True to my word, after I pressed the Publish button on my post on March 3, I picked up the phone and made an appointment for my brain MRI.
Prior to that date, I had been stalling. At several points I had frantically told myself and friends and my psychotherapist and anyone who would listen that it was well within my rights as a patient to refuse this medical procedure.
Everyone agreed that I could refuse the brain MRI.
My fear-besotted mind agreed. MRI machines were the enemy. Case closed.
It was at the height of my fear that I was teaching the powerful memoir called I am Malala: the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai. (If you haven’t yet read it, it is an amazing book.) Here was a young Pakistani teenager who advocated for the education of girls — even with the Taliban running rampant in her area of Pakistan — and risked her life to get her message across: that girls needed to get an education. Given the book’s title, the following is not a spoiler alert: the Taliban shot her in the head, but she lived. (Post-memoir, Malala continues to advocate for education for children worldwide.)
Re-reading this book got me re-thinking about courage. Not the kind of courage that has its usual mass appeal: the brave, stoic warrior who is superhero-personified. But the kind of courage that is real to me — being afraid, being petrified, being terrified. And acting anyway. Despite the fear. Despite the horror.
That’s what Malala did. She was scared that the Taliban would throw acid in her face as she walked to school. She was terrified that she and her family might be killed. But she acted anyway.
So I thought about Malala’s courage, and I about-faced. I knew I had a post to write and publish, as well as an MRI to schedule. After all, if Malala could face the likes of the Taliban, I could endure a stinkin’ MRI.
So after I hit the Publish button, I found myself on the phone with the scheduling department. As luck would have it, an appointment was available a week later, at 7:30 p.m. I didn’t like the idea of being at the hospital’s Center for Advanced Care at night because many of my ICU memories are of struggling at night at the adjacent hospital. For me, nighttime at the hospital is eerie.
On MRI day, a good friend picked up my daughter for a sleepover, and another good friend drove me to and from the MRI. I had unsure traction, like someone navigating the slippery road ahead during a snowstorm.
I was petrified. I was lost in the haze of fear. But there I was, getting the brain MRI to the tunes of the Rolling Stones, thinking that I ought to have my head examined, and smiling with the irony of it all. Xanax helped conjure up courage. But truth was, despite the Xanax, the technician’s soothing voice, the warm blanket, and hearing the Stones’ “Emotional Rescue” (the irony was not lost on me here either), this I know:
I was still afraid.
I tried to stay as still as possible amid the whirring and banging sounds of the MRI machine, staving off claustrophobia and feelings of suffocation.
Despite my terror, I was courageous. I was afraid, yet I acted anyway.
I couldn’t stare down fear, but I stared at it. And that was enough.
Do you get scanxiety?
Are you able to alleviate scanxiety? If so, what techniques do you use?