I'm lying on a gurney, parked in the hallway, outside Room 2. Maria, with her dark curly hair, quick smile and stained uniform shirt with endoscopy misspelled on the chest pushed me here from my room several tight corners ago, chattering lightly the whole time. After offering me a magazine and reassuring me it wouldn't be much longer, she disappears into what I assume is a nurses' station.
Alone, with only my fear for company, I reflect on the days preceding this moment.
I have managed to avoid this procedure for seven years beyond the recommended time. In truth could not have managed the fear well enough to do this before now. One of the seven people who have asked something of, or done something to me so far this morning joked about my 50,000 mile check-up, then corrected it to, oops, 57,000 miles.
I thought I wasn't afraid. I thought I had conquered the body fear and shame that have stalked me and held me prisoner my whole life. I thought my ability this year to take care of all the medical screenings responsible adults are told to do, meant I had finally put fear in its place.
I had been edgy all week. The dietary restrictions necessary as preparation for this procedure tilted me off balance even before the day of clear liquids. When I saw Pat two days ago and told her how grumpy I was feeling, she asked if the grumpiness was covering fear. I said no, I don't feel afraid. And I believed it.
Walt, always supportive and concerned, knowing how afraid I am of anything medical, asked what he could do to help. The only thing I could think to say was for him to keep his distance. We both laughed, because it sounded funny, but it was the safest truth in the room. He hovered protectively the whole week, offering back rubs, asking if I minded that he was eating what he was eating because I couldn't.
Even this morning, driving in, empty and exhausted, I was sure I had things under control. Just waiting to get to the other side of the day. I was aware of the unusual quiet in the car - I normally chatter about anything and everything. Breathing and being took all my focus - nothing left over for chit-chat. But I was calm. Present. Okay.
Until we got to the parking lot of the hospital. When Walt didn't park where I thought he should, I nearly came unglued. Opened my mouth to set him straight, and clamped it shut to stop the torrent of high-pitched weirdness scrambling to find expression.
Checking in, when the volunteer handed me a clipboard and asked me to fill out the form front and back, I had to choke back the snarl that would have informed her I had already filled out enough f-ing forms, and no I would not be filling out any more. When I handed it back to her and she said good job sweetie I grimaced a smile that barely concealed my f-you feeling at her and went back to my seat. When the first nurse came for me, accompanied by a high school girl who was interning with her, I wanted to shout I don't want to be practiced on. When the girl weighed me and announced the weight loud enough to be heard in the parking lot, I closed my eyes and my mouth to protect her from what might explode from any open avenue.
Not fear. Anger. Frustration. Impatience. Not fear.
In the hour and a half between arrival and my delivery to this doorway I have been treated with great respect, spoken to softly, given information clearly. The teacher in me admires the the teaching these nurses do, even as I hold myself as still as possible. The writer in me studies this new environment - I haven't been in a hospital as a patient in almost forty years - curious about the procedures and people and language. The frightened child in me wonders why I'm putting myself through this.
I feel a bump at the back of my gurney, the next nurse letting me know she's entering my life. As she leans casually on the rail, she offers information about the drugs that will make this procedure possible and pleasant, asks if I have questions, then stays to chat while we wait for our turn in Room 2. I ask her how she came to be an endoscopy nurse, and surprise myself with my ability to enjoy her story.
The door opens. A gurney is wheeled out. I make eye contact and smile at the woman at eye level with me as I'm wheeled in. Her groggy returned smile is somehow reassuring.
The doctor, a pale, wiry woman with black hair spiked around her thin face, a no-nonsense attitude, and kind eyes, asks me how I'm doing. I say, "I'm here." She smiles gently, then asks me if I'm cold. I say no, thinking not only am I not cold, I can't actually feel most of my body right now. She asks if I'd like a blanket. I say no, I'm fine, thinking can we just get this over with. The nurse says the doctor prides herself on being able to talk every single patient into a heated blanket. Not wanting to ruin her record, I say yes. She leaves the room, for what seems like forever. I marvel that a doctor is spending her time going out into the hall to fetch a blanket.
When she comes back, her smile is triumphant, as though she's acquired a great treasure. She unfolds the blanket over me, then shocks me by laying it over my shoulders and wrapping it around my face. The shock of comfort and kindness brings tears to my eyes.
From that point on there is a flurry of activity. The doctor asks what I think of all these women working together - there are three besides her - in this tiny room. At first I thought they had popped in to visit with my first nurse. But now they are all busy gently moving me, talking to me, chatting with one another as they work around me.
I don't remember ever feeling this safe before.
She asks me if I have questions. I say no. I have told her I want the lightest possible drugs. I don't want to be unconscious for this, and I don't want to lose the rest of the day in recovery. I become aware of a great peace washing everything else away. The conversation around me fades into a musical buzz with no clear lyrics. I'm at the center of a hive of women, being cared for, not caring or concerned in the least what they do to me.
In time that is no time and forever, the doctor's voice breaks through to tell me she's done, I'm fine, everything went well.
Less than four hours after we left home, we return. I feel calm, a bit floaty, but otherwise myself. Without the fear. It's a sunny day, the first warm one in ages. I spend the afternoon relaxing in the sun with a book and Walt and Toby, enjoying - just enjoying.
I'm aware there are questions needing to be examined. Why can't I experience fear as fear? Why do I need to alchemize it into something more powerful, less honest? What shall I do with this new experience of being afraid and vulnerable, and not being hurt - in fact being so well cared for my heart is not quite the same as it was before the warm blanket and lovely women?
There is time. Fear will be back to help me find the answers. I believe that next time - I hope - I will be able to allow her to be Fear, my teacher and guide, and nothing else.
painting by Sophie Shapiro from Flickr