X is for x-ray

x-ray of a dachshund

My first x-ray was in a New York City emergency room. I don’t remember how old I was, only that I was able to walk, had upper teeth, and yet still in the young days of non-remembering; perhaps I was two? Perhaps I was younger? My mother tells me, “You were screaming. You were so white. So pale!” (The sardonic side of me remembers my sun-phobic mom’s voice as sounding very proud when she claimed I was “pale”)

I had fallen on my face and shattered all my front teeth. They took dental x-rays.

I remember hopping up and down on the bed, up for a bite of apple, down for the jump, up for a bite of apple; that was how my grandma fed me sometimes, scraping the flesh out of an apple so that it was a soft spoon of fruit. I remember falling off the bed, tumbling to the floor, feeling pain. Or maybe that was after I broke my teeth, the scraped apple flesh for a toothless mouth.

My mother tells me I fell while running towards my father, who had just come home from work. I was ecstatic about my dad’s arrival, per the usual. But that day, I fell on my face.

The ER pulled all my teeth and eventually, crowns were put in. The crowns got infected later, so they were pulled. So, no front teeth for years. My dad liked to give me carrots and watch me demolish them with only back molars with which to chew.

I didn’t have front teeth until the second grade. And then, only my central incisors. So that I looked like Bugs Bunny. My dad liked to give me carrots and watch me eat them with my two front incisors.

My teeth grew in crooked. X-rays #2-6 were various x-rays of my molars and incisors and bicuspids all growing in crooked. On the x-ray, we could see a tooth growing in under my tongue. The orthodontist said my mouth was too small to fit 32 adult teeth. He pulled my canine teeth and my cuspids.

“A woman has to have a great smile,” my father would tell me. And I would practice, in the mirror. My father never smiled, because he said his teeth were too awful to show the world.

X-ray #7 showed that my tailbone had been broken and then healed. I couldn’t walk for days, crawled on my hands and knees. Couldn’t do a sit-up for two years without pain. It was the only bone I’ve ever broken.

I fell down two flights of stairs at work, early in the morning, in the unfamiliar heels of my Halloween costume. No one else had yet arrived to work, and I lay at the bottom of the dark stairwell, the wind knocked out of me. In that moment of paralysis I wondered how long I would have to wait until I was found.

I also swore I would never wear another damn Halloween costume.

I damaged my rotator cuff. That’s what the orthopedist told me as he glanced at the x-ray. I’d waited too long to go see him, there was nothing he could do. “Just rest,” he said. The pain had just begun to recede, but I couldn’t reach up for a glass on a kitchen shelf.

My workplace was a place filled with doctors. Not a single one asked me if I was okay, nor did they check my shoulder. But my shoulder was the least of the damage I suffered while working there.

My ovaries and all the cysts looked like pomegranates on the ultrasound.

“We think you have vasculitis, and we’ll be admitting you tonight.”

That’s what the doctor said after I returned from the CAT scan.

“It’s not vasculitis. You had a stroke.”

That’s what the doctor said after the MRI the next day. My husband took notes, because my memory wasn’t working anymore.

“What did I just have?”
“You had a stroke, Honey.”
“What did they think I had?”
“Okay. Also, what did I just have?”
“You had a stroke, Honey.”
“What did they think I had?”
“And I had a what?”
“A stroke, Honey.”

Repeat the above 100 times while my brain recovered in 2007.

I had so many MRIs in 2007 I lost count. I had more than the recommended limit. I liked the small tube. I liked closing my eyes and hearing the clicking sounds. I liked imagining myself on a beach, a cool breeze washing over me.

Several more x-rays after I got hit by an SUV while in the crosswalk on a green light. I remember the sound of an engine, and turning to see an SUV heading at me. I remember the screech of brakes. I remember thinking the brakes were hit too late. I remember telling myself this was going to hurt a LOT oh shit! as chrome and grille and champagne paint filled the screen.

I remember parts of the impact, flying, parts of careening on asphalt. I remember no pain. I remember being out of my body, time moving faster than comprehension. I was missing moments, missing steps. I have bruises on parts of my body inflicted in those moments. I must have hit the asphalt with great force first on my right side, where those hematomas, large and purple and discolored and fleshy in a way unlike the rest of my flesh reside, but I only remember landing on my belly.

I remember my shirt flying up as I hit the pavement and thinking “This is how the road rash will happen.”

I remember crawling on my hands and knees, picking up the contents of my purse from within the intersection–my cellphone, a pen. With no reasoning. Just out of shock. If I’d been carrying groceries at the time, I’d probably be picking up lemons and onions and apples and potatoes just the same.

Somewhere, people were screaming, someone was weeping with hysteria. I just wanted to make a phone call. I didn’t know what else to do other than make a phone call. I had my cellphone in my hand.

My husband picked up. He had been in a business meeting, and I knew this. So he knew I’d only interrupt him in an emergency. “I just got hit by a car.” And then I started shaking.

The driver handed me my lipstick; she had been the one crying. I found my shoe and put it back on, my knees still on the ground. I was shaking. I couldn’t stop shaking. I couldn’t stop shaking when the paramedics arrived, or when they put me on the backboard, or when I drove the medic in the truck with me nuts by prattling on and on about a scene from “Love, Actually.” I couldn’t stop shaking when the trauma staff surrounded me, or when I joked about the ease with which the male nurse took off my brassiere.

In the trauma room, they x-rayed my shoulder. My arm. My leg. My pelvis. My neck.

The x-ray tech told me it was the only trauma center for the Northwest, for Washington, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho. He added, “People get hit by cars ALL the time. You have to be careful. It happens ALL the TIME!” He said this over and over as he switched the plates and stepped back to take x-rays.

“No,” I said. “It does NOT happen all the time. I planned on living my ENTIRE life without getting hit by a car. It does NOT happen all the time!”

“Yes, it happens all the time! I see so many of these a day!”

I looked at him. “But you work in a trauma center. That is all you see.”

Joining Heather’s Abecedary and Fog City Writer in working through the alphabet with short, memoir-like pieces. Except I’m going to go in reverse, beginning with “Z.” It’s called Alphabet: A History.



Filed under Alphabet: A History, Memes

7 responses to “X is for x-ray

  1. Lucy

    This essay is all kinds of awesome.

  2. I love these and this one especially! And I love this idea. I kind of want to steal it and do it too.

  3. Gemma Sidney

    This is really interesting, a great read. When we actually list down all the crazy stuff that’s happened to us during our lives, it amounts up to a lot. Seems like you’ve had your lot, and then some…

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