For much of my life, I was in a classroom. First, I was a student and then a teacher, so the word “test” makes me sit up straight and pay attention. I do so love to make that A, to get the gold star glued to the top of my paper. And the PET scan that I had today is the ultimate high-stakes test, the SAT of healthcare. Last year, I failed. So yeah, I was nervous. In fact, I had a bad case of “scanxiety.” Trust me, it is a word, whispered among those of us who share this kind of a diagnosis.
I’m thinking that I could probably glow in the dark after the many times I have gone to lie on the various tables, my body slowly fed through the tube that examines my insides, recording the images for all posterity. The protocol is the same regardless of the location, but the atmosphere is determined by the tech in charge, usually a man. This one was young, a cutie patootie, who engaged in the banter and laughed at my jokes. He told me that the berry flavor of barium yuckiness I was to drink is easier to swallow than the vanilla. And he was right. He talked about his 7 year-old son who does calculus as he carefully injected the nuclear medicine into my IV line, a sharp contrast to the previous tech who had ceremoniously presented the metal tube for my consideration, like a sommelier offering his finest wine. Instead of being impressed, it had scared the begeebies out of me. I like this guy’s approach better. And he let me listen to music as I sat in the semi darkness for an hour, waiting for the dye to make its way through my body. Little things mean something at such moments.
It is always hard for me to sit so still, but I am motivated by the grade which is to follow the test, so I close my eyes and wait. I wish I was one of those people who could sleep anywhere, but my monkey brain is on full alert at times like these, and I remain wide awake. The quiet gives me some quality time with God, far from the distractions of life. I pray. I often wonder what Our Lord must think of me since I have to admit I don’t talk to Him in beautiful metaphors or poignant verse. I grew up hearing folks speak such lovely words, creating powerful images as they spoke to The Father. And yet, when I talk to Him, it is in monosyllables and child-like phrases. I easily lose my train of thought. There is an irony here, of course. As a speech and English teacher, and now, a writer, I have spent my whole life in pursuit of the prefect phrase, the line that changes the heart and minds of others. And yet, the most powerful conversations I have ever engaged in, the petitions uttered in faith, are simple and basic. I somehow think that’s OK with Him. He is much like the parent who waits for the child to call. The important thing is that we do.
The tech smiles as he tells me that it is time to enter the tube. He places the support under my knees and straps me in with the wide belt. I tell him what I have always believed about these scan rooms. They are sacred places, temples of the sick, those who remain hopeful.
“Have you ever thought of how many prayers have been said here on this table?” I ask.
“No, I haven’t,” he says.
“I dare say that each person going through this machine is pleading to The Almighty for his or her life. Don’t you think that is so?”
He smiled, covering me with a blanket. “I guess you are right. Makes me look at my job a little differently now, I think.”
I laughed. “Good. This is a powerful place, and you get to run it.”
He nodded and stood a little taller.
“And one more thing,” I said. “If you pray for those folks who come here to lie on this machine, you give them a remarkable gift. Better yet, you help to save their lives.”
He paused a bit, perhaps to think about what I had just said. I don’t know if he was a believer or not, but I was selfish in my request, reminded of the idea that when two or more are gathered in prayer, there is power and presence. It was worth a try.
“Now that’s something to think about,” he said, the answer rather noncommittal.
Sometimes it takes a while for a seed to grow. I was satisfied that I had planted one.
My doctor had ordered a full body scan, which meant spending an hour in the tube. I wondered if he had suspected that my ovarian cancer could somehow spread to my toes. I figured he was being cautious, leaving nothing to chance. My shoulder ached and my claustrophobia surfaced. I prayed that it would be over soon. I could feel the beginnings of a headache. I tried to remember to be grateful that this technology even exists and that my insurance is willing to cover most of the insanely expensive cost. I never want to take my care for granted.
He walked me back to the waiting room, bid me goodbye, and gave me a copy of the CD for my records. I wish I knew how to read the thing. Knowledge is power, but sometimes ignorance is bliss.
And now, I wait. The day after giving a test, my students would ask if I had graded their papers yet, and I would try to logically explain that it takes time to go over each one and record the scores. I used to think that they were terribly impatient, but now I understand. There is a need to know the outcome. I don’t see the doctor for two weeks, at which time, we are to review the results. How on earth am I expected to wait that long to see if I am well? Patience was never one of my virtues. Guess that gives me something new to pray for, right?