Tag: radiology

We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This

crooked
See? Because the framing device is crooked. That’s the joke.

“You’re back in the story’s framing device,” the radiologist said, poking his head out from behind the monitor. “What happened this time?”

I sighed.

“And stop sighing,” he chided. “It messes with the image.”

I waited until I heard the telltale whir and several almost eerie moaning sounds from the large radioactive camera above me to indicate the technician had a picture of my insides he was happy with. As he approached the table I explained, “It’s not my fault this time.” I hedged slightly. “It’s not entirely my fault this time.”

The other man helped me sit up on the scanning table. “So who else was at fault?”

“It was my computer.”

He blinked at me. “I’m…not sure I follow.” Then, considering, he nodded. “Actually, I’m entirely sure I don’t follow. What does your computer have to do with the long gap between you telling the whole college story thing?”

After rearranging my hospital gown to about half of my satisfaction – in that it only showed about half of my rear end to anyone standing behind me – I faced him. “My computer sort of…exploded.”

The radiologist went through a series of expressions that, despite their nuanced differences, all seem confused to one degree or another. “Let me be entirely clear here. You’re literally writing my character’s responses right now, and I have no idea what that’s got to do with any of this,” he admitted.

For that matter, I realized, anyone who just started reading right here would have no idea why this college story has a portion happening in the hospital a decade in the future. I cleared my throat again to cover the sound of me breaking the fourth wall.

“Okay,” I said. “It didn’t actually explode.”

“Then why say it did?”

“It sounds a lot more interesting than saying my operating system disappeared and all I could do was stare at a black screen,” I offered. I was well aware of what a computer looked like when it actually exploded, given what was about to happen in the main story. “Suffice to say, it stopped working as anything other than a very large, very hot paperweight.”

Despite my explanation, the technician looked just as confused. “So…what’s that got to do with telling me a story? And how do you know your computer at home…exploded?”

“No, no, no,” I waved it away. “I mean, my computer exploded in the future, preventing me from typing new segments of the story and publishing them.” It was only after I’d said the words that I realized how ridiculous they sounded.

“I think what I like most about your story is how easy it is to follow,” the other man said, mockingly sincere.

“Shut it.”

“Okay. So let me try to summarize here,” the radiologist said, tapping his fingers on his clipboard thoughtfully. “You’re here now, telling me a story. The story is about your college days ten years or so ago. And it’s being written down as a blog sometime…after this doctor’s visit?”

I nodded slowly. “Actually, that’s a pretty good summary.”

The man gave me a weighing look, as if he wanted to say something more, but he just nodded as well. “Well, in that case, in that very oversimplified form, it’s not as complicated as I thought it was.”

I hopped off the table. “For a story with multiple timelines running in unison at different rates of speed with only one character in common, it’s actually fairly straightforward…” I hesitated. Then, being a realist, I added, “Straightforward…ish.”

“In any case,” the technician said, looking at the chart disinterestedly, “Something something doctor babble. You can go sit in the waiting room for another fifteen minutes.” His brow suddenly furrowed. “Did you actually write ‘something something doctor babble’ as my dialogue?”

“Sorry. I wasn’t really listening to what you were saying when it happened. So I’m losing some details as I’m writing it down later,” I admitted sheepishly. “I probably could have taken a more dignified guess than that, though.”

“Probably,” the man said, and led me back to the tiny third world country just outside the radiology department that had been very generously labeled as a “waiting room.” He watched me sit down and readjust my nudity to my liking before asking, “So refresh my memory. Where were you in the college story?”

I opened my mouth and then snapped it shut. “Honestly, I think it was my first job hunt, but I don’t really remember. But then I remembered something else happened before I went out looking for work anyway.”

“Which was?”

“My computer exploded.”

The radiologist gave me an uneven look. “I feel like we’ve covered that bit.”

“No,” I said with a sigh. “In the past. That computer exploded.”

He gave the television a wary look. “That wasn’t working when you came in, right? Because if you somehow destroy technology just by being around it there are actually some expensive imaging machines you should stay away from…”

“Shut it.”

