I wasn't sure until I arrived at the hospital this morning whether I was having a CAT scan or a MRI. I was secretly hoping for the latter: I think hard about poetry whenever I am in particularly upsetting situations, and I specifically planned to recite T.S. Eliot or Keats to myself while being rolled through the tube. I was looking forward to asking the technician which areas of my brain lit up for "Ode to a Nightingale." I don't believe CAT scans have this thrilling advantage. They are, however, excellent for locating brain tumors, which was why I was there.
(I refuse to think about the possibility of a brain tumor. My doctor is really just being thorough, ruling out possibilities: she wants to be sure that nothing life-threatening is going on in my head before diagnosing me with migraines. The flashes of light, the dizziness, and the curious numbnesses of my hands that sometimes strike all at once in nauseating force might also be related to my medications; after all, one of them is also used for treating epilepsy, and could conceivably cause this occasional reaction. I refuse to consider elsewise right now. If I start down that path I will do nothing but worry about it, I will sleep even less than I already do. It is not a possibility. It would be too absurdly ironic: survive a suicide attempt only to be diagnosed with a brain tumor just after being to Venice and realizing that life is beautiful after all! These things only happen in books.)
They had to give me an IV to insert dye into my veins. This upset me more than I thought it would. I should not be bothered by needles after having blood drawn 2-4 times a day for several straight weeks, but something about lying on my back with a hospital bracelet and an IV and a blanket that smelled of disinfectant made me panicky and teary. I could feel my face taking on the distinctly hospital expression: taught mouth, eyebrows frozen into anxious furrows; my eyes surely betraying the submissive fear that overtakes me, the dual resignment to and revulsion of being touched and poked and treated without a word of explanation. This nurse was kind to me: she held my hand for as long as she could until the machine drew me in too far for her to reach. The nurses are always so nice to me, but this time her kindness just upset me more: it reminded me of the nurses in Oakland, reminded me of my failure to ask for their names. They were so generous, so comforting, and I never learned their names. I like to think that I recorded my experience with faithful detail, but whenever I go back to hospitals I am haunted by the things I forgot to write down. I tried to notice as many details about this new scan as I could -- I will always regret, in a very small way, that I was too sick to notice the machinery and the procedure and the sensation of chest X-rays -- but I was afraid that I would move my head without thinking. My heart aches and a drowsy numbness dulls! my sense as though of hemlock I had drunk! I thought fiercely. I could see my face reflected in the glass band that covered the scanning machinery. It was widened, distorted, ghostly. I closed my eyes tightly and made sure to hold my head as stiffly as I could. Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
Sometimes I think poetry is the only thing that preserves my sanity.