My husband and I are staring deeply into each other’s eyes. But, I have to point out, this isn’t exactly the way you imagine it will be when you first fall in love.
To look at him right now, I have to stare into a mirror stationed at an angle to me. This is because I am getting a goddamned MRI of my head today. An MRI! It had to be an open MRI, I had insisted to the neurologist. “I’m very claustrophobic,” I pointed out. “If it’s not an open MRI, you’ll have to sedate me like a jungle cat.”
Well, I certainly hate to complain, but if this is an open MRI, I don’t want to see a closed one. My head is bolted into some apparatus and I’ve been laid onto a moving gurney that placed me in the middle of a machine that sounds, roughly, like a garbage truck with clutch problems. I have a bulbous blue panic button clutched in my left hand.
“It’s in case you need to get out,” the technician says breezily.
“Do many people freak out?” I ask. I just wanted to know what my odds were.
“Nope,” he says. “Just listen to the music on the earphones. You’ll be fine.”
Oh, sure. Some people think earphones and music are the answer to everything — like they make you forget you’ve got some super-magnet parsing your brain into little slices, sounding all the while like a meat-grinder. The music, I should add, is the aural equivalent of an icky sympathy card.
“Can you turn off the music?” I ask. “It’s really trashy.”
He turns it off. “Twenty minutes,” he says. “Just look at your husband in the mirror.”
I look at my husband. He also is holding my right, non-panic-button hand. All this staring and intensity, this sense of his being my lifeline to the world, somehow reminds me of the births of our two children. Then and now, I was flat on my back with nowhere to go. His face, his voice, his hand calm me. But childbirth was different: something that happened to healthy, young people.
Today, with no young people in the room, I am getting this test to find out the cause of a slight tremor in my left hand that’s interfering with my typing. My greatest fear is that the tremor presaged the accelerated Parkinson’s my mother died from. It probably isn’t Parkinson’s, the neurologist said. But maybe a small stroke or something. That was, I guess, supposed to cheer me up.
Rampant, undignified fear and high-tech medical tests snapping beauty shots of my brain — they both turn me into a quaking zombie. Closed or open MRI, I am a mess.
Twenty long minutes pass as I practice my yoga breathing and try to relax. For the most part, I keep my eyes closed and practice imagining I am anywhere but where I am. The technician comes in and liberates me from the birdcage around my head. My husband and I pause to inspect the snapshots of my brain. “I’m not a radiologist,” my husband says, “but I think your brain looks perfect.”
As I said, this day, this time isn’t exactly how you imagine it when you first fall in love, when you’re young and invulnerable and the future is long and cloudless. You say you want someone who loves you for yourself, for who you really are. But somehow it never occurs to you this person will someday be gazing, well, affectionately at a photo op of your skull and its contents.
I love you for your eyes, your hair, your skin, your body, the romantic songs say. Nobody ever says anything about the perfection of your brain scan. But it’s a love song in its own unexpected way.
(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read one of my favorite posts about the psychologist who thought he was a plumber