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An Intermission in Edgewise

derail

“Are you okay?” the radiologist asked, hovering near the door.

“What?” I said, shaking off the lapse in my concentration. “Do I…not look okay?” For that matter, why would anyone in a hospital ever be asking if I was okay rather than just using some sort of science machine to check?

“You were telling a story and then you just sort of….” He made an inarticulate move with his shoulders and neck. “It was like you were talking for a really long time and then just stopped for about four months.”

I raised an eyebrow at him. “Wait. So you were listening to the story? I thought you had stuff to do?”

“As a framing device to tell your entire college story, I think it works better to have someone actually hearing it and occasionally asking questions,” the strangely narrative-minded radiologist offered. More quietly he muttered, “Otherwise, you’re literally babbling to yourself in an empty waiting room.”

“Oh. Well…what did you think of the story?”

The man considered for a moment. “It’s interesting enough. Though I’m not sure anyone would get a ‘That Darn Cat’ pun.”

“Wait. You can know the titles, too? How does that work in the framing device? Am I actually prefacing all these segments with a title?” I demanded. “For that matter, why are you doing this to the fourth wall? Are you angry at it? Did it wrong you somehow?”

He managed a weak shrug. “I’m just a heavily embellished character. You’re the writer. You figure it out.”

I grumbled to myself. “I should’ve written a character less aware of narrative structure and literary devices,” I lamented.

“Nooooo,” he corrected, dragging out the word accusingly. “You should’ve kept telling the story – one you touted as literally never-ending – rather than losing focus before your first class even started in the story. If it’d kept going then you wouldn’t need to return to this initial segment of the story to explain the lapse.” He sighed. “Now you’ll have to keep revisiting it throughout the story to make it look like that’s what you intended to do from the beginning.”

“I can’t believe I’m being chastised by my own creation.” Then again, my toddler had recently run into the bathroom while I was using it to tell me I was a bad dancer and that I needed to stop. This might just be part of the creative process.

Still, he was right.

The radiologist, I mean. My son is dead wrong.

“All right,” I agreed, feeling properly chastened. “I’ll have to keep up on this a little more. There’s not much sense in writing a story with no end if I just stop in the middle.”

“Technically, you stopped right at the beginning.”

Anyway,” I said, riding over his snark, “let’s see. Where was I?”

“You were using a map to find your classes the first day.” The radiologist paused. “I mean, I’m not sure if that was going anywhere or if you were going to jump to another random point or…”

“Actually, it’s supposed to be subtly mirroring the actual columns I wrote professionally while I was in college. It sort of seems random, and it is, I guess, but it all has a predetermined path if you use those columns as a road map,” I explained. Then, a bit more sheepishly, I admitted, “Though…due to an event that happens much later in the story, those original columns were all destroyed. So I’m kind of piecing it together from memory…”

The man nodded sagely. “It’s probably just as well. I don’t think enough people even remember you wrote those to get that reference.”

“I said it was subtle.” I slowly absorbed the insult. “Also, shut up.”

“Do you even remember what comes next?”

“Of course I do.” Of course I did. Mostly. “I just have to find my train of thought. From almost half a year ago.”

“That’s a long break in the train schedule.”

“Well, trains don’t come through often anymore.” I shrugged. “I don’t think the industry is doing well, honestly. I think it’s because…”

The radiologist gave me a long-suffering look.

“Right. Right. Anyway, let’s get this thing back on…track.” Trust me. All good story metaphors are about trains. I didn’t have much of an alternative. “Let’s rejoin our hero…”

“Ahem.”

Fine,” I said, almost in a growl. “Let’s rejoin our protagonist…” I waited to make sure there were no further objections. The other man made a “so-so” motion with one hand. “It was a warm, sunny day. Summer was in full swing. The birds were singing. The flowers were blooming. And I, for whatever reason, had decided that the best use of my time was to sit indoors having a man who’d spent most of his adult life earning his doctorate read a class schedule to me while I held it.”

Story Time – Barium? Damn Near Killed ‘Em!

white-paint

Look. I’m not going to apologize for that amazing title. Just make your peace with it and let’s keep this story moving along.

