Boom! Boom! I attempt to nestle my head one iota deeper into the sponge-sheathed frames, but the cacophony within the MRI machine slams my brain like a hurricane.
Desperate, I mouth a mantra: Breathe in. Breathe out.
My mantra gives me the finger.
Silence. A flicker of hope. Then the shattering assault resumes. A stray tear slides down my cheek, but my arms are shackled.
A muffled voice floats into the steel cavern. “Sixty seconds, Dr. Cook. Don’t move.”
As if! Encased within this machine, my body is helpless. My imagination, however, is free to seek its own music pedagogy as it frenetically attempts to adapt to this orchestra of the inferno. In my mind, I raise my arms to navigate a fragmented soprano line high above the vigorous sound waves. I lower my arms to direct the pounding bass section. I’m just beginning to flow into this peculiar rhythm when the AB/AB sequence ends abruptly. I start to hyperventilate.
“You’re doing fine,” the technician mumbles through the loudspeaker. “Five minutes ‘til your injection.”
Mentally, I twist a pillowcase. Why didn’t I reschedule my MRI until someone could accompany me? At the very least, I should have registered Tiffany, my rescue cat, as a service animal, because—dirty little secret—there’s nobody I could have asked. Well, almost nobody. I could have asked the other psychologist at Jessica Reed Center, but the new Mrs. Yuliya Gulabchikava is enjoying her honeymoon in Spain this weekend.
Then there’s Juanita, our office receptionist. In my two years at the domestic violence Center, I’ve become friendly with the young single mom, stopping for a quick chat as I tie my Nikes and head out for a lunchtime jog. She even cat-sits for me. However, with her full-time job and four kids under age ten, she’s too busy to take a pee, let alone accompany me to the doctor.
I could have tracked Glenn on Facebook, but that would be awkward. I haven’t spoken to my ex-husband in eight years.
The muffled voice booms. “Raise your foot if you need something.”
If I need something? After undergoing three months of every diagnostic test imaginable for memory loss and erratic behavior, what I need is for this horror movie to be over! So far, all my physical and cognitive tests have come back negative. That’s only because I haven’t hit the right test yet. Today’s MRI will determine if I have Alzheimer’s or a Brain Aneurysm. I start to tremble, thinking about what either diagnosis would mean.
“Coming to check on you now,” the voice blasts over the loudspeaker.
The incessant banging ceases. A welcome silence saturates every nook and cranny of the sterile room. A plumpish, dark-skinned technician approaches. She releases the steel casing above my face and upper body. Then she gently inserts a needle into the catheter taped to the top of my hand. “I’m injecting dye into your veins for a contrasting image.”
I shiver at the sight of the menacing needle, even though I know it won’t be touching my skin. “My clients should see me now.”
“You work around here?”
The technician withdraws the needle. “The domestic violence center?”
“My brother, Gilbert, he got sent there. He doin’ fifty hours community service ‘cause he beat up Tahisha so bad.”
“Did your brother get Judge Collingsworth, by any chance?”
“You know him?”
“Julian Collingsworth is the most lenient of the six Cook County judges who hear domestic violence cases. So who’s Tahisha?”
“She his girlfriend. Got herself pregnant by another man. That’s how come my brother hauled off and hit her.”
“Sounds like your brother’s got anger management issues.”
“Gilbert, he always had a mean old temper. Takes after my momma. She a tornado with a belt when we was growin’ up.” The med tech closes the contraption and exits the room, calling back to me, “Two minutes.”
Back inside the gladiator mask, the hammering resumes, but my attention is now otherwise occupied. I parachute into a fantasy designed to punish the technician’s brother. Whip in hand, I handcuff Gilbert to a dozen domestic violence victims who scream out their heartache. Finally I paint a red “L” for Loser on his forehead, strip him naked, and video tape him delivering a high school presentation on domestic abuse from the perspective of the abuser. My punishment is as fair as any judge could mete out.
In my fantasy, I’m as naked as Gilbert!
Wow! I really am hard up. Can’t even remember the last time I encouraged a hook-up; one more casualty of divorce.
The med tech is at my side once again, releasing my head from its steel bondage. “There, now. That wasn’t so bad, was it?”
Compared to being hit by a tsunami, it’s a breeze. I attempt to sit up and promptly fall back on the steel table.
She places an ice pack beneath my neck. “You not the only one who gets dizzy after being harnessed to this here machine for forty-five minutes.”
Surrendering to the moment, I lay still, ice pack in place. “It helped when I heard your voice, even though it came through muffled.”
“Yeah, well this baby be malfunctioning this morning. We tried calling you to reschedule, but nobody answered.”
Darn. I could have saved myself the trip. “I forget my cell phone these days.”
“Not too good for your patients, huh?”
This time, I sit up and swing my legs over the side of the table. “I’m not so indispensable. Most of my clients see a psychiatrist one-on-one.”
I can’t prescribe meds, so no ties. Just the way I like it.
“My neck’s a bit stiff.”
“That’s normal. In a couple a’ days we’ll be sending copies of your MRI results to your neurologist and your referring doctor. Hey, I got to be bringing up the next patient. You had us running a half-hour late, you know.”
“Sorry. My alarm clock never went off.” More likely, I forgot to set it.
The technician grins. “All right, then. Snow’s supposed to turn to ice this afternoon. Take care you don’t slip out there. Crazy weather this early in December.”
I chuckle. “You’re obviously not from Chicago.”
The tech takes my elbow and steers me down the hall. “Moved here from Atlanta in 2015. Knew I’d have to be worrying about snow, not about no serial killer.”
“Don’t believe everything you read,” I say.
“That story’s been playin’ on the TV, 24/7. The dude’s already killed four people.”
I frown. “It’s been three weeks. If we really had a serial killer in our midst, the CPD would have caught him by now.”
“Maybe he be smarter than the police.”
“In the 1960s, we had a serial killer who systematically tortured, raped, and murdered eight student nurses. He was arrested pronto when a hospital doctor recognized his tattoo.”
“The police didn’t find him, the doctor did,” says the tech.
“We’re talking fifty-one years ago. Long before modern technology.”
She drops me off at the locker room entrance. “I’m still gonna be watching my back.”
Without thinking, I blurt: “By the way, did your brother’s girlfriend lose her baby?”
The MRI tech’s eyes widen. Then her nostrils flare, and the muscles around her mouth go tight. “Lady, I was talkin’ to keep you calm. Ain’t no personal invitation into my business!”
Without another word, she stomps out of the locker room.
Horrified, I run to the doorway and shout down the hall. “I am so sorry!”
My words echo into the empty corridor.
I can’t believe I asked her that. Lately, weird utterances have been spewing from my lips. Tourette’s Syndrome, I wonder. What is wrong with me?
In my deep despair, a vintage TV commercial jingle reverberates through my head.
Only your hairdresser knows for sure.