Right Here, Right Now

Where were you on 9/11? That seems like something someone–no one I know but a kind of someone–would ask. And in fact it is the first Google autosuggestion when you type: where were you…

mri stairsI was right here.

Along with a dental cleaning and visit to a headache specialist, I’ve rescheduled an MRI at least four times in the past month, so many times they’ve blurred together and I now inadvertently have the dental cleaning (10:30am) and headache specialist (2pm) both tomorrow, which is too much out of a work day. One’s going to have to get the boot again. The eye exam (where Ilana Glazer was seeing the same doctor–hey, I have to take my celeb sightings where I can find them) I managed to make on the first appointment. I don’t need glasses. I did have a “freckle” on one eye which I’ve interpreted as being the ocular equivalent of a mole you must watch so it doesn’t turn weird and kill you.

Not related (at least in my mind) to the no headache, vision loss migraines I’ve been having since August and the reason I’m trying to get all these appointments minus the dentist accomplished, is a horrible inability to focus and a general messing up of things mostly related to dates and numbers and spatial relations.

IMG_5354I bought a 22″ wide custom shade on Etsy for my creepy bathroom that nearly sits at street level and came with a thin translucent shade that’s developing holes. The window is 27″ wide. All I can think is that I did measure it properly, had the number in my mind for an afternoon, then when I got on the computer and typed in the order 22″ sounded correct.

A couple weeks ago I bought a range online that was 30″ wide. My current range is 30″. It would not fit. There is a lip on the top of both sides meant to sit on the edges of the counter and only half of my counter on the right side is exposed that way. The back half is flush against the ranges because of cabinets. I’ve yet to be able to explain this issue in print or verbally in a way so anyone gets the problem, so it’s for the best that I’m not a technical writer. I am now having problems getting a refund and will have to pay delivery both ways, installation despite it not being installed and a restocking fee. Also, I would love to go on Judge Judy.

I showed up at 9:15am two Wednesdays ago for my dental appointment, which is a feat because what used to be a building a few blocks from my old office is now nowhere near work and an hour away from my apartment. I was a Wednesday early. I cancelled that appointment because there was no way I was doing that same time, same commute the following week.

I had an MRI maybe in 2003 for the same migraine weirdness and it was near Union Square and no big deal, which is why I wasn’t freaked out about doing one now. I remember the room, despite windowless, being white and airy and clinical, literally. This recent appointment was also in Union Square so at first I thought maybe it was the same place, then I noticed my penciled in note on the referral print-out said 10 Union Square, 3rd floor, which is my primary care physician’s old office building and not the 2003 MRI location. But I could’ve sworn that on the fourth call, I’d been told something about the MRI clinic being right on the ground floor.

I trusted my handwritten note to self. While trapped on a stuck 7 train that after 45 minutes was still in Queens, I called the phone number a nurse had written down for me and the recording said radiology was indeed at 10 Union Square. Despite leaving extra early for a 9am appointment, which might not be early to most but I don’t get to work until 10:30am so it involves waking up an hour-and-a-half earlier, I arrived sweaty and harried as usual, 15 minutes late–and at the wrong location, of course.

That ground level tidbit was true. Because MRIs are scheduled at different locations depending on time and day of the week, this fourth iteration was in a third location, way, way east on 17th Street across from Stuyvesant Town. This does not look like a building where you’d willingly have a medical procedure.

It wasn’t until I had nearly schlepped all the way there, now half an hour late and putting me in danger of now missing an important work meeting and possibly the appointment itself, that I realized this is where I had been on the morning of 9/11. Not for an MRI but an MRA (magnetic resonance angiogram) before that acronym had anything to do with men’s rights. That was an 8am appointment because I still had some Oregon left in me then and I also needed to be in Park Slope where I started work at a standard hour because I was one of three employees, my boss was in California that week and I didn’t have any flexibility or say in those days. It’s also the only job I’ve been fired from in NYC.

