Today, I had to get a breast MRI. If you don’t know (and why would you?), a breast MRI is a mildly uncomfortable procedure where you lay face-down on a table, go into a massive tube and a technician bombards you with the sounds of clanging magnets to take approximately 1 trillion pictures of the inside of your chest. The whole thing takes an hour but you can’t so much as twitch or the pictures all become worthless. Oh, and for the pictures to come out your blood has to be injected with a contrast dye.
The MRI checks everything – all your breast tissue, all your lymph nodes, your spine, your lungs and plenty of other areas of interest. Then you spend a few days in total agony wondering whether or not the results will show a single cancerous lump – a relatively curable condition – or a million distant metastases to every vital organ in your body – the disease’s final, terminal, incurable stage.
So no stress, right?
When I was on the phone scheduling this procedure, the nurse asked me, “Are you claustrophobic?”
I thought about it for a second, then said, “Hmm, well, no…I don’t think –”
In the corner, my mom was frantically waving her hands. “She’s asking if you want to be sedated!” she mouthed emphatically.
“Actually, I am highly claustrophobic. Like, very,” I corrected myself. “I want all of the drugs. All the ones you have. Like, lots of them.”
“How much do you weigh?” she asked, gauging dosage.
“1,000 pounds,” I said. “I need…like…a lot of sedation.”
See, one thing about a cancer diagnosis is that once it happens to you, it becomes the only thing you can think about. And I mean, the only thing. When people ask me, “How’s it going today?” It’s all I can do not to blurt, “Terribly, oh my God! So terribly! I HAVE CANCER!” Meeting new people, shaking their hands, it is honestly a struggle not to blurt out, “Hi, I have cancer. My body is full of cells, mutating at this very moment, acquiring the ability to reproduce at unprecedented rates, travel to my distant organs and choke off my life force with their immorality.” I had not thought about a single thing but cancer since my diagnosis – sometimes in a hopeful, I-can-beat-this way but mostly in a despairing, wailing, sobbing, planning-my-own-funeral kind of way. So the thought of being sedated, even for an hour, was so tantalizing that it’s almost impossible for me to describe it.
I got one measly Xanax as my sedation. Then I was lead into a room where a nurse explained the procedure to me, making sure I understand just how incredibly important it was that I not so much as burp while on the MRI table or I’d cost my insurance company $1 trillion in wasted MRI imaging. All of the pressure was sort of starting to mount on me as she began to prepare my IV. She tied off both of arms with tourniquets trying to find a vein, which was difficult. Full disclosure, this was probably difficult because I have not eaten a single solid meal since my biopsy on December 21, I now weigh well under 100 lbs and I was probably dehydrated since I don’t care much about drinking water anymore now, either.
By now my heart was pounding. She inserted the IV and then started talking about how the MRI would check everything – my other breast, my lymph nodes – and how it shows all kinds of things, things you can’t even feel, I could have dozens of cancers, all floating around…my heartrate shot through the roof.
“I’m going to inject you with some saline now to flush your IV,” she said. She plunged some clear fluid into my IV and I panicked a bit. She looked alarmed, which made me more alarmed. By now I was approaching full-blown panic attack.
“Let me try that again,” she said. She pushed the plunger all the way in. Instantly, I stopped breathing and became unbearably light-headed and dizzy. Then everything went black.
The next thing I knew, several paramedics were yelling around me. As I swam back into consciousness, I could see the nurse’s concerned face. I sort of recognized her, but I found myself wondering what all these people were doing gathered around my bed. But then I realized I wasn’t in my bed. I was on the floor. I had passed out.
Any “syncopal episode,” as the paramedics call fainting, requires a visit to the ER. As I was loaded into the ambulance, the paramedic asked me the world’s stupidest question, “How are you?” Knowing that this was probably the only chance I had to be really honest when asked that, I said, “Oh, you know…cancerous.” He laughed. Then he invited me to come visit him down at the fire station, where his buddy is a bone cancer survivor.
As I was wheeled into the emergency room on a gurney, I heard a nurse say to the paramedic, “There’s another one coming in behind you. A full cardiac arrest.” I may have cancer, but it could always be worse.
In the ER, my vitals were all tested and found to be normal. I watched a few episodes of Law & Order SVU while they filled me with IV fluids to improve my strength and blood sugar. Then they gave me a generous dosage of the world’s greatest anti-anxiety drug, Ativan. I LOVE YOU, ATIVAN.
With the superhuman strength of Ativan coursing through my veins, I successfully returned to the MRI and had my breasts imaged by this obnoxiously loud machine. It sounded like Skrillex banging pots and pans together over the AOL dial-up tone while an InkJet printer from 1998 printed a full page of black ink and then faxed it to a New York City subway stop. Worst dubstep concert EVER.
Results on Wednesday. Oh, and the nurse lied. We still won’t know if my stage after this, but we will know if my lymph nodes are involved, which will help determine what kind of surgery I need.