Here's a bit of writing as an apology. A warning - these are not happy words.
It’s not about the temperature. I’m pretty sure they warm these places enough for people who are only half-dressed like I now am to feel comfortable.
No, the room is cold because of its white walls and metallic surfaces; because of its purpose. Clean, sterile, clinical. Dead.
It’s cold because the people who work here, dressed in medical blouses, with ID badges hanging from their lapels, wrap themselves in ice as though it were a lead shield. I guess I would, too, if I had to confront things like this every day.
I let my body be arranged the way the attendant wants it so the images will be clear. God forbids I have to do this again. I listen to instructions, obey them even while I barely hear. I look into eyes that see me as just one more medical number and try not to think about what else these eyes will see in a few moments. What’s hiding under skin shivering with goose bumps and pain? Good news, or bad?
I’m not going to ask; I was warned not to. No one but the doctor can tell me about the results. There’s probably some liability issues at play. Or maybe learning to deliver important news is a special skill that only ‘MD’ types are allowed to learn. I really don't care.
As much as possible, I try not to think of how cold I am; how much discomfort I feel. It doesn’t work.
It’s over in just a blink. It seems to last forever.
I get dressed in a changing room that’s little more than a closet. I’m still shivering.
I’d like to go home, now. I don’t know how long it’ll take for some modern seer to lean over those mysterious images and decide on their meaning, decide what the Fates have planned for me, but however long it takes it’ll certainly be too long.
The people in the white blouses don’t let me go. One of them offers me tissues; they feel sandpaper rough on my cheeks. Another one pats my arm, says she’ll show me to a room where I can have some privacy. Where I can wait.
Where I can imagine the worst.
This room is cold, too. The door closes quietly and I sit there, alone, with damp, bunched up tissues in my hand. I wish I had someone with me. Two hours ago, I wished the opposite. Wishful thinking. Only people with serious conditions need someone to accompany them to the hospital. So if I went alone, it wouldn’t turn out to be serious.
It made sense to me at the time. Not anymore.
We’re on the fourth floor. The blinds on one of the two windows are pulled up. I can see browns and oranges; the very top of the trees that border the hospital. There’s a lot of blue, too; not a single cloud in the sky. It’s a nice day. A beautiful autumn day. Perfect to walk in a park, to sit down on a bench, soak in sunlight before winter descends on us with all the fury of some primitive god of death.
Instead, here I sit.
Seconds turn into minutes. Minutes turn into a lifetime.
Through that small square carved into the sky, I watch four planes glide through the blue. Where are they going? Some place warm, maybe. Warm and colorful and happy. Sandy beaches. Lagoons even bluer than the sky. I’d give anything to be on one of those planes.
And instead, here I continue to sit.
The door finally opens after a brief knock. The doctor walks in, introduces herself, sits down. The entire time, I keep thinking about that show I used to watch on TV. About the young, fetching oncologist – Dr. Wilson. About how he could give patients the direst of news and they’d thank him for it.
I already have a feeling I won’t be thanking this doctor.
I don’t know how long I sit there with my damp tissues inside my tight fist. Three more planes pass over the doctor’s shoulder – at least three, maybe more. I lose track of things at one point.
I nod a lot. Ask a question or two because that’s expected of me when the doctor pauses and waits, but mostly I nod. I’ve been thinking about this moment for the past few days. I imagined it with good news. I imagined it with bad. I never imagined I’d be so quiet.
The doctor is smiling that thin, soft, sad smile that says all at once compassion, seriousness and measured hope. I wish she wasn’t smiling at all. I wish she wasn’t telling me that this is not my fault, that I did nothing wrong, that things like this happen, sometimes.
I don’t want it to be a random occurrence. I don’t want to be a statistic. I want what’s happening to me to have a reason. A cause. Even if it’s a mistake I made. That way, I would know what not to do anymore. That way, I could tell my friends, the ones I love what not to do to remain safe.
That way, it wouldn’t be so senseless.
But no. There’s no explanation. Just numbered steps to take from now on. More appointments. More tests. A path I never expected to walk.
But walk, I do, through long corridors, down staircases when the elevator takes too long, past glass doors and into the late afternoon sun. The parking lot is on the right. I go left, walk around the building, following the wind. Those trees I just glimpsed from the window are an entire forest. I can see a path. Hands deep in my pockets, I follow it, breathe in the scents of earth and autumn, and let my worries and fears fall behind me like dead leaves until I’m warm again.