Saturday, March 26, 2016

Life in the tube

Some of my very early childhood memories deal with going to doctors ... doctors, waiting rooms, blood tests, pee tests, x-rays, ekgs, poking, prodding, stethoscopes and many other things that seemed to be designed to test my patience, my ability to follow directions and my ability to stay still.

I was born with a heart murmur.  Because of this I made regular trips to UCLA for multiple tests every year.  I can tell stories of each individual visit ... stopping at Burger King on the way home and being allowed to have a double cheeseburger and being allowed to walk to the counter by myself to ask for a crown ... finding the twisty balloon in the box of uninflated balloons as a reward from the doctor, then being allowed to take 2 balloons because I was having trouble choosing ... Yes, I do remember details of the trips, but it is easier to categorize certain issues.

Nurse - "Take your shirt off. Stand still.  put your left arm in the air.  Lean against the plate ..."

I'm actually too short for the machine so I am standing on a small step or platform of some sort.  I know it is flat, but this adds to an already disconcerting feeling of vulnerability.

I'm thinking - This isn't comfortable.  This thing is cold.  I don't like this ...

Nurse - "Put your right arm over your head.  Stand still.  Look at that wall.  Don't move."

Thinking - This is hurting.  Which wall?  Why are the lights off?  My arm itches ...

Nurse - "You're set.  Don't move.  This won't take long."  She walks out of the room.

I feel very alone at this time ... isolated, trapped and uncomfortable.  I want this to be over.  I am staying still.  I feel time pulsing by very slowly.

Thinking - Am I done?  Can I move?  Where are you.

Nurse - "That's it.  You need to wait so I can see how this turned out."  She walks me to the door to the waiting room.

I sat by my mom.  My dad sat on the other side of my mom.  They seem to know we are supposed to wait because they didn't even flinch when I walked out.  "See.  That wasn't that bad."  My mom was always the one to comfort me, but for some reason the words were not comforting.

I wanted to tell her that it was bad ... that I was uncomfortable, scared and confused ... that I stood still for what seemed like forever while my arms hurt, but I didn't.  I have always wondered why there seems to be this "medical etiquette" that states that regardless of how you feel or how things went you are supposed to say, "It was a piece of cake ... not that bad at all ... nothing to complain about."

It wasn't easy.  I didn't feel alright.

The door opens and the nurse sticks her head out and stares at me.  "You moved!"  She gestures me to return to the room with her.

My heart sank.

It doesn't really matter what the procedure was the concept was the same.  Stay still for the ekg.  It doesn't matter that the table is uncomfortable ... that the paper on the table makes a crinkling sound that is very distracting ... that the suction cups and straps are cold and uncomfortable.  When the suction cup they attached on the left side of my chest made a little fart sound any chance of me staying still was gone.

After I calmed down a bit they started the machine.  "Stay still."

I giggle.

"You can't move."  The lady is trying to sound nice, but I can hear irritation in her voice.

I focus on staying still.

"Don't move."

What did I move?  I can't stay any more still than this.

The droning hum of the machine makes my ears hurt.  I am uncomfortable and am getting a headache.  I just want to go home.

Maybe all these early visits to the doctor explains why I avoided doctors for so much of my adult life.  Maybe avoiding the doctor for so much of my adult life is why I feel like I am falling apart now.

On Wednesday I had my MRI.  I know it was necessary, but I did not want to do it.  I did not want to for many reasons, not the least of which is that I am claustrophobic.

I made sure I took xanax before the test ... I took more than I usually would because I knew the nerves and the thoughts would be running rampant.  While I waited I concentrated on grounding myself and controlling my breathing as my therapist has told me.

I'm called to the back ... my pulse jumps.  I am asked to sit outside the MRI room while they take my blood pressure and pulse ... 156 / 92, pulse 76.

Not bad, I think.  Ground yourself, Tiffie.  Breathe ... slow down ... breathe.

"Ma'am"  The tech walks away from his desk and to the door.  "Are you ready?"

I nod.

Hell no.  I am so not ready.  I do not want to go in there ... go into the tube.  I'm scared.

One last deep breath and I walk into the room.

"You need to lie down with your head here."  He gestures to a small pillow, or head brace, or whatever at the end of the table.

I take another breath and lie down.

"Are you comfortable?"  He makes a couple of adjustments to some equipment above my head.  "I'll put a pillow under your knees in a moment."

I take another deep breath and nod.

Do you seriously think I am comfortable?  Don't ask stupid shit like that.  Just get this over with.

He slides a pillow under my knees.  "I need to put earplugs in ..."

"No."  I try to sound calm but likely it blurted out like a demand.  "I don't like earplugs."

"I have to."  He looked a little bewildered at my statement.  "The machine is loud.  It's really loud.  It can cause permanent or maybe temporary hearing issues."  He puts the plugs in my ears.

I try to suppress the uneasy shudder in my body.  The pressure from the foam plugs causes some discomfort.

"I'm going to secure this in place."  He pulls a cage over my head ... over my face and locks it in place.

No ... don't.  I feel my pulse jump at least 40 beats per minute.  Breathe Tiffie.  You're fine, just breathe.

He wedged towels between the cage and my ears.  "This will help reduce the noise and remind you not to move."

Move?  How could I move?  Where could I move?  Do you actually listen to what you say to people?

The table slides into the tube.

I'm too fat.  Shit ... I'm not going to fit.  It's too tight.  I try to keep my breathing under control.  Too small.  Too tight.

The table stops.  "Are you doing alright?"  He places a device in my right hand and adjusts my hands to the side of my body to help me fit better.  "This is a call button just in case you need ... ... anything."

