Looks of Love

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

32 comments… add one
  • Robin Link

    Yes, this aging business really sucks, doesn’t it?  I hope the results are as good Jamie’s opinion.  I’m glad he was there with you.  Take care, Ruth.

  • Oh, dear, Ruth, I hope it isn’t either Parkinsons or a stroke.  And we definitely don’t want anything to interfere with your typing! 

  • Ruth–What a beautiful post. Your husband’s comment just got me teary. It’s amazing what moments bring us to fully appreciate our spouses. I do hope that everything is alright.

  • No, Ruth – I won’t accept anything other than YOU’RE FINE.
    Now the waiting begins. And I’ll be thinking of you, hoping for the all-clear!

  • What an (oddly) romantic story.  I hope the news is no news.

  • Another amazing insight. True love that lasts and lasts sees just as many of these moments (if not more) than the ones we’re sold.

  • Great post!  I wish young people could be beamed into older bodies for a glimpse of what aging feels like, how disconcerting it is.  First spots appear on the hands, then skin starts to sag, then eyesight or hearing go, sometimes both.   You look in the mirror and don’t recognize yourself.  This new me, staring back, fortunately, still appeals to my husband.
    I hope you’re okay and will write us many more posts as beautiful as this one.

  • Your brain is brilliant, Ruth – I will accept no other diagnosis.

  • I hope all is well!! The relationship you share with your husband brought tears to my eyes and reminds me of how my father use to read to my mother while she underwent MRIs. However, he always read gory stories of Genghis Khan and the like that my mother hated:)

  • I too think your brain is brilliant. Keep us “posted”, OK?

  • Loved this post! Smiling at you from Austin…
    Sometimes mentally composing my blog gets me through the most unpleasant moments, too. 🙂  
    I hope the tremor is from too much writing and nothing else.

  • Ruth, I have to say I think this is lovely and romantic (well except for the medical possibilities and the hell of lying there). My husband and I are also dealing with some medical testing and issues and it is an incredible comfort to me to have him there. I used to insist on going to appts and tests alone. Pshaw – I don’t need you there! You’ll just sit and be bored! But as we get older (ok we’re only 41 but still) I find that it helps me so much to know he is there whether or not he is in the room with me (I can’t believe they allowed your husband in the room).

  • Cindy A Link

    The best kind of love story.  Hope the news will be good, Ruth.

  • Fingers crossed for you, Ruth. Bette Davis once said old age ain’t for sissies. But, for Boomer geezers like us, 60 is the new 40; so we’ve a long way to go yet. Right?
    Haven’t you always wanted to be adored for your brain?

  • Awww, what a sweet thing for hubby to say! I hope everything is OK when you get the results of you MRI. 🙂

  • Hey, Ruth, you should fire those technicians. I got to choose whatever music I wanted to listen to, but it didn’t drown out the machine noise, anyhow.  And look at it this way–how many people can PROVE they have a brain?

  • I’m sure your brain is as good as gold, and I hope nothing else is found. Let the tremor be a minor mystery which goes away by itself.  What a lovely thing your husband said.

  • Winston Link

    Only you could turn an MRI into a trip through the Tunnel of Love.  By the way, is a genuine Tunnel of Love equipped with a blue panic button also?  As to that tremor in your typing hand, could be that you’re just resisting that psychic experience known as automatic writing.  Perhaps Sartre is trying to channel you through the keyboard.  Well, stranger things have happened in NYC.

  • Craig Link

    Jeez Ruth, don’t give me any reason to worry about you.
    I am glad you two cooing doves  have each other for an anchor.
    It’s probably all that snow you’ve been breathing. A little sun can’t hurt

  • Beautiful post. This may not be the way we imagine things but I think it’s even better than what we imagined to have someone by our side at times like that and to say and do just the right thing.

  • I think I love your husband Ruth. What a scary experience. How wonderful it is that you have him there to help you through it. I agree with Alexandra that this was a beautiful post.

  • Just saw this… thinking of you tonight, and will call you tomorrow. xo

  • Carolyn Prescott Link

    Ruth, I don’t know you and came to this piece of writing by way of Roberta Wright’s facebook page, but what a wonderful piece it is. I’ve had that MRI experience, but I think it’s most moving as a small, dear, love story.

  • ruthpennebaker Link

    I do think I’m fine.  The mri was just to exclude other causes of the tremor.  But I do have a bad history with high-tech medical tests and kind of go bananas when I have to get one, as you can see.

  • Ruth, what a touching post. I’ve had an MRI. Every time the technician said, “Now hold your breath and don’t swallow,” my mouth filled up with saliva. Eventually, I gave up and swallowed anyway, which affected the quality of the scan. What was I supposed to do? Choke to death in a tiny metal tube? 🙂

  • That’s the real deal. Any 17-year old can gaze deeply into the eyes of another teenager, but that probably won’t be over a clanging piece of medical machinery. They didn’t let my man into the room when I had my post-stroke MRIs, but then again since I’m not claustrophobic, I wasn’t particularly fussed.

  • cousin Per Link

    Hang on you two great kids. You are the best!  The Swedes

  • Ruth, such a lovely, heartfelt post. And I share your fear of MRIs…This health stuff is for the birds, isn’t it? I hope that all is well with your beautiful brain

  • Ruth, I’m terrified of MRIs and being strapped? Oh, dear. Glad you made it out without using the panic button – and so happy that your hubby was there with you for this. What a sweetie.

  • Paula Link

    I like Winston’s suggestion that maybe you’re just resisting being taken over by some spirit. Or maybe you already have been, and your posts are actually being written by a very hip, very 21st century Jane Austen.
    I hope the results show nothing but more of the perfect brain your husband saw.
    I’ve had a couple of weird health scares lately myself, and it’s discouraging to realize I’m on the wrong side of 50 and going downhill. Oh well, I really do think I appreciate good health more now than ever before, so that’s something, right?

  • What an incredibly powerful post. I can picture all of this. Will await the follow-up. Thinking of you.

  • GF Link

    I just happened across your blog through a random google search (I don’t even remember what I searched for anymore!) and have been laughing my way through several of your posts. But this one was just so nice, I had to comment. What a beautiful story. As a 22 year old starting to seriously consider spending the rest of my life with a certain someone… I can only hope we too can have such love and understanding of each other.

    It’s been over a year, so I’m sure you’re okay now… But I hope you’re well, and I guess I’ll have to keep reading to see where you’re at today. Thanks Ruth!

Leave a Comment