It all started when I was about eleven. Being from the suburbs, we didn’t have much need for elevators. Seemed like everything was on ground level back then. Mama took my sister and me to visit one of her work friends in The City. This lady lived in a brand new hi-rise overlooking Lake Michigan.
I always wanted to be one step ahead of everybody else, even back then. So, when the bell dinged signaling the arrival of the elevator, I rushed in, eyes ablaze with excitement and wonder over the impending ride. I don’t know how or why it happened, but the doors on the elevator closed before Mama and my sister got in. I was alone. I had no idea how to “run” this contraption. The few others I had encountered always had an operator on board. This one had nothing but rows of buttons.
I screamed bloody murder while that elevator rose to the top of the building, stopped momentarily and began to re-descend. Eventually, Mama made the stupid thing stop by pressing the button on the bottom floor.
Since that time I have lived with a fairly severe case of claustrophobia. I demand aisle seats in theaters and airplanes. I refuse to be escorted to a doctor’s examining room until I am sure the doctor is either already in there or is on the way. I avoid crowds at all costs.
This morning I had an appointment to have my head examined. Literally. I was to have an MRI of my brain to try to ascertain the possible cause of some neurological issues I’ve been having. The last time I was required to have a CT scan, I was only in “the tube” for a few seconds before my eyes started twirling in circles (at least that’s the way it felt) and I broke out in a cold sweat. Fortunately, I was able to endure the relatively brief test without totally freaking out.
This one was quite different. Not only was this test conducted in a much bigger machine, I was going to be required to lie perfectly still for an entire 45 minutes. After 35 of those minutes had passed, I would be pulled out in order for the technician to inject a contrast dye into my vein, while I don’t move a muscle.
The first thing I did was hit the rest room. Twice. Nothing would screw up this process more than if I needed to make a pit stop 20 minutes in. Next I requested a blindfold. I have learned that claustrophobia is primarily a visual phenomenon; if I can’t see that I am confined, the phobia won’t kick in…or so I hoped.
Those readers who have endured an MRI know already that it is not humanly possible to fall asleep during the procedure, although the nice lady said some people do. Earplugs are standard issue, so the decibel level inside that tube is ear-splitting. Those who fall asleep must be stone cold deaf!
During the first few seconds, I fought panic. My breathing was shallow and far too frequent. My eyes remained squeezed shut throughout the test, so there was a regular light show going on behind my eyelids.
To calm down, I visualized what I usually resort to when panicked: a waterfall. Realizing that wasn’t going to be helpful in keeping my mind off my bladder, I switched to writing a blog post in my mind. That’s when the noises started.
Thumps, rhythmic clangs and percussive repetitions seemed to come from somewhere near my plugged right ear. When the sounds switched to chops, I decided I would take my first ever helicopter ride. But just as I was above the ground and hanging on for dear life as the pilot made a sharp left turn, the sound stopped.
Not knowing what to expect next, but knowing there was no way that 35 minutes had already passed, I again began to hyperventilate. No! No! Stop it! Breathe deeply! Relax each vertebrae…one…two…three…four…phew…
Suddenly the machine began to knock, 42 times in a row. Yes, I counted them. How else could I stay focused, calm? There were a total of 8 of these 42-knock segments. By this time I was totally relaxed – until the cramp began to form between my shoulder blades. No big deal, I tell myself. I live my entire life with something hurting somewhere.
That’s when the corner of my right eyelid began to itch. Uh- huh. Try ignoring that! That spot had been itching for two days now. Usually, it happens in reaction to some fragrance. Was it the new shampoo? I started singing. I didn’t know if the act of singing would create movement in my brain, so I switched to humming one of my collections of earworms. “These are a few of my favorite thinggggggssss…la la, la la la, la la la, la la la.”
I was also freezing. The nice lady offered me a blanket in the beginning, but I declined. My problem is usually quite the opposite, what with the occasional personal summers I host. Now it felt as if icicles were forming inside my capillaries. So I thought about glowing charcoal and blast furnaces. Even Hell.
“Ms. B, you can get up now. We are all finished. You did great!” Huh? Where had I just been? There was a gap in my consciousness. Did I actually fall asleep or did I just hypnotize my fool self?
That sense of triumph we competitive types get whenever we win…anything…spread over me like a shower of honey. Hah! I did it. Oh, happy day.