Last night the results of Brain MRI #17 posted to my patient portal. So as not to bury the lede: my brain tumor is unchanged from September, but I still have to see my oncologist tomorrow morning to talk about it.

After tomorrow, though, I have two whole weeks off from medical appointments. I won’t know what to do with myself! Oh wait, yes I will. I’ll stress over the fact my next appointment is with a new primary care physician.

Dr. S left the practice months ago, and I had to wait for an opening to establish care with a new one. This comes just shortly after switching neuro-oncologists, and adding palliative care to the mix. So while my cancer might be stable, I am…not so much. I feel ways. Many, many ways.

I don’t think I have the emotional energy for it, so I’m not going to do the usual thing where I break my back trying to help you understand how complicated a switch like this is for me. What I will say is going to new doctors is hard. Going to new doctors after prolonged gaslighting and trauma is—

Oh, hello, fetal position.

Friday’s MRI was scheduled for 7:15 in the morning. No idea why I agreed to that time. I don’t even remember doing it. I mean, I remember sitting on my bed talking to the hospital scheduler and agreeing to something; I don’t remember that “something” was 7:15 in the goddamn morning.

I was clean and appropriately dressed for the occasion, but when the medical receptionist checking me in asked if my dad was a doctor, I stared at her questioningly with my tired brain for a long, hard second. Finally, I got the joke I’ve heard a million times before and forced a laugh, “No relation,” I said.

The technician took me back to an even darker corner of the hospital basement. Every MRI starts with setting up an IV for the contrast and getting asked the same thirty or so questions. Do you have a pacemaker, shrapnel, tattoo, piercings, and so on. Then they check to make sure they’ve got the right person matched with the right procedure.

“And what are we scanning for you today?” the tech asked.

“My brain.”

“And what’s the reason you’re having the MRI?”

“Oh, I’ve got this brain tumor.” I tried to make it sound like no big deal, but my tech was an empathizer. The answer made him pause.

“Oh,” he said, looking me straight in the eye.

“I’M NOT FUCKING GO TO CRY YET!” I screamed internally.

We walked back to the room with the body-sized tube and the super-heavy, super-wide door. And I assumed the position.

Not every machine is the same—there can sometimes be huge differences, at least from a patient’s perspective, even among machines in a single radiology department.

The one I got Friday didn’t have headphones or music. I got foam earplugs. It wasn’t as roomy as the ones at Barnes-Jewish or Siteman either. There was no light inside. It was very much like my first MRI in a mobile unit in a trailer in a clinic parking lot in Danville, IL. Right down to the washcloth I asked them to put over my eyes.

The very caring tech Friday reminded me of the very caring tech in 2017. “Hey, I haven’t left yet!” he tapped my knee. He was yelling so I could hear him with the earplugs in. “Squeeze the panic ball for me so I know it’s working!” A loud tone sounded out in the room.

“Great! Let’s get this over!” I think he said. I gave a thumbs up.

The thing about trauma is that it’s not just the bad things that are triggers. In fact, my personal experience is that the bad triggers are easier to anticipate and therefore easier to ignore. But most of the time I can’t even identify a good trigger, like a very caring rad tech, until it’s too late.

I don’t use the term PTSD, but I often wonder if I qualify. Friday morning I didn’t just remember how scared I was in 2017. I *was* that scared again. For several terrifying minutes, I couldn’t bend my toes. None of my doctors believed me. The weight of their dismissiveness sitting on my chest was so real it could have cracked a rib.

Luckily what I lack in strength, I make up for in resilience. I pulled out of the episode and back into the present by wondering what I’d do if Iran missed Chicago by a hundred and forty miles while I was inside. When that caused its own set of anxiety-related problems, I attempted to do my Alphabethical List of Things thing.

“The category is: the cosmos. And go!”

Asteroid, Black Hole, Constellation, Dark Matter, Einstein, Fusion, Gravitational Wave…

Just being totally honest—I’m still on the verge of tears more than 48 hours later. I’m not crying 24/7, but my mouth is perpetually turned downward and the muscles in the back of my throat ache sharply.

I want to cry, actually. So I can move on. It’s like wanting to vomit so you can be done with the nausea.

This is the aftermath of a “bad” MRI for me. Not all of them trigger me, but enough of them do that I get scanxiety for two solid weeks ahead of the appointment. I’m at my physical and emotional weakest during these times, and so it’s harder to push the usual cancer thoughts out of the way.

If I lash out, flake out, withdraw, or tell you where you can put your positive thinking, at least you’ll know why. It’s because to get the results of Brain MRI No.17, I had to go through Brain MRI No.17.

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