Of Uncomfortable Chairs

Today’s post is slightly different than usual.

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MRI Scanner

Click to view source.

You’re sitting. Your body is forming a temporary indent on the square of foam attached to the hard wooden chair. As you look around you think, I’m too young to be here. Your face is now free of blemishes. Your bust is no longer like a child’s, it hangs and moves as you walk and dance, held firmly in place by lacy fabrics and under-wire. You own business skirts and wear heels to work. You trust a middle-aged woman with a dragon on her arm and a rhinestone above her lip, like Marylin Monroe’s mole, to tame your mess of thick dark hair. You are old enough to vote, join the army, and get a cocktail with your friends, but you’re too young to rent a car. I’m too young to be here.

You try to avoid eye contact with the old man across from you. He’s shriveled and hunched over, his skin hangs off his cheeks in waves pressed down by a tube that crosses his face and reaches into his nose allowing breath into his weak lungs. His wife sits beside him; the beauty of her youth still resonating and sparkling in her hazel eyes. She is holding a green tank in her left hand as she kept his hand in her right. With them you sit alone, not talking, in the white room decorated with odd wooden carvings of indistinguishable figures and paintings of flowers. The eerie silence allows for the echo of the clickty clack of hidden keyboards behind a wall that reached your belly button when you checked in. Only five minutes ago? The patter of the buttons fills your ears as you try to focus elsewhere. You text your friends, but no one answers. You would listen to you iPod, but you forgot your headphones. So you grab a dated copy of People magazine and sit in the uncomfortable chair reading about celebrities who wore the same gold dress, are going to rehab, get their own dry cleaning, and drink Coca-Cola. Supposedly that makes them like you. Because they eat fast food. Because they go to the beach in their perfect bodies whipped into shape via the power of fitness trainers. Because their flaws are zoomed in on, called fat because they are now a size six. Accused of aging poorly even though they are beautiful. Your eyes glaze over the hundreds of gorgeous young faces. Until you hear your name.

As you stand up you feel the wrinkled couple’s eyes follow you. The receptionist who called you was a woman wearing a suit that sat squarely on her shoulders, if she had a womanly frame it was hidden behind various shades of pink and polyester. Her skin was tight with Botox and her hair appeared to be lightened by chemically induced tiger-like streaks of blonde. She asks for your date of birth, where you work, and to see your insurance card. Then a nurse dressed in blue comes to have you follow her. She looks about your age. Color filled her cheeks and her dark brown eyes communicated a level of empathy not given by the receptionist. The nurse cheerily asks you how your day is going. You say it’s fine as you think what a stupid question. She leads you through big red double doors. Hands you baby blue one size fits all pants and a nightshirt and leads you into a changing room composed of curtains. Your slender body could barely fit comfortably in the stall; you wonder what they do for fat individuals who can’t squeeze into the tiny spaces. You struggle to tie the shirt around neck without choking yourself. Fumbling with the string behind your back until eventually its comfortable – enough. The nurse instructs you to place your belongings in a cubbyhole, locks the door, and gives you a key to hold on to.

Once more you’re being led towards red doors. These doors led to more white, more aged people dressed in outfits like your own. You follow quietly as you are led further and further down the hall. A man, probably in his early thirties, comes out and shakes your hand. He was dressed in light blue scrubs, his body towers over you, thin and gangly. He reminds you of a lamp-post. He smiles and asks you how your day is going, you say fine as you think it’s terrible. He opens a door that led into a big room filled with medical instruments, some you have never seen. The walls are gray instead of white and the air is cold, very cold. There is a big glass window where a fourth wall should be. Through it you see a computer and numerous screens. In the center of the room is a big white tube that is shiny and narrow.

It is almost time. The reason why you came here is finally happening. You wonder why you’re not more panicked.  Shouldn’t you be afraid, or at least concerned with what the results of this day could mean? Tomorrow you could be told that you may not live as long you hoped, perhaps you do fit in with the aged sick people around you, at least in terms of life span. Or maybe the suspicions of the doctor were wrong. You had to think the last thought. For the sake of sanity, you had to think everything was going to be okay. The man in blue is just double checking that everything is okay.

The man tells you to lie down on the tongue of the tube. The width of which was barely wider than your body.  The surface was hard and covered with a white cloth. He places headphones on your head that aren’t playing music and begins to place a white cage, similar to a football helmet, in front your face locking your vision forward, eliminating the option of looking from side to side. A stress ball attached to a thin wire is placed in your right hand with the instruction of squeezing it should you need him to stop. Suddenly soft rock is playing against your ears as the tongue is slowly pulled into the tube.

Slight paranoia fills your chest as you are engulfed into the tight white space. Through the headphones the man talks to you. He tells to lie completely still and relax, that this will take about twenty or so minutes. Then music is back; some guy bitching about his cheating girlfriend. Outside the headphones it sounds like an animal has declared war on a garbage disposal. Loud cranking noises, reee reee reee, thud thud, high pitched eeeeeekks, and a low boom boom boom take turns trying to overpower the music. Now a woman is singing words you can hardly understand under the loud machinery that you can’t escape. You breathe, trying to focus on the music. But the machinery was getting louder, all that could be heard was the groan and processing of the medical instrument that you were now a part of. Suddenly it is silent. You relish in the moment, thinking it is over; soon you’ll be put back into the world. Away from white tubes, blue scrubs, and red doors.

Then thud, thud, eeeeeekk, boom, reee, reee, and now a machine gun appear to be trying to attack through the shield of white. The background music is interrupted by the man’s voice asking if you’re doing okay. You say yes wondering where a microphone is that allows him to hear you. He informs you that there’s about ten or so more minutes to go. The faint music is back. As you lie still all you want in life is to move your body. Normally you fidget through the day, tapping your toes, running your hands through your hair, cracking your back. Movement. You miss movement. Lying still might as well be torture. You remember watching your mother punish your little brother, not through spanking or grounding, but through holding his arms still pressed against his tiny body. When you were a teenager you thought that was silliest punishment ever. He was never held for more than a minute. You haven’t been naughty. But you are being punished for a hell of a lot longer. You can feel you limbs cry out and ache with the desire to move even if only a flinch. Just the ability to know that they can wiggle, that the tube hasn’t taken away the ability to use muscles. To dance, to walk, to fidget. You cave, letting your big toe bend. Your anxiety lessens for a moment, and you once again force your muscles to remain still as a dead body.

Finally the tongue begins to move away from the tube. The man comes and takes off the white wires. You sit up and hand him the stress ball swinging your legs over the edge of the tongue, cracking your toes against the hard floor, stretching your muscles, reaching your arms out as far as they could as you turn your body in various contortions. It’s over. You’re led back to your cubbyhole. Back to the curtains. Back through red doors.

The wrinkled couple no longer waiting in the room of uncomfortable chairs.

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