I think I nod.  I can't be sure as my head is locked in place ... and besides, he cannot see my head any more.

This isn't too bad.  I can deal with this for a little.

I close my eyes.

The table slides in further.  The sides of the tube press my elbows into my body.

I knew it.  I'm too fat.  He's going to pull me out and cancel the test.  This is so damn embarrassing.

The table stops.  "Is this too tight?"  I don't know if he is talking louder or if the tube is just causing his voice to resonate.

Oh geeze ... this is so uncomfortable.  How long do I have to stay like this?

"No."  I try not to gasp.

"Will you be alright this way?"  He is trying to sound sympathetic and sincere, but he is starting to annoy me.

No.  I an NOT alright.  I am stuck in a tube with my elbows wedged into my floating ribs and my head locked in place.  Even with my eyes closed I can sense the closeness of the tube.  Every fiber of my being is screaming in anxiety.  Why would you even think I am alright?

"I'm fine."  I try to take a deep breath but feel like I have a weight on my body.  "Just get this over with."

I hear the machine start to make clicking noises.

I open my eyes.

There is a tiny mirror attached to the head cage.  In theory it is supposed to allow me to see the outside world while in the machine.  Because I am fat I mostly look at my stomach .  I do see outside the tube, but it is not what draws my attention.

The noise begins to escalate.

A feeling of isolation creeps through me.  I am stuck with the worst person possible ... myself.

I close my eyes and focus on my breathing.  The pulsing sounds create a lightshow to my mind.  A dazzling display of colorful laser like images flicker and dance across my field of vision ... but they fade ... and now they are gone ...

The noises from the darkness now bring silhouettes in my peripheral vision ... vague faces that peer out from the emptiness only to fade or morph into creature that scamper through haunted forests in the darkest of nightmares.

I open my eyes.

Breathe, Tiffie.  Just breathe.

I watch the rise and fall of my stomach in the mirror.  My breathing gradually slows.

I keep my eyes open.  I try and find a focal point, but nothing is truly in focus ... the cage falls between my eyes or the edge of my peripheral vision ... the tube is plain white.

I don't like this.  I want out ... stop ... stop it, Tiffie ... breathe.

The noise stops.

My breaths echo in my solitude.

I close my eyes again.  The machine begins to tick and a new set of sounds emanates from everywhere around me.  The lights start again and once again fade into macabre the world of a horror movie.

I realize my breathing is uneven.

Slow down Tiffie ... just breathe.

The sequences of noises, visions and silence repeat.

I cannot keep track of time ... I don't know how many times the noises start or stop.  When my eyes were open I could see how literally I was trapped in my reality.  If my eyes were closed I was trapped in the depth of my imagination.

At one point I realized my eyes were wide open and scanning side to side in a frantic motion.

What are you looking for? ... Breathe Tiffie.

My eyes zip side to side, then to the mirror and back around the tube again.

Breathe ... breathe ... slow down.

I force a few slow breaths.

That's it ... that's good.  How long have I been doing this?  Does it matter?  Does the tech see what I'm doing? ... Breathe ... breathe.  Don't think about it.  Just breathe.

I close my eyes again.

The noises stop.

I hear the tech over the PA system.  "There's just one more.  This one is really loud."

I give the thumbs up with my left hand.

Has he been talking to me during every break?  Have I been answering?  Why isn't it over yet?  It's been too longs  It wasn't supposed to take this long.  Something must have happened.

The machine clicks.  The usual pulses of sound quickly turned to pounding, and the pounding became shaking.

Breathe ... almost done ... ... almost.  Just keep breathing.

I feel the table sliding out of the tube.

Did the noise stop?  Is it over?

The tech stands over me.  "I'm going to undo this."  He released the cage over my head and removed the towels.  "Do you need help?"

Am I done?  What now?

I stared at the tech.  I heard him, but he wasn't making sense.

He extended a hand toward me.  "Do you need help? ... ... Sitting up?"

Yes ... yes.

I realize I am still in my own little world.  "Yes ... please."  My voice sounds different ,,, hesitant and shaky.  I extend my hand upward.  "Thank you."

I sit on the table with my legs hanging over the side.  I fumble to remove my earplugs.

Is it really done? ... Can I go now?

It seems like it has been hours since I walked to the back of the building.  My eyes cannot focus on a clock ... or if there is a clock.  I get dressed and head to the waiting room.  I think I finally take a normal breath when I see Pam sitting where she was so long ago.

She smiled.

When we got into the car she said, "Not bad.  We're out of here at 5:15 ..."

That can't be right ... I was back there longer than that.

I focus on the clock in her car.  It was indeed not too long after 5:00.

People who knew of my test asked if it went well.  I think of that stupid etiquette where I am supposed to say, "It was fine ... piece of cake."

Of course this is the same basic rule that says a person suffering from depression is

supposed to say, "I'm fine" if they are asked how they feel ... or people with chronic pain are
supposed to say, "I'm doing alright" when asked about the pain.

I do not like this rule.  Life is not always fine ... things do not always go well ... phobias and anxiety are real and have actual adverse effects on people.  It is not a weakness or a lack of faith that makes people fear certain things.

How was the test?  I did not like it.  It seemed to
take several eternities.  I felt isolated and trapped.  Every impulse in my brain wanted to escape ... to stop the test and get out of that place.  Staying in the tube and enduring what I saw, or what I thought I saw drained me of every ounce of mental, physical and emotional energy I had.

Would I do it again?  I suppose ... if I had to.  Would I like it?  No.

I see the doctor next week for my results.  The waiting is now my nemesis.