Friday, January 20, 2012

Senior Year I Was Donning a Different Gown

It was 1995, I was attending Lewiston High School, in Lewiston Idaho, and was a proud Bengal, the mighty tiger. I painted the senior parking lot, decorated halls for Homecoming, held strong as I perched on the rocky hillside refurbishing the "L," THE senior class project, the "L" that represented our town, our year, us. From the small community of 50,000, you could see the bright-white "L" (actually formed using rocks) and the highway that brought people into the valley and sent them away. For many of my classmates, this town was their North Star and always would be. Yet for others, behind the "L" meant road signs and roadblocks leading to destinations and dreams, much, much bigger than the valley we called home.

It's that feeling of striking out on your own and I always wanted to go to the University of Montana and study journalism. My high school mentor "Mrs. A" told me to never sacrifice my dreams if I wanted something big from life. Even then, as I worked on the school newspaper, I had warning signs life would not be easy. Many Wednesday nights, when the newspaper "went to bed" and we stayed well past the last school bell and well into the night, I had to take Tylenol in excess of the dosage because the nerve pain in my legs was so severe. I said little of my pain and was discreet when taking my pills from my backpack.

On other evenings, my peers filled out application packets to out-of-state schools and
Catholic colleges in Washington and Montana while I spent my nights bent over my desk chair
stretching this way and that hoping, just hoping, the pain in back of my legs -- the nerve pain -- would stop just long enough so I could get some sleep. If I was lucky enough to get a few hours of sleep, I might be startled awake by an electric shock of pain, the nerve sending
me a nasty message. It seemed nerves only spoke (and continue to speak to this day) in harsh tones, dirty, mean.

The body seems so innocent, like the sky, my appendages the clouds, lilly white from little
sun, then lightning comes, the nerves zig-zaging through the sky. Then what do I hear? Thunder. Rain. Anxiety. Tears. More lightning. More tears. Until the storm passes...

The first time I went into one of the machines my teeth hurt afterward from holding my jaws so
tight. I'm not gonna lie, it felt like I was lying in a casket, a weird scientific contraption where physicians can study you after you're dead. After too many nights floundering on the exercise bike at 2 a.m., (my Dad thought the bike routine helped the pain) I didn't care what kind of contraption I had to lay on or in if it led to an answer or two. My parents sent me to a local neurosurgeon, Dr. Hill, but first I needed a MRI:  Ping. Ping-g-g-g-g-g-g.  PING!!!!
P-P-P-P-I-N-N-N-G-G-G!!! PING! PING! PING! P-pppp-iiiiiii-ng!!!! P-ppppppppppp-iiiiiiiiiiiiiIIIIIIIIII-NNNN-GGGG!!! PING. PING. It was loud. Extremely loud. OK, that's an understatement.*

*The noise level of a MRI can reach 120 dB(A) -- equal to a jet engine take off!

THRRIIP. I tried to say a Hail Mary like my Dad told me to but the construction sound of the
MRI made it nearly impossible: "Hail Mary, full of" THOMP! THOMP! "the Lord is with thee; Blessed art..." THOMP.THOMP.THOMP. omp. omp. omp. omp. THOMP!!!THOMP!!!

Even with my little knowledge of construction tools, I was having a better shot at imagining
the machinery of the work crew on a New York City street corner than the prayer of The Blessed Virgin. "Bam.Bam.BamBamBamBamB-b-b-b-bam! BAM BAM,BAM,BAM,BAM, BAM, BAM, BAM, BAM!!!  Thrip! Thrip! Thrip! Thrip! Thrip!   ip ip ip ip ip ip ip ip ip ip ip ip ip ippy-ippy-ippy-ippy
THRIP!!! bam bam

After tons and tons of construction noise or whatever it was (?!?!) inside a plastic tomb, my
first MRI was complete. And to that, I remember erupting, "Amen."

To be honest, MRIs are more a time inconvenience, if anything, now. I have actually gotten used to the coffin-like quarters. Ok, maybe "gotten used to" is a bit strong, but I can handle it when needed. I am not quite like a former co-worker who gloated, "Take a nap in there like I do." Kudos to him, but I don't think I will ever be that chill in the circular tube. I still have an occasional mini-freakout when I open my eyes inside (gasp!) and there's barely a
whisper between me and the top. I like to kid myself, if I really try, and bet that I can stick my tongue out far enough to reach the top. The technicians wouldn't be too keen on that plus I like to stay on their good side. They often poke me with a huge needle (the contrast, they call it) before my scheduled visit is all over. Plus, I would hate to get my tongue caught in that blasted thing for any reason. I don't trust it. Not one ounce.

