I limped into park west radiology, located in the dimly lit basement of an upscale apartment building in the heart of midtown, Manhattan and was greeted like norm in the TV show cheers. As my name bellowed in the bustling waiting room, I slowly made my way over to the admitting nurse, who Id gotten to know pretty well.
In fact, just a week earlier she told me about her struggle to make something of her life after aging out of the foster care system. She’d put herself through school while her aging grandma tried to keep her siblings together with help from the state.
I wasn’t shocked by the intimate level of our conversation. We’d built up to it over my many visits to the facility for X-rays, CT scans or an MRI. I actually welcomed the ease with which we dealt with each other because, no matter how many times I venture into a center for another test, my anxiety level climbs. Our talks, no matter how brief, relaxed.
I handed in the forms for my new round of X-rays on my neck, scapula, shoulder, and spine, as well as my arthrogram paperwork. She examined them for a few seconds, ran my flex pay health spending cards for my copay and then asked me to take a seat.
I drifted away from the mob of people moaning, coughing or generally looking miserable on the left side of the room. Instead, I opted for a small area near the admitting desk that had one chair and a small love seat that faced a TV.
One lone white guy, also waiting for an MRI, sat there gnawing on his nails trying not to make eye contact. At least, when he saw me hobbling over, he moved his bag and jacket which were sprawled out on the seat, closer to him.
I wasn’t seated more than ten inured before a frazzled white woman in her thirties interrupted my calm, flopping down on the love seat next to the guy. She huffed as she picked up the courtesy phone and banged out a phone number. Talking in her voice, she laid out her need for a medical authorization before she could have her procedure. She cut her eyes over at me and the guy as if we were deliberating ease dropping on her conversation. Frankly, by the glance we have each other, neither of us wanted to hear it.
I tried not to focus on her screeching by turning my attention to some ridiculous midday segment on Fox 5. However, I was interrupted again. This time, an elderly black woman with one of those walkers with a built in seat, appeared on my right side. She was so close I could hear her breathing. It must’ve occurred to her that the distance between us was slight because she tapped me.
“I hope you don’t mind me sitting here,” she said. “I’m too tired to go any further.
“Of course not,” I responded, noticing how winded she appeared. I, unfortunately, empathized with her. I felt similarly after leaving my job and walking the 10 blocks and one avenue to the testing center.
Pausing to talk to her did make me take note of the time. It hit me that is been waiting quite a while. I glanced down at my cell phone and noticed 45 minutes had already passed. Trying not to sound too irritated, I turned my head rot wards the admitting nurse, caught her eye and said, “I had s 12:30 appointment and it’s been neat an hour. How much longer? I have to get bank to work. It’s how I pay for this luxury.” I then gave her an awkward smile.
“Not much longer,” she said nervously rising for her seat and heading towards s door to the back of the facility. “Let me go check. I’m sorry for the delay.”
I relaxed back into my chair and then heard a faint voice.
“Do you know did they disconnect that young girl from life support?” Ask the old black lady as she nodded towards the TV which was displaying a picture of Bobbi Kristina Brown.
“No,” I replied. “The family said they never planned to disconnect her on the anniversary of Whitney Houston’s death. They say she’s improving.”
“I don’t know about that,” she exclaimed, “but I guess you have to have faith when you or someone you love is such, huh?”
“Yeah, that’s all that gets you through sometimes,” I replied.
I’d barely gotten the words out when news of the cop’s arraignment for a deadly shooting in the Pink Houses in East New York, Brooklyn appeared on the screen.
“That’s a shame,” the old black lady said. “He killed that young boy. I’m not surprised. Cops over there treat you do badly. And, I was offered an apartment in that projects even I wouldn’t take. Those young people have no respect. They will hurt and rob anybody. I don’t live far from there and it’s so tough around there I don’t go out on check day.”
“That is a shame,” I said, looking down at the book I brought with me.
“You know my mother lived not far from there, God rest her soul.”
“Yeah but the neighborhood has changed so I just stay in my house.”
“That’s probably the safest choice”
“Yeah there was a shooting just the other day but I could see it. My apartment is in the back and has no windows to the front of the building.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“The cops came and knocked on my door. I let them in and they looked around. Still don’t know what they were looking for. I told them I didn’t see or no nothing. They should’ve been trying to figure out who keeps knocking out the lights in the hallway on check day; that’s dangerous.”