I really don’t remember the chain of events and am not interested in reconstructing them. I don’t know when the first tower was hit and when buildings collapsed. I do think at 8am nothing had happened yet. I got buzzed in, walked up these stairs, filled out some forms, and got sent to a room to change into a gown, entered the swinging doors to a dark, creepy room that could double as a medically inclined villain’s lair on The Blacklist or Hannibal, realized I was meant to have an IV, freaked out, refused to go through with the procedure, put my clothes back on and left. Now there was panic in the streets. Not really. Something was happening, though. People were standing on fire escapes, everyone was looking up.

I could hear the only two employees this time, the receptionist and radiology tech, both male, which I feel the need to point out because non-doctor medical staff are always so overwhelmingly female, trying to determine if my MRI was supposed to have contrast or not because it wasn’t clear from my paperwork.

Oh, hell no. I wouldn’t have even agreed to do it if that were the case, and it certainly wasn’t they way I had it done in 2003. I explained that I didn’t need contrast dye and then relayed how I’d been to this place before on 9/11 and that I had to leave that time over the IV issue and considered this to be an amusing anecdote. They interpreted it that I was wound up over the 9/11 connection and was going to have a panic attack or something.

I was not. I’ve never had a panic attack in the TV trope, Tony Soprano, think I’m having a heart attack and dying way. I’m just permanently in a state of unease. Getting from point A to point B in NYC anymore is an exercise in anxiety that leaves me on edge and clammy (and lately in the wrong location). Sometimes on the subway I feel like I’m going to pass out and I can’t swallow, even when it’s not crowded. I know that’s anxiety. I don’t know what you can really do about it other than sitting indoors all day.

This time I was instructed to wear two gowns, one facing forward, the other backward, which was excessive yet comforting like a double caftan. I didn’t even have to take anything off, including shoes, from the waist down so I wasted time shaving my legs and was mad that I didn’t wear the hard to remove boots I was originally planning on. They must realize that this dimly lit room and machine is eerie–half the unit is in one room, half sticks into an more open space–because the tech made a point of walking me around it showing me where the head half goes. When asked if I was claustrophobic, I had to say no. I don’t think I am even though humans in close proximity can make me freak out and is one of the reasons why I like walking so fast, to not have people hemming me in.

I wonder if I’m misremembering my MRI 11 years ago because this set up was more mummy-like with a plastic cage touching my arms and I started wondering if I wouldn’t spazz out. I also started wondering if my girth had expanded markedly since 2003 but that’s not the case at all. I was told this would last 45 minutes, which seemed awfully long, but in reality was just different series of scans some five minutes, others 15 at most and after each one you’re asked if you’re ok. I was but because the idea of people having this done not being ok was introduced, I started becoming afraid that I might panic. Instead, I tried focusing on what I remembered from 9/11, which ended up being way more soothing than stressful. I think an MRI would be great for brainstorming and focusing and might be akin to a sensory deprivation tank. I left feeling completely refreshed.

Thoughts while trying to not have a freakout:

The taps and buzzes sometimes sound like an emergency broadcast signal on TV (are those still done?) and sometimes like an electric guitar kicking off a rocking song, none in particular. It can start becoming meditative.

I started getting a crush on the radiology guy, a very warm, young gay man, who was totally one of those “Our teacher made an announcement in homeroom” types of 9/11 memory-havers.

The technology seemed so dated that I felt like I’d entered a 1970s movie where I’d been put in a hibernation pod at the height of science, all white and glowing, and would awake in either a dingy Matrix world and/or apes might be ruling the planet.

This morning was beautiful and blue skies just like on 9/11 but a good ten degrees colder. On the way to this building last time, people were handing out flyers on corners touting their candidates for an election for what I don’t know. I never voted in NYC until I moved to Carroll Gardens in 2004.

I don’t know why pay phones didn’t work. Were the circuits overloaded? The subways weren’t running and I went to make a call while in Union Square station but I don’t remember if it was to my boss or James who lived a block away and was still in bed.

crusoeMy most vivid memory, which can’t be completely accurate, occurred after I came back out of the station, walked past my old doctor’s office at 10 Union Square, which takes up that half of the block above the station, and going to cross 14th Street when an MTA bus pulled up and started letting passengers off who all seemed injured like the bus was a makeshift ambulance. I always picture a wild-haired, balding man in tattered dress clothes like a castaway who was scraped up and bleeding. I mean, I certainly saw that but I always envision a cartoonish version when it was probably a clean cut guy in dirty, rumpled suit.

