40 Minutes

“The test will take 40 minutes today,” said the young, frum MRI technician as he pulled off the face mask and placed a pillow at the head of the machine.

“You’ll be much more comfortable this time,” he continued, smoothing down Shaare Tzedek logoed sheets over a triangle wedge pillow. “We’re doing the lower part of your spine. What type of music would you like to listen to today?”

Two MRI’s must make me an expert but I am shaky and having a rough day. Day six post R-CHOP tends to be the hardest and I feel like I’m going to collapse. My fear of enclosed spaces diminishes as I feel my knees buckle; I steady myself against the white, cold slab that will soon whisk me into the machine.

I notice the technicians gold marriage band as I gingerly lay down, he’s talking to me in Hebrew but I’m not really listening. He never touches me. I am wearing two gowns and a new pair of socks and the room is very cold. The technician lets me keep on my chemo cap, but I already know it’s too thin to really protect my bald head from the cold air blowing inside the machine. He hooks up the hemlock in my right arm to a long, thin tube where the dye will be injected mid-way through the test, and places a plastic emergency button that looks like the pump of a blood pressure cuff into my right hand.  My hand will quiver on this pump for forty minutes, but I will never press it.

“Enya,” I request, through parched and cracked lips. I’m dehydrated.

He talks about the soft music that’s already pumping through the headphones and I just nod. It doesn’t really matter what music he plays, I just need to close my eyes.

The door to the MRI room slams shut and the noises begin. Loud, clanking jackhammering over the blaring of a siren and the slab moves me deep into the machine. I  can’t hear the music over the noise from the machine but feel the rush of cold air on my face, permeating through my cap to coat my bare skull. I stare at the white walls of the machine inches from my nose and try to keep still.

I close my eyes.

I feel the warm, summer sun beating down on my skin. I’m standing outside our home up North and it’s early morning before the unbearable heat of the day. I’m wearing a pair of overalls and a floppy straw hat, my long grey hair is wrapped tightly in a bun at the base of my neck. I have a pair of gardening sheers in one gloved hand, with the other I’m shielding my eyes against the sun’s rays to survey my garden. Tidy rows of cucumbers and celery. Cherry tomatoes straining against the vine. Two types of basil flank parsley and coriander. Radish, dill, bok choy, carrots and sweet potato. Romaine lettuce and butter lettuce and mangold and beets. Beyond the vegetable patch are orange groves and lemon trees, a grapefruit and avocado trees sway in the distance, and on the mountain top miles from our home is an ancient olive tree I like to visit in September before Rosh Hashanah.

Gaby joins me in the garden and I put him to work, cutting ripe vegetables for dinner and adding fresh soil. We have a drip irrigation system that left the ground moist from the morning’s watering, and I massage my fingers into the pulsing earth. I breathe in the fresh, green smells of the garden and smile up at him as he collects my gardening tools and puts them into the shed that’s adorned with a sign one of the Grandkids made for me at gan. “Savta’s Garden” in blue and white mosaic tile against the brown plastic IKEA shed.

We link hands and start off on our hike, the dogs dance against each other and race ahead. My legs are tan, spotted and strong. Sweat starts to roll slowly down my back but moving feels so good.  We talk about the kids visiting that afternoon; I’m excited to see them. We’re going to Dag el HaDan in the afternoon to buy fresh fish for dinner, I’ll use herbs from the garden and organic olive oil to steam them in parchment paper.

My kitchen design is traditional farmhouse style, with a long wooden table and shabby chic chairs. It surprises me since my taste is so modern and my eyes linger over the rooster hand towels and baby blue accents. Next to the sinks with the doctors taps are cow and pig cookie jars. I love these cookie jars, they’re the focal point of my kitchen. I keep freshly baked chocolate chip cookies in the jars whenever we’re up North; my Aunt Irene’s recipe but using freshly squeezed oranges from our grove. I peek inside the pig and noticed we’re running low. I’ll make a fresh batch with the Grandkids when they wake up tomorrow morning, it will be a great activity and my kids can sleep in.

“Can you hear the music?” the technician’s voice breaks through my fantasy.

I realize he has put on Enya. Afraid to move, I grunt in appreciation. The banging of the machine roars louder in my ears.

“Seven more minutes,” he says.

It’s Friday night and I’ve spent half of the day vomiting. Gaby and the kids helped me to the kitchen to light candles but I’m in dirty pajamas and I didn’t manage to get a shower in before sunset. I’m in bed and the house is quiet, I’ve spent most of Friday night dinner in my chair in the living room so I can at least be near the family during the Shabbat meal. I’m overtired and drained. Gaby is in the bed next to me, his book open, pretending to read. My heart is beating slowly and I feel sluggish. In careful tones, I tell him my fantasy.

The pig and the cow, the rows of orange trees, the dogs, Savta’s garden, the cherry tomatoes bursting on the vine, holding hands, hiking, my strong legs, the scent of sweat and earth, Grandchildren, fresh fish cooked in parchment paper, his smile, the sun, the laugh lines in the corner of his eyes, heat and warmth and love.

He’s silent.

“You don’t have anything to say?” I’m annoyed. I’ve outlined in detail my fantasy, my hopes for our future. Gaby remains silent.

“I’m injecting the dye in now,” says the technician. I feel something cold against my hand. “Are you okay? 10 more minutes and then we’re done.”

“Beseder,” I whisper against the white walls.

It’s Friday night and we’re back in bed, Gaby’s book rests upright on his chest and I wait for him to speak. I study him intensely, carefully. I notice the new wisps of grey hair that have darkened his temple, the worry lines that crease his forehead. He has lost weight, his face thinned and angular. It was a hard week for him, an even harder two and a half months. I hate myself for doing this to him, I yearn to take care of him again.

“The details in your future are lovely,” he finally says. “But for me, there’s only one thing that I need in my future. And that is you.”

The machine shudders a final time and hums to a stop. And with that final thought, the slab moves me out of the machine and back to my life.






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