It’s fun being a writer most of the time. Staying in pajamas all day, cooking infrequent meals, and pawning off the kids on the neighbors are a few of the many perks. I also get to participate in all manner of strange activities—like going to strip clubs, taking belly dancing lessons or participating in séances—it’s all under the umbrella of “research.” Social awkwardness is mostly excused because I’m one of those “weird creative types” and no one bats an eye if I have random bouts of excessive drinking. I’m just living up to the stereotype. Even bitchiness is excused when deadlines loom or I’m channeling my inner asshole for the final showdown with the villain in my WIP. But no one ever told me what a pain in the ass being a writer could be. Like, literally.
Writing has totally jacked up my lumbar spine. Hours on end of sitting in the same position has caused occasional the flare-up of my L-5 to become chronic—to the point that lifting a load of clean towels sets me back weeks and I’m icing for days after a single hour of exercise I used to do four times a week. On bad days it’s pain, on good it’s a tingly sort of numbness down one leg. Occasional chiropractic adjustments have morphed into bi-weekly events. After three months of one step forward, two steps back, I finally decided it’s time to bite the bullet—have an MRI, see what the damage really is.
But ohhhhh, have I heard horror stories about MRI machines.
I wouldn’t necessarily call myself claustrophobic. I did have an incident once with a tanning bed in high school, but I wouldn’t say it scarred me for life. I’m fine burrowing beneath the covers so long as I’m the one who’s pulling them over my head. I’m like a wet cat in a burlap sack if someone else pins me in. So maybe it’s a control thing. Maybe I need to use this opportunity to face my fear. And conquer it.
At the imaging center the tech explains how the procedure works—how the contraption will sound like the space shuttle coming apart in flight. No worries. A little noise doesn’t bother me. I get on my little gown, go to the exam room, choose my music station and put on my head phones. Open on both ends, the machine doesn’t look so daunting. What’ve I been so afraid of? I stand at the mouth of the machine, a face off. Who’s your mama, bitch? I climb on the table, assume my position and let the games begin.
“Would you like your eyes covered,” the nice tech says through my headphones.
I think about this and how at the end of a hard hour of yoga I always put a towel over my eyes during relaxation pose, while the instructor leads the class to think happy thoughts. It’s a nice thought. Before I can say no, a lavender scented wash cloth is draped over my eyes, a blanket over my cold feet. Savasana, here I come. These people think of everything.
The first fifteen minutes I am a rock star. The radio station on my headphones is playing my favorite songs. From the bottom of the wash cloth I can see my feet and the opening at the tunnel. This isn’t bad, I think to myself. There’s actually tons of room in here.
“You can move your arms if you need to,” the nice lady says, “just don’t move your back. We’re halfway done.”
I readjust my hands that are folded across my stomach. They raise two inches, coming into contact with the top of the machine. My oh-shit reflex kicks in. I’m trapped.
Mindovermatter, mindovermatter, mindovermatter. I chant this in my head, reminding myself this is about control. I don’t always have to be in control.
“Gentle breaths,” the tech says in my ears and I swear she’s put some extra s’s at the end. I picture this woman a demon, with a forked tongue and red glowing eyes.
“Come on, Tracy, slow your breathing,” she repeats. “We’re almost there.”
I think I’m going to vomit. Suddenly I remember savasana in yoga is also corpse pose. Appropriate because I’M GOING TO FREAKING DIE!!! But I can’t ask the demon to stop the machine. If I open my mouth I’ll totally spew and I really don’t want to go to Costco with Diet Coke and chunks of this morning’s Pop Tart in my hair. Plus, wouldn’t barfing on the equipment electrocute me or something? Wouldn’t that ensure my death?
Ice cold sweat forms on my forehead, dampens the bend of my elbows and trickles down the crevice of my back that doesn’t quite hit the table. My mouth waters with a sick so sweet I’m not going to be able to hold it much longer. And then it’s over, my head’s out of the equipment and I’m tipping it back, engaging my gag reflex like a flight attendant showed me once during a turbulent flight.
“That wasn’t so bad, was it?” Satan smiles.
Screw you, I think as I get myself together. The urge to hurl has almost passed and I’m feeling more charitable so I don’t say what’s on the tip of my tongue. Instead I smile and nod, thinking that I can at least take something good away from this experience. While I might not have made the MRI my bitch, I can now in great detail describe what it feels like to be buried alive.