One year ago today, Leesha and I headed toward the second attempt to get the MRI completed. This time I had an ally on my arm and a letter in my hand from my therapist and doctor: Leesha was required to be in the room with me for my safety and mental health as well as for an advocate to be at my side always.
We left the house with my arm in a sling and a pillow wedged under my armpit to prevent the falling feeling of the shoulder, which intensified the pain. A billowing aroma cloud surrounded me, like a glamorized Pigpen, as I lived covered in tiger balm, arnica, and a concoction of essential oils.
Leesha stopped to get me a Pepsi with sugar, my comfort drink, and I gripped the bottle, convinced if i just didn’t let it go, I’d make it through this. I am now noting the irony that it was for this exact drink that I stopped at the convenience store on that fateful day in March and on the way out to the car, slipped and fell. Which we now know is the cause of the trauma. Three discs jammed up through my arm and into my spinal cord. But the pain showed up in my legs. For six months, the excruciating pain was in my right hip and left knee and ankle, and lower back. Only over the last month had my PT begun to be concerned as the pain was moving locations along the nerves — a sign, he would later tell me, that it was the spine and not the legs. But because I had fallen onto the legs, and they had bruises and injuries, it had made sense they were injured.
And then the masked injury was rearing its head. At the end of August, the pain was not only in my legs, but showed up in an exploding entrance in my neck and left arm. The visits to the ER and Urgent Care had left us with no answers. Finally, we had fundraised enough to get an MRI, as I had no health insurance, and the first attempt (see post from 9/10) was an abysmal failure, putting it nicely. The worker had mercilessly made it impossible to accomplish the task and I left in heaving sobs of agonized pain without a completed MRI.
But today, Leesha and I were headed to the open MRI clinic with a permission slip of not-doing-this-alone in our hands. The open MRI is where it is not a solid tube, but a sandwich of machines. To the person in the machine, the ceiling is still inches away from their face, but if they were able to move their head, they could look around the room, as there were no sides.
Fear held its hold in my throat, not attacking, but not leaving either. Leesha poured creative juices of every version of “YOU ARE NOT ALONE” into my soul. She told me about the people who had been reaching out and asking how they could help. The people who had sent message of hope and healing. The many friends worrying and praying for me.
We arrived and Leesha let me walk toward the door as she went to park. By the time I got to the door, as my legs were still hurting too, she had already parked and run up to join me. In that small window of absence, fear had leapt from my throat to my entire being and I was doubting. Fearing. Leesh gently hugged me, opened the door, and assured me I was not alone. Not only was she with me, but an army had risen to be alongside us.
We signed in and explained that I needed Leesha with me. We handed them the golden letter that said we were NOT to have a repeat of last time—where I was not heard, and instead was terrified, hurt, and sent away without answers.
Leesha helped me fill out the forms, her second time in a long line of endless forms that she would eventually not have to ask me the answers for, she knew them. But today, she still had a few questions. I answered as my body shook with more than just pain. I was so afraid.
The tech came out to greet us and take us back to the room for the test. Leesh explained what was happening and why she was there. She explained the desperate danger we were in as my doctor had said, “about to be paralyzed, or worse…” and yet we were still fighting to get the answers. We told her what had happened at the first MRI attempt.
She apologized for her coworker’s lack of grace, empathy, and humanity and she assured us she would do her job as fast as she could to get me out of there and out of the laying position as fast as she could. Part of what she would do was eliminate the in-between times of the test, where she would normally say, “We just completed xyz and we are starting xyz2 and it will take this amount of time to complete.” By not coming in over the speaker, she would shift from test to test to test and hopefully shave a few minutes off the test.
Each time I reclined, the pain went up exponentially — to where I was seeing the pain in different colors and experiencing a feeling of a cleaver in my spine and separating my body in two. Later, next week, when I finally had the results and was in the hospital, we found out that the level of pain I was in people aren’t usually conscious in (my doctor said she had never seen anyone conscious in it). It would cripple an adult elephant. And that level of pain ROSE when I laid down.
The table moved backward as it pulled me into the belly of the sandwiched machine. Fear and pain dueling for the highest priority as Leesha held my hand, and in her doula voice said, “Squeeze if it hurts.” If there is anything that anyone has regretted saying, that right there might be her regret. I left an imprint of my own bone structure on her hand, I squeezed it so hard — not only during the test, but in the days and weeks to come.
“I will be right here. I’m not leaving. We are in this together.” She was shouting outside the machine, my hand in hers, the CLANK-CLANK-CLANK of the machine competing for air time. There wasn’t a single moment during the test where I couldn’t hear her. She shouted about her day, her favorite music, how I wasn’t alone, and then about her favorite movie, “The Princess Bride is—” and she acted out scene by scene as I left my body and went to the rolling hills of As-You-Wish Land. She laughed her way through part after part and squeezed my hand in return when the pain began to rise. Tears flooded my face. I was not alone. We didn’t know what it was, but I was not alone.
“My favorite line from that movie,” Leesha shouted amidst the DA-DA-DA-DIII-DA-DA-DA of the machine, “is when Princess Buttercup has given up hope and is about to take her own life and Wesley is laying on her bed and says—” the machine suddenly comes to a stop, and the room is utterly silent, except for Leesha shouting to try to outmatch the machine that would surely be continuing: “‘There’s a shortage of perfect breasts in this world. It would be a pity to damage yours.’”
Silence. Absolute laughter from both of us as we realize everyone on this half of the building was sure to have heard her belt out a questionable line from the movie. The tech comes in, chuckling, to tell us the test is complete and the table slides toward my feet to release me from the belly of the beast. I sit up, hand still in Leesha’s, pain excruciating as the change in elevation begins to lower back to the cripple-an-elephant level. Leesha and I are sobbing in laughter amidst the gripped hands and pain. We explain to the tech what she was saying, and the tech laughs with us as she had seen the movie (thankfully). She let us know that it would be a couple days before we had the results, but she had it marked STAT.
I left with a lighter heart, even though the pain was still high. I made it through the impossible test, and I was not alone. And now my memory of an MRI is not panic and fear and not being heard — it’s being loved so much, my friend sacrificed her hand as she let me squeeze the life out of it, and sacrificed her back as she spent the entire time bent over so her head was as close to me as possible. The memory is of being loved and of laughing. There assuredly are a shortage of perfect breasts in this world.
Leesha took me home and helped get more tiger balm and arnica on before I rested in my sitting-up position. Leesha and Jenny both fielded the online communication and updates with friends and followers, nonprofit workers and business associates. They texted with everyone and took the calls, so I could rest.
The only communication I sent outside of my support team that day was a text to a friend after getting home:
“I had the MRI today and it was so much pain I was shaking and sobbing… I am mentally at capacity and emotionally falling apart because I don’t know what’s happening to me and drs don’t either 😢😢.”
Soon, doctors would know what it was that was happening to me, and it would be a race to save my life.
I’ll write more about this journey as we continue through this month and next. It’s been an extraordinary ride. A miracle seeing the army of people rise — carrying me and my support team through. It is an inspiration seeing Leesha and Jenny and Jen and Keith and Morgan and Liz pull together to provide for me and carry me when I couldn’t do it on my own.
#BeejHealth #SCI #SpinalCordInjury #Friends #SupportTeam #MRI #PrincessBride #PerfectBreasts #LaughterHeals