When I was teaching I observed that as their years in the classroom accumulated, my colleagues became self-parodies – with comical exaggerations of their individual traits. I now suspect that this tendency is not limited to teachers.
I, for example, am a bit conservative in my daily routines. (I can see Kim rolling her eyes as she reads this.) I start my day with reheated leftover coffee from the day before. I like to read the paper and check my email before starting my day’s activities. If I get up first and make breakfast, it’s invariably juice, cereal, coffee and toast. I wear blue jeans every day, and though Kim has bought me a closetful of shirts, I usually rotate the same three of four. And every night at eight I ask Kim if she is ready to watch a movie on television. Get the picture? Comical, but not in a way that would amuse any observers.
Kim’s adventurous spirit counterbalances my tendencies, and her eccentricities are more colorful – collecting bird’s nests and then making them herself, picking up hunks of rusty metal in parking lots (happened today), hustling out the back door in her pajamas to photograph cranes in the sunrise while I stay behind to read the newspaper.
Kim has claustrophobia, and it has worsened through the years. She doesn’t fly, though she would if she could roll down the window next to her seat. She walked up twelve flights of stairs to visit her father in the hospital rather than taking an elevator, and when she dies she does not want to be buried because she just might awaken from death to find herself trapped in a coffin. But when she had to undergo an MRI for ongoing back pain, and when she felt an Open MRI might not be open enough, she got some pills to help with her anxiety. The fact that her doctor only prescribed two pills should have warned us that lorazepam (2 mg tablets) is powerful stuff.
The doctor said to take one an hour before her appointment, and if that did not seem sufficient, take the other one before going in. We arrived 35 minutes before the appointment, and an hour later we were still in the well-named waiting room, waiting. One pill did not seem sufficient, so Kim took the other one.
She seemed a little sleepy as she walked to the small changing room to remove her shoes and sweater, but she was still living on the same planet as the rest of us. With a cry of “Tawanda,” she lay down on the platform and allowed herself to be rolled into the not-very-open MRI.
She lay perfectly still, eyes closed, for the 15-20 minutes in the tube as the machine hummed and hammered. I spoke with her from time to time, not knowing what to say except, “You’re doing great!” or, “about halfway done.” I did not want to disturb her, by which I mean that I could not imagine how disturbed she already was. It did not help when the technician’s voice came over the speakers announcing, “We have to run one sequence again, so it will be another 4 minutes.”
Kim was a little wobbly when she was rolled out of the machine. She sat up right away and wanted to stand, probably to get the hell out of there as soon as possible, but we convinced her to sit for a minute. I let her lean on my arm to help her back to the changing room, thinking that our adventure was about over.
We had to wait in the waiting room for a few more minutes while they prepared the DVD’s with the MRI data for Kim’s doctors in Michigan. She was fairly steady on her feet, not needing my assistance as she wandered about the room on her way to the nurse’s station. There she struck up a conversation about how she got started in photography, and she asked the nurse how far it was to Washington State Park, where there were big rocks where people could take a bath. She thought it was about 20 miles, and she did not hear my correction, “about 70 miles,” from across the room. The nurse dutifully but unsuccessfully tried to look it up on the Internet.
I noticed that Kim needed a bit more assistance on her way to the car, initially heading off across the porch in the wrong direction – though I’ve done that myself without the aid of any pills. I gave her firm assistance down the few stairs and into the car.
“Are we going to the beach?”
“No, I think we’d better go home.”
Kim closed her eyes and we were on our way, me driving the car and Kim riding her pills.
About 20 minutes into our two-hour ride home: “Are we at the beach yet?”
“No, we’re in downtown Jacksonville. We are not going to the beach.”
“O.K.” Eyes closed again.
“We’re going home.”
“O.K. Let’s put on some soothing music.”
I did, though it’s hard to find soothing music in Jacksonville.
A little later: “Where’s Genne’? She was just in the back seat.”
“She’s skiing in Colorado.”
“O.K. But she was just here.”
Later, with her eyes open: “The nurse. She was just there, on the hood of the car. She was handing me red pills. Through the window.” Eyes closed again.
After an hour on the road, Kim was more fully awake. This was when the cars on the road started to multiply.
“There are two white cars right in front of us. One of them is in the bike lane. He’s not a very good driver – stay away from him.”
“There’s only one white car.”
“O.K. But there are two black cars in the lane next to him.”
This went on for about half an hour, Kim fully awake, talking and listening perfectly, but seeing double of every car and truck. She believed me when I said there was only one, but this did not change what she saw.
Kim decided to text her daughter. Here is the exchange:
Kim: Uo see tsi gar Lolita see two cars foot enveero. Cars on the roads soon I can’t drikmf.
Genne’: not sure what that was supposed to mean but talk to you later J
Kim: Koi a m hallucinations captioning. Boone car t Urc. Vvtyturbs into two. It’s hard to drub bro
Genne’: I forgot you had the MRI. I will call you later.
Kim was beyond the help of spellcheck. “I guess it’s a good thing I’m not driving,” she concluded, adding, “This means I get two pieces of cake when we get home.”
I could tell when Kim got out of the car that the second pill had kicked in. I told her that there was no way she would carry in any of our camera gear, and she briefly disagreed and then loaded her arms with coffee mugs, paperwork, water bottles, her purse, and then staggered out of the car. I caught her before she fell and guided/carried her into the house. She dropped on the floor a stack of paper guest towels she had, she told me, stolen from the clinic by stuffing them up under her sweater. I guided her to the dining room table, helped her sit down, and told her to put her head down. Surprisingly, she did so.
As I brought in the first load of gear from the car, Kim lifted her head and said, “Let’s have some cake.” I decided the car could wait, so I cut us some cake (one piece each), and we gobbled it down.
“Time for you to lie down, Kim. I’ll unpack later.”
I helped her to her feet, and as we started for the bedroom I noticed that her legs were operating under their own set of instructions: They wanted to wander about the house, while from the waist up Kim was headed for the bedroom. I guided/carried her there, but only after one free-spirited foot painfully (for her – she was wearing sandals) kicked my shoe.
The next challenge was Kim’s pajamas. It usually requires a brief period of standing on one foot in order to put on the bottoms, and Kim was not up to the challenge. She leaned on my back as I bent over to grab them and aim them toward her foot. Kim was trying to do the same thing at the same time. It did not work right away.
The second leg went better. My shy wife retreated to her closet to put on her top, leaning against the closet door as she did so.
I helped her upstairs and dumped her onto the couch in front of the television. She insisted on her pillow from downstairs, a box of tissues for her running nose, and a wastebasket to dispose of them. She conked out for the night. It was 6 p.m.
I unpacked and had my bachelor dinner (an apple, nuts, pretzels, bourbon) and watched “The Bachelor” until 10, summarizing in my head what happened so I could tell Kim in the morning. I decided not to awaken Kim and take her downstairs because she was sleeping so peacefully. I put a blanket over her.
About 2:30 I heard Kim on the stairs and soon I felt her getting into bed next to me.
“What happened on ‘The Bachelor’?”
I started to tell her but got confused, and she said, “Just tell me in the morning.”
I got up before Kim and saw that in the middle of the night, before getting into bed, she had started to process the medical records she had brought home. Her file drawer was open, and several folders were out on the table. She had no recollection of doing this – in fact, denying it emphatically. I looked at her empty pill container and saw the pharmacist’s instructions were to take half of the second pill if the first was not doing the job. Kim had O.D.ed.
At breakfast I gave her a brief summary of the post-MRI events.
“Sounds like fun,” she said. “I wish I’d been there.”