I put on my prettiest dress to go have a PET scan done at the radiologist’s office. Partly because I have to teach a class afterwards, but mostly because last time I went to a radiologist’s office I was wearing a sweater over a pajama top and jeans. And nothing says “I’m a sad sack with cancer” like wearing pajama layers in public. So I’m wearing the dress.
And the first building I drive to is the wrong one. I’m talking to Joe on the phone, telling him how I can’t find any parking. “What do you mean? There are all kinds of empty parking spots,” he says. “I’m standing at the front entrance right now staring at all the empty parking spots.” Then I realize I’ve driven to the surgeon’s office instead of the radiologist’s. So I drive to where Joe is waiting, and then we realize I told him to go to the wrong radiologist’s office.
“Don’t you have the address?” he asks me.
“I wrote it down.”
“On your phone?”
“No. At home. On the yellow paper.”
That would be the yellow paper on which I’d drawn a light bulb for Joe to show him how it could also be a woman leaning over to pull up her girdle.
The rest of my notes from the doctor’s office are scrawled on a Whole Foods holiday grocery bag.
Lesson learned: I’m going to need a dedicated notepad and an organizer.
The wrong radiologist directs me a mile west to the right radiologist, and, once inside, my technician Brian looks down at my high heels and says, “I can see this is your first rodeo.” He keeps repeating this phrase, most depressingly when he says, “This won’t be your last rodeo, of course.” I’ve been to one actual rodeo in my life, when I was ten. I had a hay fever attack and my family had to take me home. That’s my relationship to rodeos. Circuses. Circuses on the other hand. I saw the Jim Rose Circus perform once – a man who swallowed razor blades on a string, another guy who contorted to fit through the head of a tennis racket, a woman with duct-taped nipples assisting someone lifting kettle weights on a chain attached to his nether regions. That’s the more apt analogy. But I don’t break it to Brian who is now asking me what exactly I think is going to happen here today.
“I think you’re going to inject my veins with something and then shove me in the claustrophobia tube,” I say.
He squints at me for a second and says, “You’ve been Googling.”
What’s going to happen, more precisely, is I’ll be injected with radioactive isotopes with “a glucose chaser,” as Brian says. “And the cancer cells will light up on the scan.” But between the injection and the scan, I have to sit for seventy minutes in a small, dark room under warm blankets. Brian tells me this is when patients take a nap. But I can hear through the walls as Brian ushers another woman through the process and they start to argue.
“Why won’t you be able to tell me my results today?”
“I’m just the technician, ma’am. I explained this to you yesterday.”
“When I called you and talked to you for twenty minutes.”
“You didn’t talk to me.”
“I did. I talked to you for twenty minutes.”
“You most certainly did not talk to me yesterday.”
“I did. I called you. You said it was you. And I talked to you for twenty minutes.”
“I talked to a woman yesterday.”
There’s a long pause here before Brian says, “That was me, ma’am.”
So instead of taking a nap, I spend seventy minutes in a small, dark room trying to imagine what a woman with Brian’s voice might look like. Just before the doorknob jangles, I figure it out.
A woman with Brian’s voice would look like Bea Arthur. Now every time he says something – as he leads me down the hall, situates me on the scanner table, instructs me over the intercom while I’m in the tube – I see Bea Arthur. Bea Arthur is telling me to raise my arms over my head. Bea Arthur is telling me to keep my head straight. When I’m done, I sit there for a second in the gown and the paper shorts billowing three-times my width, thinking Brian and I have a rapport. I made him laugh. We have the whole rodeo thing. So I ask Brian if he can tell me the results of the scan. Just blink twice if I lit up like an electrocuted cartoon cat.
Come on, Bri. Just blink twice for bad news, once for good. His face crumples in a Bea Arthur grimace of deep disappointment.
I want to know, but I don’t want to know. Especially the closer it gets to my four o’clock class. And I really don’t want to know right before I walk in to play James Earl Jones reading “The Raven” in Darth Vader’s voice. So I don’t even call my doctor to find out. When I get home, carrying a hot pizza box on the inverted teepee of my fingers, my twelve-year-old is singing Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” because they’ve been warned to keep a five-foot perimeter from me until morning and the Firecracker is chasing after the dog in matching princess dress and Joe rushes out to get the pizza box from me. Or at least that’s what I think he’s doing. But really he’s coming to tell me the surgeon called and said it would seem the cancer hasn’t spread.