob with the ball between them, and I can't feel where to squeeze anyway.  Oh hallelujah, the thing just stopped and I am on my way out for my halfway point injection.  "Yes ma'am, I am doing ok, could you just peel this blanket off of me please, and be careful not to rip the smoldering skin that is adhered to it."

The dye injection may make me nauseous, I'm warned.  Good. Ok.  What am I supposed to do with that information?  Give myself time to sit up and puke to the side instead of straight up and back into my face?  Wait, no, my head is bolted down, that's not going to happen.  The emergency bulb!  Yes!  Puking in my own face would be an emergency, and THEN I can squeeze the bulb and help will come running.  Ok, here we go.  Keep holding still, being whished back inside the tunnel to finish this thing up.  My hands were resting on my stomach, clasping the bulb which would be my white flag should I need it... until I felt the bulb sharply yanked from my grasp as my bobsled swooshed back into the tunnel and the lifeline cord was caught in the track of the moving sled.  No one noticed, and there I was, like the filling inside a twinkie, laying still, quiet, counting moments until I was busted out of my confinement.  Until the next go-around that is, when I will come fully prepared with an empty stomach, a sedated mind, and a VERY. SPECIFIC.  PLAYLIST.  

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Friday, January 23, 2015

A Hero In My Story

Many people have heroes for one reason or another.  Some because of big, history-changing moments, and some for the quiet admiration built by ages of adoration, day in and day out.  Hands down, Spiderman is my pick among the superheros.  Despite my breath-stealing disdain for 8-legged creatures, I really am enamored by the polished confidence with which Spiderman executes his astonishing stunts so effortlessly in the face of danger.  Also, Tobey Maguire, but that's neither here nor there.  I'm certain each of us, asked the question, would have some entity that we have chosen to represent our own "hero" of sorts, someone who clutches the core of our admiration, or stirs emotions of inspiration within us.


I do, in reality, have an understanding of the "Hollywood magic" that has created this red and blue Spidey of mine, and as an adult woman have come to terms with knowing no such champion exists.  Don't  worry, you need not fear being the one to shatter my illusion.  I want to share with the world though, my real life hero; the man whose life and bravery influenced my soul in a way I hope will never be the same.

This chubby-cheeked little blondie is the one who gave me the title of big sister.  Our childhood years a harmony of stirring up adventure and trouble, building crude forts to house the rescued "wounded," or pretending the victim ourselves as "orphans" skittering about the gravel forest roads, making a living scrubbing shoes.  Our parents' divorce slashed a deep canyon in the landscape of our siblinghood; time and space laying pause to our knowing of each other as the soft freckles of his youth faded into manhood.  As we both emerged into the newness of adulthood however, our horizons once again blended seamless with the freedom to be as much a part of each others' lives as we desired.

If Benjamin ever had a passion besides being a firefighter when he grew up, it must have been short-lived, because I never knew of it.  Having recently started at my first fire department as an EMT, I was thrilled when he began the process of getting his own certifications.  Having taken a different route in life than most had expected for me, I often felt isolated from friends and family, and I was eagerly anticipating having someone who "got me."  We are a different people, those in EMS, and there are just some things you can't say to someone who hasn't been there.  Ben, he was gonna be my person.

That boy, he went full speed ahead.  He grabbed applications from every department he could get his hands on, ready to sign his life away to be given the chance.  He got his EMT license, which didn't come easily for him. He did not pass the test the first time... or the second, but he never wavered; he kept at it, studied and practiced in every spare moment, hardly letting me help him.  "I just have to do this for myself," he told me.  License in hand, he showed up bright eyed, heart pounding, certain he was just what they needed.  The thing about this eager, spirited young future firefighter, was that since his toddling years, he had suffered from seizures.  Big, dangerous, fall down, forget-who-you-are, unable to move one side of your body for awhile seizures that had been poorly understood and not excellently controlled. Once that little red flag word crept across the pages of his applications, he met walls hard in his face.  He was too big a risk.

Ben would not be so easily suppressed; he believed there would be someone else that would take a chance on him.  Time after time though, the answer was "no."

His next logical step was to make himself more valuable.  He enrolled himself in classes to get his Firefighter Certifications; usually provided through training once hired on a department, he was going to have the certs under his belt before he even approached the next department; surely no one would turn him away.  Scraping the cash from his job at a local kitchen to pay for the classes and the books, he soon had a crisp new card boasting his name, validating his ability to do what he longed for most.   He beamed brighter than ever, certain the firefighting career he craved was within his grasp, and I cried in my pillow.

