Tuesday, February 20, 2018

MRI - Part One

This post is the sixth in a year-long series ... Through this series of posts I plan to share our family's experiences during our 17-year-old daughter's year-long battle with brain cancer, which began in February of 2008. My desire is to process through the events of that year from the perspective that a decade of time has brought ... for myself, really. But if you'd like to follow along, you're welcome to join me.

Photo credit: Muffet on Visualhunt.com / CC BY

February 20, 2018

On the morning of the MRI appointment, Hannah woke up feeling great. For the first time in nearly a week, she didn't have a headache. Her vision was clear, and her pupils were normal. I clearly remember the feeling of relief that flooded over me. Whatever this was, it was over! I could literally feel the weight lifting off my shoulders. In fact, I was so sure Hannah's "sickness" had resolved itself, I considering canceling the MRI. After all, the co-pay was sure to be expensive ... and I was going to have to leave Bethany home alone for a few hours. But as I recalled the heavy anxiety of the previous week, I decided to keep the appointment. It would be worth the trouble and expense just for the peace of mind that everything was fine.

I made sure Bethany was comfortable in the recliner with the Disney Channel on TV, a blanket, and plenty of snacks. I assured her we would be back in a couple of hours, and then Hannah and I headed to the same hospital where Bethany had gotten her ultrasound the day before. We located and checked into the MRI suite, where we were greeted by a friendly technician. She explained a little bit about what to expect and started an IV in Hannah's arm for the contrast which would be administered about halfway through the procedure. She had Hannah lie down on the narrow sliding table and fastened her down with straps. It was somewhat disconcerting to watch her place a strap over Hannah's forehead, immobilizing her head. I spoke a few words of encouragement to Hannah, then stepped out into the waiting room as the technician entered her little booth and shut the door.

Settling into my uncomfortable plastic chair, I listened as the eerie jackhammer-like sounds of the MRI began to drift into the waiting room. I picked up a magazine from the basket beside my chair, but had difficulty focusing on the pages. I clearly remember a fleeting thought running through my head that our lives could be changing forever on that day, in that moment. Quickly shaking it off, I reminded myself that Hannah felt fine this morning ... all of this was just to confirm that she really was okay.

Lost in my thoughts, I was startled when the door to the technician's booth opened, and she leaned out of it. In her hand, she held two tickets. She held them out in my direction and said, "Here are a couple of tickets for a free meal in the cafeteria. When this is done, I'd like for you and Hannah to have lunch here." I didn't know how to respond for a moment ... Why would we want to do that? I declined the tickets, telling her that I had a sick child at home and did not want to stay any longer than necessary. She said she understood and disappeared back into her booth.

Now I was concerned. I couldn't imagine why this lady wanted us to stay and have lunch at the hospital. Unless ... But no, I dismissed that thought. Hannah was fine. The MRI was going to prove it.

The clanging of the MRI finally ended, and the technician opened the heavy door separating us from the magnetic tube where Hannah was. She released her from her straps, and Hannah sat up, both of us glad it was over. As she stood and we prepared to leave, the technician pushed those same two tickets in my direction and much more insistently urged us to go have a free lunch in the hospital cafeteria. She said something about needing to make sure all the films turned out okay before we left, so if we would go have lunch and then swing back by the MRI suite before leaving the hospital, that would be great. That way, if any of the films had to be re-done, we could take care of that before we left.

Okaaaay ... this didn't seem right ... but what did I know? Maybe an MRI was like an x-ray, where the doctor tells you not to get dressed until they make sure they got good pictures of your insides. I reluctantly took the tickets, and Hannah and I headed to the cafeteria to have lunch.

I have no memory what we ate or even what we talked about ... probably whatever she was missing at school that morning or what had happened on the last episode of American Idol. I do remember her asking me why that lady didn't want us to leave, and me assuring her that it was just routine.

We finished our lunch and headed back to the MRI suite. When we walked in, I immediately noticed that two of the waiting room chairs had been pulled close together. The waiting area only had three chairs, and they had been spaced far apart when we arrived that morning ... in fact, we had laughingly waved to each other from across the room as we sat down. The technician seated us in those two chairs right next to each other and told us that Tommy, our ophthalmologist was on his way over to talk to us. Then she disappeared into her booth.

My heart dropped like a stone. There was no denying it anymore. Hannah was not fine. She began to ask me questions about what was going on, and I had no answers for her.

A few minutes later the technician popped back out of her booth and asked me to step in there with her. Tommy was on the phone, and wanted to talk with me. I gave Hannah's hand a squeeze and stepped into the booth. The technician closed the door and handed me the phone. Tommy told me he was on his way. The MRI showed "something" and it would need "further treatment." Somehow, I had the presence of mind to ask him if Hannah needed to be included in our conversation when he arrived, or if this was something we needed to discuss without her present. He said I knew Hannah best, and that it was up to me. Yes, I did know Hannah ... and I knew she would have a lot of questions. I told him to be prepared to talk with both of us when he arrived.

When I hung up the phone, I couldn't seem to get enough air. As I steeled myself to step out of that booth to face Hannah, the technician put her hand on my arm and said, "You don't have to go out there yet ... Take a minute." Her kindness nearly undid me. The tears came then and she hugged me. I didn't stay in there long, though. I needed to get back to my daughter.

Hannah knew the moment she saw my face that something was up. I sat down beside her and told her what Tommy had said. We held each other and cried a little bit, then pulled ourselves together and waited for Tommy to arrive. I remember pulling a magazine out of the basket beside the chair to help pass the time, and it was a ladies' magazine from 1987! We flipped through it, laughing at the big hair and outdated clothes. So incredibly surreal. 

It felt like hours, but it was only about ten minutes before Tommy arrived.

To be continued ...

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