I have have had some MRIs last less less than an half-hour and my recent record was 2 hours 20 minutes, if I remember right. Somewhere around there. The technician(s) even put music headphones on now but I can barely hear the Mozart or Kenny Chesney over the chainsaw, jack hammer or zup-zup-zup sounds it makes. I try to stay in my head as much as possible and relay
funny stories, light memories from the past, favorite places, favorite books, etc. I don't clench my jaw anymore. I do get a bit anxious after the two-hour mark, though, but who can blame a girl... I've gotta Twitter & Pinterest to check!

I am thankful MRIs have become easier for me over the years and that I am not as claustrophobic as I previously thought. That would make for miserable moments and as often as
I go... I should get a freebie or two by now! Ha ha! Yes, MRIs are never on anyones Bucket List but I've come to tolerate 'em if I come in the right frame of mind. My main issue is the dreaded needle! As many times as I've been poked, I still can't look and there's a chance I may even get dizzy on a nurse. Practicing students, beware. My arm is not a pincushion. Stop after three tries, please! As for the MRI, I have never liked the feeling of the contrast
going through my bloodstream. For a few moments, it makes you feel as though you are the
villain in one of the famous fairytales or action flicks and this is what they finally Do to DO YOU IN! Yeah, it's a trip. Try it sometime. The warmth as it moves through your body:
wrists, face, stomach... Behind the eyeballs is past your garden-grade Halloween trick. Martha Stewart's best couldn't pull off anything that scary or crafty. Or could they? Seriously, feels deadly. The casket, umm, MRI,  moves again, one last time. Coincidence? Hmmm... They call it "Your last round." Will you make it out? Then the creepy sounds start again. DEEP.
EEP. eep. eep. eep. Eep. DEEP. GREEP. GRREEP. EEEEEP!!!! EEEP! Ca-link. Ca-link. Ca-link. CA-LINK! CA-LINK! CALINK!!! Eeeeppp!!!! ... On into the night...

All I can say is Eek! So far, I have made it out safe-and-sound each and every time. According
to one medical blog I visited, around 20% of MRIs are ordered with contrast. ( The contrast, for those of y'all that don't know, is used to better enhance the visibility of what is being scanned. Some people can have mild to severe reactions to the
IV contrast. I've been lucky, though. I just make sure to get up extra slow from the exam table when I exit the MRI room. Never had a problem, except for the creepy feeling.
#behindtheeyeballs No real side-effects. Thank goodness.  

So, it was 1995. Boyz II Men earned their top hit of the year and Seinfeld's "No Soup For You"
is the hit phrase. I graduated from high school, experience one of the longest weekend of my life (and it doesn't involve a guy!) awaiting a hospital call (how fun!) to hear the results
of a biopsy. The boys (boys in general or Boyz II Men) didn't rate real high at that point right then when you got cancer on the brain!

Finally, I got my answer from the hospital: no cancer! Hooray! I had surgery to remove the tumor in my pelvis the summer following high school. So began what is now 20-plus surgeries
and counting. And it also began my own lessons in how Neurofibromatosis has shaped my life.  And I could not count how many MRIs I have had since that very first one with the start of the Hail Mary. Who knows? It's probably better not to know because it's not like I am going for
the Guinness Book or something!  Ha ha!

 I decided to attend college in the same town I went to high school in, in fact the institutions mere blocks from each other. Mom and Dad even bought a house in the area so getting back and forth would be a cinch. And guys did come back into the picture -- but more on that later in posts to come! *wink

It's never an appointment I'm thrilled about, I'll admit, and not somewhere you want to bring a date, especially if they have metal in their shoes (unless you want them stuck on you for real!)! And so not a chic way to spend a Friday evening, though I've done it & I will do it again (most likely -- thanks to crazy schedulers!) & I'll tell you why. I am very thankful for the technology. If I stay on top of it, and do what I am supposed to do, the MRIs, among a host of other things I will be talking about on this blog, are why I'm still here. Here, as in living. It's worth the noise. Bring it on. I just can't forget ear plugs. Plenty of ear plugs.

And I do get to leave my bra at home. Sounds scandalous enough. I like it!  I'll leave it at that.

Just the Facts, Ma'am:

--> In the 1950s, Herman Carr reported on the creation of a one-dimensional MR image.

--> Construction of MRI suites can cost up to $500,000-plus depending on project scope.

 ©The Healing Redhead

1 comment:

  1. I love this blog, Les! You are an incredibly gifted writer and reading your entries reminds me how remarkable you are. Your mental and physical strength astound me. It always amazed me how you never let on how much pain you were in. Love you, friend!

    P.S. Totally LOVED Boyz II Men! Are you surprised? ;)