I remember my conversation with a family member, admitting my frustration and heartbreak over the whole thing.  On one hand I felt guilty for encouraging him, wondering if I was just contributing to a larger and larger facade of false hope, and on the other hand I wanted nothing to do with being one of the people who said anything to him that would crush his dream.

As Ben continued to search for his landing place in the fire community, he was hired on with his county EMS agency.  It wasn't his first pick, but he knew the experience would be useful, and he already had a thirst for that blitz of adrenaline that would rush through his veins each time a call dropped.  My heart simply melted when he would call or text me to excitedly relay the details of a breathtaking call he had been on.  I inwardly giggled at his adorable "green-ness," felt honored when he asked what I would have done, and promised I would be there day or night as he wrestled through some of the ugly firsts of the things your eyes and mind will never un-see.

When I had recently moved up from EMT to Paramedic and was settled in with the wonderful crew of firemen I worked alongside, Ben asked if he might be allowed to run as a third-rider with me if he came to visit.  My Captain was a dear and seasoned man with a big heart and an enjoyable sense of humor, and he swung wide the doors for Ben to come spend the weekend at the station with us, being "one of the guys."  Those 3 days were a gift I will never forget.  I was so proud to have a little brother made of what he was made of, giving life everything he had, and simply loving and soaking in everything about being a fire fighter, with the bright eyes of a man who may never get to live his dream. My "boys" were wonderful to him, showing him anything he asked, answering questions, telling stories.  My partner at the time a young man fresh out of college himself, shy and earnest; didn't know the brake from the accelerator, and he and Ben got along famously.  It was a weekend of much laughter, few calls, and insurmountable memories.

The week that my little brother hero abruptly left this earth, he fought his first fire.  He still didn't have a fire crew to call his own, he didn't have his name sewn on a set of turnout gear, or have boots perched ready in smoke-tarnished pants, but he put the wet stuff on the red stuff, and I know he died a happy man.  Where he lived out in rural Kansas, he was driving home one day when he noticed smoke billowing from a house he was passing.  Jerking the car from his route and toward the smoldering home, he made the call for help before dashing to bang on doors and windows to make sure everyone was out.  Once all the souls were safely outside in clean, fresh air, and fire trucks were still long stretches of Kansas roads away, Ben, this little brother EMT Fire Fighter hero man of mine, hooked up the garden hose, and he aimed that meager little spatter of water at those flames, and that boy held that fire back until the big water came to snuff it out.

I find it hysterical we actually have a pic of him posing like this.  Oh Ben!
Hearing the story retold, the images my mind painted made me laugh so big, and I'm sure we would still be teasing him, but really, I am pretty thankful he had that chance, just days before his home-going.   That was Ben, proving that however the odds were stacked, he wasn't ever going to give up, he was going to find a way to do what he loved.  And that, that why he is my hero.

Taught my boy how to give his boots a good spit-shine. He was so proud!

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Thursday, January 8, 2015

Braving New

This post was meant for New Year's Eve, but I've been struggling with a really bad attitude... torn between wanting to embrace the promise that a brand new year brings, but wearied, so wearied by the inconveniences I hold grudge against from this past year.  I have come again and again to write and just struggled to bring the joys and the pains all together to say anything of worth.  The drop of that crystal ball just doesn't bring the clean slate that it used to, does it?

How do I trust a new year when the last one began with such promise, and yet ended up breaking my life in two?

Sitting among shards of deepest hopes, and wondering if I pick up the pieces how long I will get to hold them before they are scattered from my grasp again.

The distant memories of a life I longed for pull me backwards, but life, life before me pleads me to follow, to believe, to move forward.

Dare I follow?

Yes, a year filled with sorrow,  but without that I wouldn't be reminded of what real joy feels like, and that I can't know one emotion without the other. The months that were full of heartaches and disappointments were indeed tempered by peace and joy, thankfulness and laughter.  Seeing the bottom reminds you to appreciate the top.   I can love in an even deeper way because I have lost, and I can have compassion among the compassionless because of my deep scars that ache with the wounds of others.

So a new year? Yes, I will open my heart to it, because I know that in the pain of losing, there will be people who make life full and beautiful and brighter and sweeter and richer.

I have my loves who are the treasures of my heart. Our conversations end with an unashamed "I love you." They slow down beautiful everyday moments, and remind me to stop and watch sunsets, listen to birds chirping, appreciate the death of winter because it simply means new life is coming soon.  I know to cry without shame, to love with abandon, to speak up, to listen, to hear, to give my biggest effort to embrace the ordinary, and see the grace in the everyday around me. Even. When. It. Hurts.

My scorched spirit knows not to expect a year without pain, but my soul foundation whispers confidence that whatever the waters, I will not drown.

Arm in arm, prayer by prayer, let's take this year on.

Reflections of 2014...

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