Ah, yes. But I was speaking of garments not fit for covering all the necessary parts and of waiting rooms that were the last sort where I’d want to be doing any waiting. It must be nice to just move to the next paragraph and the radiologist shows up.

Anyway, the radiologist showed up not long after I’d erected a makeshift couch out of three separate chairs and a pile of hospital gowns. There was no clock there, despite a loud ticking coming from somewhere very close by. If I hadn’t been so bored, that probably should have bothered me more than it did…

I made my way down the hall and onto my backside in another room. Here I was asked a number of questions that probably had more accurate answers in my medical charts – everything from when I was first diagnosed to the extremely long and complicated names for the parts of me the surgeon had taken out. I distinctly remember being asked if I’d had surgery before. I said I had. The radiologist stopped and raised an eyebrow, “It’s important to be accurate with this. You’re sure?”

Pretty sure,” I told him, as though I might rethink a half-month hospital stay and three month recovery period and realize it had been something else entirely. Trust me when I say that once you’ve had invasive surgery, you would never mistake it for anything else.

(Though, to be fair, I know he was just filling out a form – one he certainly didn’t make fifteen questions too long.)

I should clarify the problem here. Those without a long medical history might take it for granted, having only to remember that “one time they had bad strep and almost had their tonsils taken out.” At a certain point, very sick people have had so many things wrong with them that they actually start forgetting some of them. From a mental health standpoint, it’s probably a good thing. From the standpoint of filling out medical forms correctly…not so much.

In any case, pleasantries aside, we moved onto the first images. He had me lie down and alternate between holding my breath and breathing normally in a way that I’ve always found very jarring during imaging tests. I’d be told to breathe in, hold it, breathe normally, hold it and occasionally let out breaths I’d yet to take. Just as I began to wonder if I’d be the first person to pass out during the world’s worst game of “Simon says,” we were finished.

I was sent back to the waiting room. The wall ticked loudly. I waited.

A doctor came to get me because he had to sign off on the preliminary pictures of my insides before we got started. He seemed confused by something. Again, for those who don’t associate with doctors frequently, this generally isn’t a good sign.

“There are…abnormalities,” he said, looking at the images from a second test. The words didn’t help my breathing issues. “Abnormalities” tends to be code for, “There’s something wrong inside you. But the upside is I have no idea what it is.”

“Is that bad?” I asked from the table.

“No. It’s just…hm.” Shockingly, I didn’t find his explanation reassuring.

He held the image negatives up to one set of lights and then the next. Then he looked down at the screen. I wondered why he need physical copies when he could just look at a screen. Hospitals, apparently, hadn’t made good strides towards the “paperless office.”

“Aside from the Crohn’s, is there something…wrong with your intestine, that you know of?” he asked.

“I don’t know, doctor who’s literally using magic to look at them right now,” I said, a bit testily. “You tell me.”

Cocking his head far to one side to look at the screen – the one possible situation where it would have been better to look at the physical copy – he nodded. “Well, I guess we’ll know better once you’ve got the barium down. It’s just that there’s a section of your intestine missing.”

“Is it the terminal ileum?” I asked, dazzling my readers with my medical knowledge. “I had surgery. It’s supposed to be missing. I already know about that.”

“No,” he said, in a comment so ominous he should have taken off his glasses to deliver it. “Another part. About half of the lower intestine, actually.”

That….I didn’t know.” I wasn’t sure of the “hearing bad news with glasses” protocol anyway. And the last thing I wanted to do was make a guess and look foolish. Luckily, I suppose, I wasn’t wearing mine at the time.

I went back to the waiting room. The wall kept ticking. I pondered whether or not the wall and I could switch tasks for a bit. I would tick. And it could wait and maybe be dying. But walls, in addition to being crummy ways to keep out immigrants, are crummy conversationalists, too.

(Oh, snap – politics!)

“Drink this,” a man said, handing me a 20-ounce cup of something. I was finished by the time he reached the door. I made a note to make sure the person handing me strange drinks was a doctor before inhaling it next time, but I was too distracted.

