Thoughts I think While Getting a Brain MRI – Cassie Brighter

Just something wrong with my brain, folks. Nothing to see here.

Photo by Ken Treloar

Last summer I had a seizure. Out of the blue. Not even during a stressful moment. I was at a retreat, talking with friends. Suddenly I noticed aphasia — I couldn’t finish my sentence. I knew what I wanted to say, I’d forgotten how to use language.

I thought I’d saying, “hang on, something weird is happening.” But of course, I couldn’t say that, either.

I woke up inside the ambulance. “you had a seizure,” said the EMT, accusingly. “No, I just fainted,” I protested. We argued. I blinked. I woke up in the hospital.

I had a brain MRI in late September. On October 4th, the neurologist — an old cantankerous Russian man — called me on the phone. Like he was ordering pizza, he proceeded to tell me about my abnormal brain topography, about my new diagnosis of brain atrophy, about my distended ventricles.

When I began questioning him about my future quality of life — what cognitive functions could go when, how it might impact my life, he got annoyed. “Look, I’ve already spent 30 minutes on the phone with you,” he said. Soon I requested a new neurologist. A woman, please.

My new doctor confirmed the diagnosis. She also notified DMV, and they put a medical hold on my license. This severely disrupted my life, and was the main driver in my decision to leave Los Angeles.

I was told to get a followup MRI in six months. If the topography did not change, that’d mean good news. Today I went in for my second MRI.

As usual when I’m anxious, I made myself late. In my way there, I called and asked them not to cancel my appointment. I showed up 16 minutes late. And then there’s an elevator, a long corridor, a left, a right, a left, another elevator, a series of lefts and rights and another hallway. A legit maze. Luckily, the gal being the desk was a sweetheart about it.

I thought it was weirdly funny that the radiologist avoided tying the strings on the back of my hospital gown (“the nurse with do that.” — but no nurse showed) but he was comfortable lifting both my legs above the knee to put a pillow underneath them. He gives me ear plugs, tells me to put them on, then starts giving me a series of instructions. I got ear plugs on, dude. You GAVE them to me.

Just like the lady at the front desk, he seems to expect me to be freaked out about the procedure. I am not. (I’m freaked out about my brain, that’s all.) He gives me a squeeze thing — a little rubber balloon with a cable, too squeeze if I want out. My ridiculous sense of humor tempts me to press it every time the bed goes in. I don’t.

I’m inside the coffin-like enclosure now. His muffled voice (he gave me earplugs) days there will be 8 images. The first two take about 30 seconds, the others about two minutes each. “Bring it on,” I think to myself.

The noises. Two very loud whirs. A loud beep. (I’m going to stop saying “loud,” they’re all loud.) A pause. Twenty NYAH NYAH NYAH sounds. Ten clicks. A pause.

Ok, seven more,” I hear him say.

The noises are strangely inconsistent. The bed moves an inch or so, then, NYAH NYAH NYAH again, twenty or thirty times. Some clicks. Some bops. Some more loud NYAH, this time joined mid-sentence by some bass WOOM, WOOM. Twenty of these. Such strange noises. Why would this machine need to make all these strange, inconsistent, diverse noises? It’s just an imaging machine. Did they add these noises as a prank?

A pause. “Ok, the next one are two minutes each.

I imagine myself in a Sci-Fi movie, going through a docking procedure on a spaceship. It about to enter cryogenic hibernation. I think of Ripley, after killing the Alien.

My thoughts drift. I think if giving my son a watch for his eighteenth birthday — a $500-dollar Movado. He liked it, I think. He liked the gesture. “One question,” he says with a smirk; “how does one tell time on this thing?” The watch has no notches. I think belatedly that his generation hardly deals analog watches. Evan wears an analog Timex — my brother’s watch, an inherited relic. But that one has notches on its face.

Whatever. He’ll have to figure it out. Like he’ll have to figure out how to iron clothes, how to rent an apartment, how to get his STI status tested, how to navigate the world. I did what I could. He’s eighteen now. And he’s back in L.A. And he never calls.

Drift, drift, drift. I used to play saxophone. I wonder if I could learn to play the ukulele. Fuck, I can’t sing. Maybe the harmonica.

Drift, drift, drift. To my last conversation with my twelve-year old daughter. Privilege and marginalization. She made a list of all her privileges. I was proud of her.

Drift some more. And the noises continue. BOOM, BOOM, BEEP, BEEP. Again and again.

I wonder how long it would take for people around me to forget me. It takes me a moment to catch up with my mind and realize I’m imagining my death. Everything ends. Nothing tragic about it. Things start and they end.

I wanted to experience good love. One time. I’ve been in love four times in my life. I’ve had five people say they loved me. Each time it was flawed and fragmented, but each time I learned. The most recent time is the one I’m most conflicted about — the most significant of all the loves; the most heartbreaking. Drift. Drift. Everything drifts, everything changes.

I’m getting older. I don’t want to consider it, I don’t want to think about it. But there it is, looming over me. It went so horribly fast! I hardly caught it as it flew by me. Half a fucking century. It doesn’t make any sense. I’m still young, still clueless, still yearning to… just yearning.

The MRI is over. He pushes whatever button makes my bed slide out. He’s a nice man — he even listens to me vent, for a bit. I get dressed. It’ll take a couple of days to get the results, he tells me. And they’ll go to my doctor, not to me. I now get to spend 48 hours in suspense, speculating about my broken brain and how it might betray me.

The kind woman at the front desk gives me directions on how to get back to my car. A right, elevators, a right, a left, a long corridor, a left… I’m lucky I find my way after getting lost only twice.

It’s raining, out. I get into my car and sit there, catching up with my own feelings.

As I drive out, a loud thunder rolls. If this was a movie, it couldn’t have been better timed.

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