you may have heard of the centuries-old japanese art of pottery repair, kintsugi. if a piece of pottery cracks, the craftsmen repairs it with gold, highlighting the fractures and seams. it produces these curiously stunning, imperfectly perfect objects.
today, i cracked. it wasn’t just at the seams though. it was into a million shards.
i’ve been having headaches off and on for the past month. they can’t be explained away. not allergies, sinus infections, changes in barometric pressure, or altitude. they started before i was flying a lot. my stress level hasn’t changed markedly. everything is as it was. i spoke with my oncologist, and ever the cautious one, she said, “let’s scan you. then we’ll know. and wouldn’t you like to know?” yes. yes, i would.
the obligatory 5-day-waiting-period for insurance passed and, with some pleading on my end, the scheduler got me in as soon as she could. i popped some anti-anxiety meds and met mike at the imaging center where i would get the brain MRI. i didn’t think much about it, didn’t want to think much about it, and only told a handful of people.
then, the IV was a little challenging to get it. not unusual, but not pleasant either. it dusted up some painful memories of all my blown veins.
i came into the MRI room after getting a metal detector passed over my body. the tech started going through a checklist of questions, mostly about metal. she got to the final one–“any chance you could be pregnant?” i joked that being in menopause kind of puts a stop to that possibility. she confided in me that she is a 14-year-survivor and being in menopause is the pits, her skin without estrogen is so thin and saggy that she looks older than her mom. i felt a little flushed and frustrated that my need to please superseded taking care of myself.
all suited up, in my hospital pajamas and sticky-bottomed socks, i laid down on my back, where the tech got me tucked in, with pads all around my head and earplugs too. she put the cage over my face and started to crank me into the tube. my eyes flew open and the ceiling was about 3 inches above me. and then, i couldn’t breathe. i. just. couldn’t. breathe.
i squeezed the ball she left in my hand to communicate emergencies, and she came back quickly to crank me out of the machine. uncaged and unstrapped now, convulsing and crying, i could starting heaving big breaths again. confused, my mind asked, what the fuck is happening to me? this was fully unfamiliar territory. i’m an A student. i finish what i start. i have grit. i’ve been through much worse. i know how to busy my mind. i can thrive in small spaces.
she convinced me to get off the table and talk to mike in the waiting room. he gave me his best pep talk. he came up with ideas for how to spend 45 minutes in my mind in a tube, like to envision our house remodel step by step. he said i could do it.
not wanting to let us all down, i went back into the tube. this time, the tech put a washcloth over my eyes. and 15 seconds later, it all started over again. snotting, crying, hyperventilating. i needed out of that tiny tube and that damn head cage. no more. not today. maybe not ever.
while the techs tried to make me feel better (“you’re not the first and you won’t be the last.” “you’d be surprised at how many people, grown men included, that this happens to.” “sure we could get an image in a bigger MRI machine but it’s not as clear and your oncologist wants this one.”) (ok, that last one was a little bit of a guilt trip), i felt worse and worse.
we came home, and i crawled into bed. i talked with my doctor and she wants me to reschedule for another machine that is a few inches bigger and has music options. still has the head cage though. small upgrades, i guess.
maybe tomorrow i will be kintsugi, but today, i am cracked.