SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
April 24, 2016

CAT Scan Fever

 

“You got a cigarette?” a haggard old woman asked someone behind me.

            “He don’t smoke,” the man standing beside me said.

            “Nope, never smoked,” the man in question confirmed.

            For a moment I was tempted to offer the old woman one of mine, but didn’t think it would exactly be appropriate given the circumstances. Plus it sounded like the two were well familiar with the woman already, and knew all too well she was batshit crazy. No need to get in the middle of all that as I waited for the elevator. Besides, if she got her hands on a smoke, she’d likely fire up right there in the lobby. The man standing next to me, Anthony was his name, was a doorman and security guard at a diagnostic center about four blocks from my apartment. My new doctor, mostly out of spite I’m guessing, had sent me there to get a CT scan of my lungs. It was a Monday afternoon, and as usual I was far too early.

            After the elevator showed and Anthony rode down to the basement with me, the doors opened onto what sounded like a tuberculosis ward on Ellis Island. The air was filled with hacking and coughing and throat clearing, rasping voices complaining and muttering. Anthony walked me through it all to the front desk, then returned to his post upstairs as I waited for one of the four receptionists to notice me.

            It took awhile, as they managed endless phone calls and a steady stream of hacking elderly immigrants and the otherwise misbegotten. Finally one asked if I had any paperwork from a doctor.

            “I hope this’ll be sufficient,” I said as I pulled a folded sheet from my coat pocket. So far as I knew, it was a novelty placemat from a truck stop diner, complete with word puzzles, a maze, and a list of local points of interest. She unfolded it, took a cursory glance, and said it would be fine. “You can just take a seat, and I’ll bring the paperwork over to you.”

            “Um, where are the chairs, exactly?” I held up the cane, which I guess she’d been too distracted to notice.

            “Oh,” she said. “Behind you.” I thanked her and turned around, but as I began tapping away, she called me back. “Why are you here?” she asked. Despite the deeply philosophical nature of the question, I gave her the easiest possible answer. Then she asked my name and date of birth.

            In the middle of giving her my birth date, but before she had a chance to ask me for my ID and insurance card, another rasping elderly woman appeared next to me and took my arm. “C’mon,” she said. “I’ll take you to a seat.”

            “Well that would be very nice. Soon as I finish checking in here.”

            “No, c’mon. Let’s go.” She gave my arm a tug.

            “Oh. Okay.” it seemed I had little choice, so I followed as she dragged me across the waiting room to a far wall, wondering if I’d given the receptionist enough information to get me into the system. She sat me down in a chair, told me it was a good one because it was close to the door, then moved a couple of seats away and didn’t say another word.

            The TV was blasting a local afternoon news program as I got lost in the sea of hacking and coughing and voices.

            “I’m gonna go get a coffee. I got time for a coffee?”

            “I’m here for a CT scan of my brain.”

            “Anna?”

            “I cracked my head.”

            “I don’t smell nothin’ but a clean fresh scent.”

            “With my nose, I smell everything.”

            “Anna?”

            “Just a clean fresh scent. I like that. It’s nice.”

            “You wanna talk to Rosalind Fernandez?”

            “Why?”

            “She’s on the phone.”

            “Can I see your ID or something with a name on it?”

            “They’re gonna take you back here, give you something to drink, then take you upstairs for the rest of your tests. Then when those are done they’ll bring you back down here. You should be ready then.”

            “Felipo Gonzales?”

            “About ten minutes, maybe an hour,”

            “Answer answer answer answer.”

            “Anna?”

            “You should see your doctor about that.”

            After forty-five minutes of this, I became firmly convinced I was never entered into the system and what’s more, the novelty placemat I’d presented as proof that I was scheduled to be there had long since been thrown away. I was having visions of sitting there until closing time, the last lonely forlorn soul in the waiting room, as everyone headed home, shut off the lights, and locked the door. Then a woman called my name.

            I started to stand, but she took a seat next to me and told me we had to fill out some forms.

            “Now first,” she said. “Do you know why you’re here today?”

            “Spite,” I told her.

            “Spite?”

            “Uh-huh.”

            We moved on from there to my address. A few minutes after she was finished and I’d signed all the requisite forms, a man in his early thirties opened a door and called me to the back. That’s always the way—as soon as a busy place (a doctor’s office, an airport, a grocery store or restaurant) realizes they have a cripple in their midst, they do everything in their power to whisk him through and out of there as quickly as possible before he breaks something and files a lawsuit. So once again, god bless crippledom.

            For some sick reason I’ve always loved MRI’s, but can’t recall if I’d ever had a CT scan before. Probably, though never of my lungs. They’re not nearly as entertaining as MRIs, as there are no confining futuristic plastic tubes, old school industrial music or massive and dangerous magnets involved.

            After having me clean out my pockets and getting me all laid out on the narrow table with my arms over my head, the tech said, “When the machine tells you to hold your breath, take a deep breath and hold it. When it tells you to breathe again, you can let it out. It’ll take about two or three minutes.” Then he left me there thinking two things. First, I never have trusted machines telling me what to do. And second, was he hinting I was expected to hold my breath for three minutes? If so, we were both in trouble. And what if the machine broke down? Was I supposed to keep holding my breath until it was back up again? This wasn’t sounding good at all.

            Before I had a chance to ponder any of these possibilities too long, the machine, in a voice that sounded suspiciously like the tech who’d just left the room, told me to hold my breath. A second later I was instructed to resume breathing. This happened four more times in quick succession. Then it was all over.

            “So,” I said as he helped me up from the table, “did you see all my demons?”

            “That’ll be up to the radiologists,” he told me. “Should take two or three days. Here are your cigarettes.”

            “Speaking of my demons.” He didn’t laugh. Then he led me to a side staircase and got me the hell out of there as quickly as possible before I could break anything.

 

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