Sunday, April 20, 2008

Something I Never Told You

This is from my journal March 24:

On Friday, took Monkey to get a scan to see where all of her small dose of radioactive iodine had been taken up. I had just finished Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, on Thursday, so I was reading Heat while I waited for Monkey's scan to be through. I'm glad I brought the book, because the scan took a long time.

I imagine when you have a medical prcedure that takes so long, that you become more observant, looking around (if you can), trying to see as much of the detail of a place as you can. I always do this whenever I check out of my "guarded" self. I don't notice much except for what is directly in front of me, most of the time. I am usually aware only of what I am doing, what is before me.

Sometimes, in situations where I sense danger, I will extend my sphere of awareness. This used to happen a lot more when I lived back in Baltimore. I'd almost always be on edge when I was walking around in the city. I've been a victim of crime, I've had a gun in my face. It's not a pleasant thing.

Of course, irony of ironies, I was not wandering the mean streets of Mobtown when crime visited me. I was at work, at my dad's store, formerly located on one of the mean streets of Mobtown. Guy came in the front door of the store wearing a goalie mask, stuck a silver weapon with what seemed like a very big barrel in my direction, and suggested I give him the money in the cash register. I fell down. Literally.

My first reaction was to hit the deck, putting a very large (but transparent and mostly plexiglas) deli case between a bullet and myself. So, I know that in such a situation, my capacity for self-preservation will operate on a high level (as evidenced by my hitting the deck), but my capacity to reason clearly will not (as evidenced by the lack of real cover the see-through deli case actually provided).

My next reaction was to acquiesce, by chanting, "Okay. Okay.OkayOkayokayokayokayokay." The guy with the gun was probably pleased that I was being so cooperative in word; however, in deed, I was still prone on the floor behind the counter. He suggested that I open the register. I crawled (self-preservation reflex strong, see?) to the register and hit the "No Sale" button. The goalie mask helped himself to the bills, spilling change all over the floor, and out the door he went.

It was one of the more memorable days of my life.

So, for better or worse, when I am in a large urban area, I am usually more paranoid/aware than usual. I know that, logically, bad news can befall you anywhere, not just in population centers, but, well, I am conditioned to be more swivel-headed in places like Baltimore, Chicago, and San Francisco, than I am in places like Lincoln, Columbia, or Mendicino. That will probably catch up with me one day.

Usually, when I feel "safe", I am pretty focused on that which is near. However, when I am left in a room for several minutes alone, like happens in a doctor's office, I notice my mind and eyes wandering to every corner of the room; I look at every device and fixture, every ceiling tile, the knobs on drawers, the pile on the carpet, the patterns within the patterns on the wallpaper.

Enclosed in a restrictive scanner, however, is a whole different ball of medical-grade cotton. You just can't look around the room. You can only stare at some spot two feet or less in front of your face, hoping that you don't move enough to blur the image of your insides that the end result of your time in the tube is supposed to be.

In there, I guess, your mind just wanders (unless you are practiced at meditation, I suppose--in which case, you might use your scanner time productively). I'm sure your mind races to many places, some of which must have something to do with the condition that brought you to this particular place and time in the first place. I suspected that Monkey, naturally claustrophobic, anyway, was having a rough go of it.

For me, however, sitting in the waiting room, with its 21 pine-framed chairs; blue, wave-patterned carpet; beige, burlap-textured wallpaper, and a poor selection of magazines--I had my book. So, no wandering, except to count the chairs and admire the carpet and floors. I should have been blissfully content.

As much as I focused on my book (I read about forty pages), I still couldn't help but think of how depressing a place such a waiting room as this (well, all waiting rooms, really) is. Waiting rooms: hospitals, auto repair shops, doctors offices, funeral homes. All places of mostly bad news, or, at least, mostly the anticipation of no good. This one in particular: smack between radiology and oncology. That's a bad rock and a no good hard place. The people looked like I must when in a situation of potential danger: miserable, wary, frustrated, but, many, I'll admit, looked still spirited.

I wondered how I looked. Did I look wary? Did I look frustrated? Did I look miserable? Because while I spent several moments displaying my left-alone-in-a-"safe"-environment habits, surveying the walls and chairs, a large part of me wanted to drop to my knees and chant: "Okayokayokayokay."

1 comment:

La Fashionista said...

In such threatening situations, I'm usually focusing all my energy on managing my anxiety - breathing, stopping my racing thoughts, not panicking.... As a result, I rarely remember more than a particular slo-mo moment or two, let alone the kind of detail you described. Mostly it's a blur. I guess we can say that denial and repression are my friends in such instances.

That said, my self-preservation instinct is strong, so even if I don't remember specifics I tend to make it through. As I reflect on your experience and some of my own, I'm struck by both how resilient and humbling self-preservation can be - quite a powerful and strange juxtaposition of these two.

I also like "swivel-headed." = good.