A friend of mine, a pastor, once said that he preferred funerals to weddings. He liked how “down to earth and real” people were when confronted with death. I can appreciate that, being one who would rather talk about an intriguing post mortem exam than make small talk. So, when I found myself in a room of patients awaiting our turn in a CT scanner (short for Cancer/Tumor Inducer, I think), each of us in some state of concern for our health, and possibly life, I’d like to say my “down to earth and real” side kicked in. I’d like to say.
Waiting, especially with a helping of nerves on the side, has a way of bringing out a particular pastime of mine. Some people call it “people watching” but now that I’m forty and have to have things like CT scans, I am brave enough to call it what it is. It’s smugness - watching people in order to see how I stack up against them, usually homing in on a particular detail that puts me out on top. That sounds really mean. It is, but if it helps you to know, I don’t feel particularly mean while I do it. Did I just say that? Great, now I just tipped the meanness meter full tilt. You would think that waiting for someone to take countless, cross-sectioning x-rays of my insides, and possibly changing the course of my life with the results, would cause me to be humble. I would have assumed so too. Not so.
Unable to concentrate on my book, I scanned the room. A Sweet Old Couple, gray and used to loving each other for a long time, first captured my attention. She was working a cross-word, and he was alternating between putting his glasses on, and then folding them up to put in his breast pocket. Obviously he was the patient, I thought, pleased with myself for not fidgeting or reverting to any overt OCD mannerisms. When Mr. Nice Guy Tech approached the Sweet Old Couple with two super-sized cups of mystery liquid, I was confused. Both of them? The odds of such a thing. But then the old man received both of the cups in his shaking hands. No wonder he was anxious. I would be too if I had to down two of those. Thank goodness just my spleen was being looked at, not my parts that would have to digest anything. But then he passed the cups to his wife, who looked mildly annoyed at having to stop her cross-word to drink enough liquid to sustain her small frame for a week. Oh. He was nervous for her.
Fifteen minutes later, Mr. Nice Guy Tech came out with two more giant cups. “Thaxton?” with a giant flash of teeth. What? My doctor said just my spleen was being scanned. Not my intestines. Surely this was a mistake. But, wanting to appear nonchalant, I decided it best to just take it. Besides, the tech was telling me in reassuring tones how I had as much as fifteen minutes to finish. Entirely generous. I glanced over at my co-patient, who was sipping her beverage down obediently, and I couldn’t help remarking aloud, “I was just thinking how I glad I was that I didn’t have to drink all that.” Her husband patted her and beamed pride at his brave little wife.
Great. I stared at the cups. If you know me at all, you know that I am pretty much the poster child for Whole Foods market, so the idea of drinking something that would glow on film was a bit rattling. Glancing at the placid little old lady, I took a deep breath and sucked on the straw. After fasting all day, and being in a chronic state of self-inflicted dehydration anyway, I had to admit it wasn’t that bad. If I closed my eyes and imagined that the hospital ID bracelet was really a blingy bangle, and that the naugahyde chair was a cocktail stool in a swanky bar, it tasted kind of like Diet Sprite with Angostura bitters in it. Kind of.
After “watching” various other patients (“My, aren’t her ankles swollen, bless-her-heart” and “Wow, that’s a BIG man…are the scanners that big?”), Cell Phone Lady entered. She was there to get a CT of her head, I’m pretty certain, as her cell phone appeared to have grown into her right ear. It never left position, even when Mr. Nice Guy Tech handed her the now familiar beverage du jour, two cups, mind you. He must have read her orders wrong also, because I’m pretty certain intestines don’t wind through the head, but I could be wrong.
So, there I was, draining away the last of my drink, when I watched her making faces at her cup. She took one sip and looked just like one of my children when forced to take cod liver oil. (Yes, I do. That’s another story.) She took another, twisting her mouth up and forcing a swallow. She muttered something into her phone. Suddenly, I’m feeling all that, and such, because I didn’t think it was so bad. “C’mom, Cell Phone Lady. Don’t be a baby. Drink up!” I believe I was even a bit glowing at that point, not from my drink, but from my feeling of superiority.
Mr. Nice Guy Tech entered again, putting all of us on edge, but he focused his attention on the Sweet Old Couple. The drink having done its magic, it was the lady’s turn. Her husband asked to accompany her, but he wasn’t allowed. Now he sat there, no longer fiddling with his glasses, but being very still, still as a man in silent and fervent prayer. He must have been not only praying for his wife, but for all of us in the room, because suddenly I felt like my heart was being x-rayed, not my spleen. Oh, Lord. Forgive me.
EPILOGUE: My spleen was a-ok. Just a temporary neurotic syndrome, I guess. But my heart, on the other hand, still needs work. It is undergoing a slow transplant by a very Skilled Physician, and as much as I hope to have it accomplished ante mortem, patience is still prescribed.