The mid ’70s snippets that I can remember from when I lived in California until age 4 are no fuzzier than what I can call up from the early 2000s. Or maybe I should say that mental snapshots from 15 years ago are no clearer than from over 35 years ago–there are just a lot more of them.

Some of the things I remember from the pre-preschool era are few but distinct: hiding behind a chair eating dry Fruity Pebbles from a bowl during an evening grownup party at our apartment, meeting a girl named Samantha in the sandbox at the park attached to our apartment complex who said she was eating roast beef for dinner, trying to slice a bar of Irish Spring soap with a plastic Fischer Price rattle shaped like a sunflower, being woken up while it was still dark because my grandpa who was a truck driver was passing through town and it was snowing, a weather rarity in the Bay Area, running next to my mom in our apartment’s parking lot and jumping up trying to get a look at my new baby sister who was in my mom’s arms. Do I really remember doing that when I was two and a half or does it seem like something I would’ve done?

Events very quickly pass into oh, that was something that happened once a long time ago territory.

When I went to take off my double gown and put half my clothes back on in the little dressing room, my bra which had been balled up in my shirt the past 45 minutes was all cold and damp. I don’t think one should be sweating that much in 55 degree weather.

Whether or not one should, my chronic overheating and carelessness with dates and times and measurements is not the result of a brain tumor or abnormality, at least. An ignored phone call just four hours later during an office fire drill reported that my MRI was completely normal.

* * *

 Yesterday afternoon I went to a party thrown by a friend I met in 1999 when we worked together at the Pratt library and whom I see a couple times a year. She lives in Ridgewood and is moving to an apartment, barely in Ridgewood, down the block, so we were saying goodbye to her having a backyard. I caught a woman with blunt bangs, strawberry blonde, Doc Martens, and the same puffy under eyes that I’m vexed by staring at me. “Krista?” She was also a former Pratt coworker. She brought up Teddy’s, one of my favorite memories from that summer when we’d get dismissed from work at 1pm (noon for librarians, which I wasn’t yet) because our union deemed it too inhumane to work in that combination of heat and humidity without air conditioning and a group of maybe ten of us would take the G to Williamsburg for happy hour margaritas and cheap nachos. I was just talking about this unusually hot summer and the Teddy’s remedy with someone completely unrelated to the library scene on Wednesday. No one goes to Teddy’s anymore and the building is being sold. The thing is, I didn’t remember this woman at all. Zero recollection. I hope she doesn’t read this (and why would she?) not just because I’ll feel bad but because I’ll feel crazy.

Her husband or boyfriend or whoever the shaggy gray-hair in a Dead Meadow t-shirt who’d graduated college in 1988 was mentioned that this was a very Gen X party. I had to concede that was true. Instead of feeling comfortable (I’ve been known to complain about a lack of peers beyond my immediate circle of similarly aged friends) I felt better about myself because I had a tentative date planned with someone a decade younger later on. That did not pan out, which I’m not sure is more Gen X or millennial but I want to say the latter. Millennials are flaky, all FOMO and Gen X would expect nothing less.  The past few years have been an exercise in lowered expectations and I’m pretty sure I’ve not gone as low as I can go. Then again, I bailed on an even younger millennial last week, so maybe this is just the natural order?

Despite living in Jackson Heights for six months, I can never remember the street names in the Elmhurst alphabetical grid that hits Roosevelt and turns to numbers so Forley St. equals 85th St, my street, an important thing to know when trying to get home from hard to reach parts of Queens like Ridgewood, which require multiple buses that only come every 30 minutes or bus and long walk combos–at my age/class I should just spring for car services–that make me feel even more out of place in the dark on a Saturday night weaving through empty residential streets. That’s when I put on “Thieves Like Us,” a song that plays a role in a serious, non-bloggy (i.e. this big mess) essay I’ve been trying to write since December and can’t figure out how to conclude because I’m allergic to life lesson. I keep thinking that if I walk home alone on Queens streets late at night listening to this song enough times that I will have a moment of clarity. Still unclear.

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