I listened as the woman continued her stories, nodding and agreeing at the appropriate places while periodically checking the time. One hour into my wait the old lady was called back to the admitting counter.
“The name is Diane, not Diana,” she shouted as she used one foot to wheel her entire seat over to the desk.
Seconds later, I heard my name. “Nika, it’ll be just ten more minutes.” Relieved, I texted one of my bosses to let her know I’d be back in the office, just later than I previously thought.
I picked up my book, Fresh off the Boat, again and started reading. I only got to finish one page uninterrupted. Diane was back, sitting closer to me than before and she looked upset.
I placed the open book on my lap and turned to her, “are you okay? What are having done today?”
“A biopsy,” she said, sliding her hands down her face. “And I’m scared.”
“That it will hurt or I’ll have Cancer.”
“Well I’ve had one before so I know you’ll be okay,” I said, smiling at her, hoping it would comfort her. “What kind are you getting, needed or surgical?”
“Needle,” she said, looking me up and down trying to figure of what was wrong with me.
I pulled down the collar of my turtleneck and pointed to the faint scar where three of my four ml surgical biopsies for lymphoma were performed. “Trust me,” I sad, “you won’t feel it. The anesthesia they give you will numb you. Just don’t look as the needle is coming towards you.”
Diane wheeled closer so she was facing me and said, “thank you so much. I feel a bit better. It’s just I’ve been through so much lately. My doctor is sending me to a neurologist tomorrow. I have to get up 3 a.m. to start getting ready. That doctor is going to check out my brain, I guess. He’s going to do some test to see what’s happening to me. My doctor thinks I’ve been having mini strokes in my sleep.”
I shook my head then said, “I’m sorry to hear that. I had a couple of strokes back to back before I was 35. You can survive them but they should try to figure out the source.”
“Whoa. I wouldn’t have guessed that,” she said as her mouth hung open. “They’re giving me baby aspirin right now.”
“Yeah, I tried that, the orange flavor, as well as verapamil which is a blood thinner and a water pill. I’m off of all of that right now.”
“Are you worried?”
“No, actually I’m not. It’s going to be what it’s going to be. I’m doing the best I can to take care of myself and stay on top of things. My doctors weren’t sure the drugs were helping so we agreed to stop them.”
“You’ve really been through it, huh?”
“Well, it’s always something isn’t it,” she replied.
“It is until you die, that is,” I said, displaying my morbid sense of humor.
Instead of being shocked, Diane just laughed. She then confided in me that, “Now that I’m sick I would’ve thought my family would be there but there not. I bet if I won that half billion dollar Powerball jackpot they’d all show up. The only one I’d help is my nephew. He’s always been there for me. He even sends me money from time to time. I tell him I know he has his own bills but he tells me not to worry about it.”
“My grandmother used to say the same thing and my response was always to tell her not to watch my pockets. I will take care of that.”
Diane let out her first laugh of the day just as the technician called me in the back for my x-rays. My left leg was numb and tingling by then so I felt like I was dragging it the short distance to the door.
The technician cocked his head to the side and stared at me for a second before he said, “I’ve done your x-rays before, right?”
“Yep, just last week.”
“I thought so. How are you feeling?”
“Well, you know what to do. Take off everything, including your underwear and put on one of the robes.”
I took a couple of selfies in the changing room before I walked out into the chilly hallway. I’d starting snapping images of myself, I suppose to prove to all the people who didn’t quite believe my medical ordeal that I was really visiting doctors as often as I’d claimed. I kept up the practice, realizing that seeming me smiling or at least comfortable put the majority of people who genuinely cared about my well-being at ease.
I strolled into the room and posed on command for the man I barely knew. I put one leg up on a stool, bent as far forward and back as I could, I even hugged myself. I didn’t even stress when the robe started to slip, exposing part of my breast. After all, this man was not only looking at me but threw me. He perhaps knew more about me than just about anyone else.
Within in fifteen minutes, I was back in the hallway waiting for another stranger to usher me into a different room. Fifteen turned into thirty minutes and my blood began to boil. I marched from my seat back into the changing room and fired off another message to my boss, letting her know I wasn’t sure when I’d return to work on the evening newscasts. Edgy, I paced up until a young white girl in her mid-twenties walked over to me carrying a clip board. She thumbed through the page and said, “Ms. Beamon?”
