The woman (was she a nurse? a radiology technician?) hands me two hospital gowns, what looks to be pajama pants and a pair of footies and points to the bathroom where I can change into them.
I go in and put on the whole get-up, taking one more work call before I rejoin her. It’s an especially busy time at work. I don’t want to miss something important.
I’m at the hospital for my first ever MRI.
About a week before, I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. This test will help my doctor can find out if the cancer is anywhere else but the lump I’d earlier found in the upper corner of my right breast.
“So, who is Brittany to you?” she asks, referencing a nurse friend who also works at the hospital where we are.
“She’s a friend from high school,” I say.
“She told me to give you a hug for her.”
We give each other a knowing smile and put out our elbows towards one another as if to make them touch. It’s a gesture I’ve come to call a COVID hug.
There is no unnecessary touching now. No shaking hands or hugging. Not during a pandemic.
“OK, now we’ll just put in your IV and take you back,” she says.
I felt the dread rise up in me. I had mentally prepared to be in a noisy metal tube for a half hour for the MRI, but not for a needle in my arm.
I hate needles. Vaccines don’t bother me much, but I hate the idea of putting something into my veins. But a needle poke could be the easiest thing I’ll have to get used to over the next few months. So I silently vow not to make a big deal about it.
I look away as she ties a band around my arm and inserts the needle, content to pretend it’s not happening.
I guess my body doesn’t get the memo that we’re being brave about needles now. Suddenly, I feel light-headed. Just as suddenly, it’s like I’m falling through a tunnel, losing consciousness.
As my head goes down, a nurse takes hold of my shoulders, waves smelling salts under my nose. I jolt back to life.
• • • • •
Compared to briefly passing out, an MRI is easy. Inside the machine, it sounds like a bad dance club. The woman has turned on top-40 radio to take my mind off the loud, rhythmic metal thumping sounds I hear in the tube.
When the test is done, she explains why I nearly passed out at the needle. My body had a “vasovagal response,” to the needle, she says. “You can Google that later.” In short, my body overreacted to the emotional distress caused by the needle.
“See, you’re learning all kinds of things,” she said.
That, I am.