Philosophy

Hard to Swallow

Hard to Swallow

May 5, 2017 • Sarah Jean Gosney

“For Good Health, Please Wash Hands.”

I found myself staring at the sign posted above the sink in the x-ray room as I waited for the nurse to gather the supplies she would need for the procedure. The room hummed like a window AC unit, and the yellow light was dim enough to make me sleepy but bright enough for me to read clearly.

I’d always washed my hands, but here I was. A hand-washer, healthy eater, regular exerciser, non-smoker, twenty-something, hungover from insomnia, drunk off the Ambien that had failed to help me sleep the night before, and nauseated from whatever sheer luck brought me to this diagnostic imaging center.

For Good Health. I did everything right. I always followed the signs. I Covered My Cough. How did I still end up here?

I started off lying on a bed-like contraption that seemed more nautical for all its periscope-like scanning-arms. The nurse, a fifty-something with shoulder length chestnut brown hair with blonde highlights, sun-roughened skin, and the friendly but gruff voice of an ex-smoker, took an x-ray of my stomach before she gave me anything to drink. Then, to my amazement, she used hidden knobs to raise the bed, Frankenstein-style, until I was in a standing position.

The day of x-rays of my innards continued with a delightful array of amuses-bouches (the French term for appetizers which literally translates to “mouth entertainment”). I’d eaten and drunk nothing–not even a sip of water–for almost twelve hours to prepare for my feast. The friendly nurse started me with shooters–one of water, and one that could only be described as extra-fizzing orange flavored Emergen-C crystals.

To get the full experience, I was told not to burp at any cost. That fizz was mine for the keeping. Next, I washed it down with a liquid I’d describe as lilac in the generously dim light, and probably a dull grey in the sunlight. It was so thick that all I could think of to describe the consistency would be Pepto Bismol left open on the counter for several weeks.

Blue Kool Aid, blue Kool Aid, blue Kool Aid! I thought, no, chanted to myself as I sucked the chalky barium smoothie through the straw. While drinking the stuff, it occurred to me that it tasted vaguely like those blue squeezable Kool Aid pouches I used to drink as a kid the four lucky times a year my parents went to Sam’s Club. So I focused on that electric blue flavor.

It was either that or acknowledge that I what it really tasted like was Windex.

Don’t get too excited. This isn’t a romantic tale of my struggle with untimely cancer. No, this is a picture of immaculate health. A body that passes all the tests with flying colors. A body with washed hands. A body apparently perfect in every way except for the fact that everything seems to malfunction.

Like every test I’ve had before, in a few days, a strange nurse, a different one than I met during the procedure, will call me on the phone and deliver in a chipper tone the news that the test came back negative. Everything was fine and to call the office if I needed anything else. As if my problems would disappear since they discovered no masses or lesions. How very lucky I must be.

I raise my glass of barium to you.

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