It was only as I was staring at the dregs in the bottom of the Styrofoam cup that I realized the full and unpleasant scope of what I’d just granted an entry visa to my body. Seeing as it would be fairly pointless to ask if you’ve ever drank barium, since you can’t answer me, I’ll just explain it to everyone. First, imagine drinking a cup of white house paint. Actually, that’s pretty much it.

Except, in a head-to-head flavor competition between house paint and barium, I’m not sure barium would even take a podium spot.

“You all right?” the radiologist asked when he returned.

I had at least three problems. Since a stomach full of barium seemed like the least of these and I doubted he knew how to fix the television, I opted to ask about my erstwhile insides. “The doctor seems concerned. Or confused. Either way, that makes me concerned.” I hesitated, before quickly adding, “And confused.” I wasn’t sure where half of my insides could just go if they weren’t in me anymore. It seemed like something I’d want to know.

“You’re fine,” he assured me. “We had to look at the charts from your surgery. Apparently the surgeon rearranged a lot of your insides. They aren’t where they’d normally be.”

“That…actually still sounds pretty bad.”

The radiologist shrugged. “Not as bad as whatever you were thinking, I bet.” It was a good point. And when he clarified that this test was likely to be as excruciatingly routine as a test could be, I felt oddly better. Certainly not good, given the five hours of alternating waiting and imaging ahead of me. (It was done in such a way that I couldn’t even sleep.) But boredom and impending death are fairly distinct flavors of dread.

“All right. So what happens next?” I asked.

“What happens next is that you’ll want to drink that as fast as you can,” he explained, pointing to the cup in my hand. He launched into a vivid explanation of exactly how unpleasant the barium concoction was and why it was nonetheless entirely necessary to choke it down anyway. I listened politely until he finished by setting a hard limit of “absolutely no longer than fifteen minutes.”

“And what happens after I finish it? Because I already did.”

“My God,” he said, not even hiding a grimace behind the mask of medical professionalism doctors usually used to dismiss horrible things they’d seen. “That stuff’s like…white house paint. Only without the flavor.”

I muttered something about stealing his description if I ever turned this into a blog.

“Okay…well…you have a second one to drink, too. You’ll want to go easy on that one. If you drink another one too fast, you’ll empty your entire stomach,” he instructed, shaking his head in awe of my very specific skill in rapidly drinking paint and/or suspensions of alkaline metals. And when he gave me the second cup, he seemed to watch me carefully to make sure I wasn’t some sort of hardcore addict looking for his barium fix.

I told him he didn’t need to worry. My stomach and gag reflex were making a strong case for not drinking the second cup at all. The radiologist’s objections were largely redundant by that point.

“I just needed to be sure. I’ve never seen someone drink one of those down in under ten seconds like that.” He smiled, readying what he probably thought was going to be a joke. “You weren’t in a fraternity, were you?”

“I was, actually.” And, in hindsight, if I could keep down Banker’s Club – a vodka I can only assume was triple distilled before being filtered through someone’s asshole – it made sense that I could keep down something with half the unpleasant aftertaste and none of the burning.

“Is that so?” he said, scribbling something on his chart. I can only assume there wasn’t a question he’d forgotten about fraternal status. “I was in a fraternity myself.” He said the letters. I forgot them. (Sorry.) “I imagine you’ve got some pretty crazy stories to tell from those days, huh?”

The more I thought about it, the more I realized I did. I nodded as the memories came flooding back. “I’ve got a few stories from back in those days,” I said, as the camera began to pan out on the scene. “And from the look of it, I haven’t got much else to do besides talking for the next five hours.” Cue that dreamy piano thing to indicate someone’s about to have a flashback.

“Yeah, well,” the radiologist grunted, abruptly halting the scene transition. He filled out the last of whatever he’d been writing. “I’ve got work to do, so I’ll see you in fifteen minutes.”

“Oh, okay. Right.” I folded my arms as I watched him leave, muttering about how I’d show him and tell the entire story in a blog later. He hadn’t heard me. I was sure, nonetheless, that if he had, he’d have been so burned.

In any case, buckle up. We’re headed back to 2001. And I’m already bad enough at finishing short stories quickly. One that lasts two decades might take awhile.