Dispatches | November 13, 2006

For fifteen minutes a gamma camera had me in its maw from waist to neck.  Small doses of a radio active substance had been injected intravenously to light up the fist-shaped muscle and the twists and turns of its blood supply for the camera’s scanning eye.  Then, with silent, computerized swiftness, the tube retracted and the slab on which I lay was lowered.  The machine was finished with me.

“It looks okay, Kristine,” the radiologist said.  Her voice came from a dark corner of the room.  A Jim Dine, pop-arty-looking proof sheet of six images of my heart glowed red on her computer screen. 

“Okay?” I thought.  “My heart looks okay?”  I felt like a mother who has been told that her child is average.

I’d just been through the scare of my life.  Sunday afternoon when I sat down to grade composition papers, I started having acute chest pains.  The emergency room doctor’s diagnosis was esophageal spasms, but he couldn’t completely rule out heart attack.  (I heard more than once during my brief stay in the hospital, “Those must’ve been some pretty bad papers.”)

So now I should be happy.  My heart looked okay.  Not great, superb, or brilliant.  Okay.  I’ve heard more enthusiastic comments about my cooking, a small step up from dorm-room cuisine.

I should have known that language was secondary to numbers when I was continually asked to rate my pain on a scale from one to ten rather than speak the words swirling in my head:  oppressive, brutal, savage, sheer hell.

I felt a similar sense of disappointment this morning when I called my doctor’s office to get the official results of my nuclear stress test. 

“Everything’s normal,” the nurse told me over the phone.

“Normal?” I asked, giving her a chance to elaborate, perhaps using a stronger adjective.

“Yes, normal.  The doctor won’t need to see you.”

Sure now that my heart is merely “okay,” “normal,” “so-so,” I wouldn’t want to see me either.  I never imagined that I’d feel vain about my heart, but I guess it’s up  to me to sing its praises. 

And so I will.  My heart is grand.  It’s capable of amazing physical and emotional feats.  And, if I do say so myself, it simply doesn’t take a bad picture.

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