Pinned face-down in a tiny tunnel, hands bound, lower body covered in a heavy blanket, immobilized. I could feel drugs move hot across my back, up my neck. My face flushed red, my nose itched, but breathing deeply just made me more aware of the weight pressing on my back.
I have nightmares like this, but this was real. This was for my own good. People do this every day, and they don’t break down. They don’t freak out. Just breathe softly, I told myself. Close your eyes.
If I wanted to keep breathing, I had to be perfectly still. If I wanted this to end, I could not move.
The noise started, ticks and thumps, then a steady beat.
Holy holy holy Lord God of power and might,
Heaven and earth are full of your glory
Hosanna in the highest
It was set to go on for 20 minutes. I didn’t know if I would last that long. I had to.
Early today I had a Magnetic Resonance Image experience at Hospital Rio Carrion in Palencia. I had an MRI before, but it was just my face, my sinuses. This was the whole chest, the whole body-inside business.
I was not prepared for the panic. I was not ready to be overwhelmed by irrational fear. I thought I’d outgrown claustrophobia. But now I see I’ve just developed ways to avoid small, tight spots. I use coping strategies to handle booths and crowded elevators, and crowds in general. They are excuses, dodges.
The MRI dropped me face-down and head-first into the horror I keep deep down.
Starting out was the worst. Settling into the bonds. Feeling just how deep a breath I could take without bumping against the arc above my shoulder blades. Feeling things shift in my sinuses, hoping nothing moved in there to block my breathing.
These people are professionals, I told myself. They know what to do if you can’t breathe. Stop. Noble thoughts. Prayers.
Padre nuestro que estas en el cielo
Sanctificada sea tu nombre
Soon time stopped meaning anything. I had to stop thinking about when it would end, because it might just be starting. If I was going to get through this, I had to stop thinking.
I relived the drive down to Palencia, the dawn breaking red and orange over a hillside studded with windmills. There was a pilgrim out there already, hunched in the cold, dark on the path, moving fast. Just at Calzadilla I saw a dog running alongside the road, down on the camino – it leaped and twisted like something joyful. I slowed, hoping it didn’t dart into the road. I looked down and into its face. It was not a dog. It was a fox, with a mouse in its mouth. Its fox-tail was thick and lush, its eyes looked through their white mask and right into mine.
Where can I go from your presence?
Where can I flee from your spirit?
If I go up to the heavens you are there,
If I lie down in the depths, you are there
You have searched me and you know me
You are with me always, even unto the ends of the Earth
I thought of my sister Beth, who reassured me this week that this problem is common, she went through this before herself, it hurts but it’s not cancer.
Not cancer. Not cancer. That means a lot to me, it’s why I am in this machine, so I can find out. So many of our family get cancer, and so many of us are dead now. I don’t want to be dead. I don’t want to be sick, even. I don’t want to hurt. I want to breathe. I want to walk in big broad steps and wave my arms around and shout at bad dogs, and laugh out loud.
I thought of the low bright sun outside, and Paddy probably out on the campo with all the dogs at that very moment, throwing ridiculous long shadows down into the fields. The walk up to the tumberon, all that sky and air and space ahead and behind and above. The music in the house, the morning music, ridiculous witty Cole Porter music
While tearing off
A game of golf
I might make a play for the caddy
But if I do I don’t follow through
Cause my heart belongs to Paddy
The music started moving to the pulsing deep rhythm of the machine, and I saw myself dancing to that, like I danced many times in the past, arms and legs, hips and fingers, all in motion all at once, to that music. Techno. Deep house. In my head I boogied down, while my body stayed utterly, perfectly still, while the magnets whirled round my carcass and somehow shot dozens of photos of what’s inside.
Here am I, sitting in a tin can
High above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do
And then it stopped.
And I was freed.
And I went home.
On Tuesday afternoon I will know what they saw.
Meantime, I will celebrate Thanksgiving. I will walk under the big sky and take great deep breaths.