I was at the Northampton Hospital half an hour ago for an MRI. The results of the EEG I had and wrote about on these pages were "normal", which was something of a surprise, but they wanted me to have an MRI too because the latter is more thorough, apparently; the EEG can miss things. (If that is the case, I find myself wondering, why don't they stop doing the EEGs and spend the money they waste there on more MRI machines?)(But what do I know, eh?)
I was dreading the MRI ever since the appointment came through. I've been convinced, in the less logical interiors of my strung-out paranoid mind, that I was dying of cancer for a long time, even before I hit the floor in the Lookout for the first time and woke up wondering what the hell had just happened. But having the MRI, so my reasoning went, would prove it conclusively. There would be no kidding myself out of these overwhelming death fears and back to some semblance of normality.
And it still might prove that; I don't know. If Seve Ballesteros can get a brain tumour and John Hartson can get terminal cancer at 34, who am I to claim protection against the ravages of Death? especially since my mother and both my father's parents were taken by what John Wayne famously called "the Big C". I will get the results of my brain scan in "five to seven" days, and when that happens everything could change.
But the process of finding out whether I'm ready for the worm farm or just a ridiculous worrier who needs to get his head out of his rear end and start living his life while he still has one--that is done. And it wasn't especially awful. At first I thought I would embarrass myself by panicking and squeezing the buzzer to be rescued from the massive tunnel they slide you into. I was remembering my mother's description of the tunnel as "like a grave" and thinking how apt that was, particularly with that contraption over your face pressing down on your nose like a coffin lid.
I didn't know what the contraption was because by then I'd closed my eyes and started counting my in-breaths like in Buddhist meditation. I was also listening, vaguely, to the radio they were piping in on the headphones I'd agreed to put on, and thinking what a great pop band Take That became when they made their comeback. Maybe the best pop band since the Beatles. (I was scared, remember. Don't judge what a man thinks when he's lying in his own grave being shot with radiation.)
As the scan became noisier, clanking and heaving like a nuclear hurdy-gurdy crossed with a trolley bus, and the Fear threatened to steal my composure, I visualised Buddha's serene face, his half-closed eyes, as he sat deep in meditation looking for an end to suffering and the endless cycles of rebirth. How appropriate. It helped too. Soon I was so relaxed I could have been lying on a beach with a good book open on my lap and a cold beer being investigated by a wasp beside me on my beach blanket. When the scan ended, in fact, and the bed I'd been lying on began sliding back out of the tunnel, I was almost disappointed it was over.
I hovered in the waiting room for a while after I'd put my belt back on and reclaimed my phone and my keys from the locker I'd taken. The person who'd been in before me was given an envelope to take away with her, large enough for it to be safely presumed there were X-Rays inside. I was waiting for mine, but when the Nurse put down her mobile phone and came out of the other room to ask me if I was all right I realised I wasn't at the same stage in my treatment. Or that the woman had been here for something else entirely. All I had to do was go home, the Nurse said. Then "whoever referred me" would phone with my results in the week.
It was sunnier than it had been for days when I got out into the hospital car park. I turned my mobile back on and texted my girlfriend. Then I walked back into town to spend a little money in celebration that I had met my terror head-on like Hemingway and come out at the other end, almost, still walking on two legs and ready for the weekend.