“Can you follow me please?”
“Sure,” I said, walking closely behind her until we reached a room with an exam table, a camera on a large robotic arm and a back of monitors.
A red headed man stood in the corner of the room, staring down at a tray that I could only assume contained the dye that was going to be injected into me for my next procedure. He introduced himself briefly then told me to lie on the table.
I studied all of the cracks in the ceiling while I waited for him to say something else. But, the woman spoke instead. When I turned my head to the right to look at her, I noticed she was wearing a lead bib that covered her completely up to the next.
Should I have one of those, I thought. I’m the one that’s getting radiation shot through my body more often than the Hulk.
I immediately whipped my head around when I felt someone opening the bottom of my robe. I’d almost forgotten the anesthesiologist was in the room because he was so quiet.
Realizing I was started he said, “I’m sorry. I’m going to open your robe and place three shots in your thigh. Then, I’m going to look for the largest vein and inject the dye, okay?”
What am I supposed to say? I wondered. I don’t want to be a human pin cushion but I have no choice. I can barely walk and I need to find out why. I don’t want to be wheelchair bound at 43.
I nodded at him and he flopped the sides of my green and white robe open, exposing me from the waist down.
I’m glad I shaved and showered, I thought. This is not at all humiliating.
I felt the doctor draw several lines on my leg with a marker then make three sharp pricks into the skin. Still, I wasn’t really in any pain. I wasn’t numb either.
Isn’t this stuff supposed to make my leg numb? I wondered.
“Ms. Beamon, I’m going to inject the dye now. You may feel a bit more pain. I’m also going to take some pictures.”
Of what? I wondered as I lay spread eagle on the table.
“I’m going to put my hand on the inner part of your thigh and move it a bit so I can get a good spot,” he said.
So, in addition to embarrassing me, is he implying that my thighs are too fat? I thought.
The pressure of the large needle piercing my skin was clear. Moments later, I felt a warm liquid trickle out of the wound and onto my leg as I heard the camera above me click away.
The anesthesiologist ran and grabbed a sterilizing cloth and cleaned the area. As soon as it appeared to stop bleeding, he placed a bandage on top. I wasn’t aware of how much blood had come out until I looked at the side of the robe and saw a giant circle. The first bandage wasn’t good enough so he changed it again before asking me to stand up and tell him where I felt pain.
I pointed to the lower part of my back, at the base of my spine. Then, I showed him where the pain travels from my hip down my outer part of my leg into my knees and feet, often rendering them numb.
“It sounds to me like you have a problem with your spine and not your leg,” he said. “But, let’s get the images and we will see.”
George, the technician in the MRI room, greeted me with a big smile. By then, I was in pain and annoyed I’d been kept waiting so long.
“How long have you had this problem?” he asked, pointing to my leg.
“A few months off and on,” I replied, releasing some of my attitude.
“Well, hopefully this scan will help figure out what’s going on. I’m going to put some headphones on you with music. Any preference?”
“Light FM it is,” he chuckled. “Just lay as still as you can for me for about 24 minutes and I’ll get you out of here. Since you were left to wait, I will get you a disc of your images before you go.”
I was flat on my back trying to ignore the loud chugging, grinding and rattling from the MRI machine while music played faintly in the background. Every once in a while I’d hear the beginning of a song and was able to complete in my mind even if I couldn’t really hear it. The time flew by and before I knew it, George was helping me to my feet.
I threw on my clothes and tucked my cell phone back in my pocket, noticing three hours had passed since I walked in the door. I grabbed the disc of my images from the check-in desk before I flew out the door on my way back to work.
As the elevator door opened on the first floor, I saw a familiar face; it was Diane. She was sitting in chair built into her walker waiting for access-a-ride. I strolled over to her and tapped her on the shoulder.
“How did it go?” I asked.
“You were right, I didn’t feel a thing,” she said with a huge smile.
“I’m glad. You take care now.”
“You too and remember there’s always something but with a little faith we’ll get through it, right?”
I wasn’t certain she really wanted an answer but I did agree with her, even if I did so silently.
About the author:
Nika C. Beamon in a TV Writer in New York. She is the author of the memoir, Misdiagnosed: The Search for Dr. House (2014). She is also the author of the well-received non-fiction book, I Didn’t Work This Hard Just to Get Married, Successful, Single Black Women Speak Out (Chicago Review Press, 2009)