I sat. The room was configured the same as the other, a chair in front of a desk that held a microscope, a technician seated across the desk with a computer to her right. This time, though, bright lights illuminated the tiny room.
“Elizabeth, I’m Valerie,” the technician said. I smiled at her as she continued, “I’m just going to get a few preliminary photos of your eyes, and then we’ll get on with this vein test.”
“Sounds good, Valerie,” I said. “Nice to meet you.” She smiled and swabbed the chin rest, and I leaned forward.
“You’ll see a bright light,” she said, adjusting the dials. Then, a flash. She clicked the mouse and nodded. “Now the other eye,” she said. Spin the dials, flash, click.
“We’re all set up,” she said, standing and flipping the light switch. I squinted my eyes, trying to see the photos on the monitor. She had captured eight or so photos of my eye in color –it reminded me of a planet, a glowing red moon with pockmarks and rivers, an alien world within my body.
“Now, I’ll just need you to sign a few consent forms here,” the technician said, grabbing a clipboard from the countertop behind her and holding it out to me.
“What’s it say?” I asked, frowning, still squinting a bit.
“Well, basically you allow us to perform the fluorescein angiogram,” she said. I gave her a quizzical look, and she said, “So, I’ll give you a shot in the arm with a red dye. The dye then flows through your veins and toward your eye, illuminating the blood flow in your eye for us. It’ll give us a better idea of what’s going on in the back of your right eye. The only real side effect is that occasionally people feel woozy once the whole dose enters the blood stream,” she said. “Oh, and your urine will be neon for awhile, and you might look in the mirror and your skin might look a bit yellow – that’s all normal.”
“Okay,” I said, nodding and reaching for the paper and pen she held out to me across the desk. “Doesn’t sound too bad.”
“Nah,” she said, shaking her head.
“I am totally fine with yellow pee,” I said as I scribbled my signature.
She smiled, then said, “Alrighty then,” and swiveled in her chair to open a drawer in a cabinet behind her. She swiveled back with a syringe and two plastic tubes, one bright red. She set them on the desk and, after rustling in another drawer, snapped her hands into a set of blue silicon gloves.
“Let’s find us a good vein,” she said. I stretched out my right arm across the desk, on a black plastic arm rest built into the desk. She tied a rubber tourniquet around my arm, above my elbow. “Actually you can go ahead and hold your hand at your side and squeeze your hand into a fist a few times before we try to find a vein,” she said, “then you can put your arm back on the arm rest.” I nodded, dropped my arm, opened and closed my right hand a few times.
“That’s probably good,” she said.
“Okay,” I said, returning my arm to the table top, underside up. She felt around my wrist and elbow joint to locate a vein to poke with her needle, to flood my blood stream with the red dye that would tell the doctor just exactly what was happening in my broken eye.
“Hm,” she said after a minute, “Turn your hand over for me, and let’s see if we can find one there.” I flipped my palm down. She massaged the top of my hand with her thumbs, her palms cupping my hand. “I’m just not finding a good one…” she said.
“Yeah, I heard that a lot during my pregnancies,” I said.
“Let’s try the other arm,” she said, untying the tourniquet.
I lifted my left arm to the arm rest on the left side of the table top, and she replaced the tourniquet with a double knot. My arm throbbed beneath the pressure of the rubber band.
“And the fist pumping,” she said, reminding me.
“Right,” I said, dropping my arm and pumping my fist a few times before lifting my arm back to the arm rest. She felt again with her fingers, pressing into my skin.
“You know,” she said after a minute, “I think we might do better with a vein on the other side after all.”
“No problem,” I said, and we repeated the same procedure until she was again prodding my right arm.
“Let’s give it a try here,” she said, pushing on a vein in my elbow joint.
“I trust your judgment,” I said, smiling.
She swiveled in her chair toward the countertop behind her, then turned back with an alcohol swab in her hand, which she wiped over the skin on my elbow joint. Then she held the clear plastic tube and screwed off the cap, attaching a needle. She placed her thumb on my elbow and inserted the needle just above it. I looked past her, at the cabinets behind, and took a deep breath – I wasn’t woozy, but I wanted to distract myself from the pinch of the needle.
“Aw, shoot,” she said. I looked back at her. “I blew the vein,” she said. “I’m sorry but I’ll need to poke you again.” I sighed – I felt antsy, ready to hear from the doctor, ready for this day to be over.
“It’s okay,” I said, mustering a smile. Meanwhile, she had flipped my arm and was studying the top of my hand.
“Let’s go back to this hand,” she said. She readied her instruments; I tapped my foot. “Now make a fist for me…” I squeezed my hand. “Perfect!” she said, “Just like that.” Then: ready, aim, fire. The skin pinches again, then burns. I study the cabinets, holding my breath without meaning to. “Do you taste metal? Feel itchy?” she asked.
“Nope,” I said, shaking my head and looking down. She had inserted a small tube into my arm where the needle was, and she was now screwing the red tube, filled with what I assumed was the dye, onto its end cap. She taped the tubing and dye in place and looked at me.
“Now, I’m going to insert the dye slowly. Go ahead and rest your chin on the rest there,” she motioned to the chin rest, “and I’ll double check that you’re in the right spot. Let me know if you feel nauseated at any time, and we can stop,” she said.
“Or you can hand me that trash can over there,” I said, grinning, but determined – I was not going to stop this test, no matter what happened. She smiled and swiveled to peer through the microscope.
“Looks good,” she said. Then back to the tubing, which she again grasped with both hands. “Here we go,” she said, pressing the pump with her thumb, sending the dye into my veins. After a few seconds of quiet, she said, “Still feeling good?”
“Um,” I said, as my stomach gurgled, “I feel a bit nauseated, but not bad. I’m okay.”
I reminded myself to breathe, but it didn’t help: I was done, and now I felt sick. I told myself, “Just get this over with – you’re almost done.”
Meanwhile, Valerie slowly tugged the now-empty syringe and tubing out of my hand. She placed a cotton ball and a piece of medical tape over the poke.
“Alright,” she said, rolling her chair over to the camera. My vision blared with a blue light, filling up my whole field of vision, blinding me further. And then a different sensation: pink saturated my eye like I’d put on rose-colored glasses from the sixties.
“I see the dye,” I said,
“Looks pink?” she said, clicking furiously.
“Yep,” I said. “It’s almost psychedelic.”
“I hear that a lot,” she said. “Especially from former hippies.” I smiled, imagining the other patients that crossed this threshold with me. It comforted me to not be alone, to have a tribe of folks who had sat in this chair, gone through these same motions, and left this room with greater clarity. I told myself, “You can do this.”
For the next ten minutes, we sat, her peering through the microscope or scrolling through the photos on the computer, and I leaning against the chin rest as the dye snaked through my blood stream.
By the time I leaned back, the whole room glowed pink. I felt disoriented.
“Whoa,” I said.
Valerie ignored me, tapping the computer and scrolling through black-and-white images to find the best ones.
“How long will the pink last?” I said.
“Oh,” she said, glancing at me, “That should wear off soon.” I nodded and sighed. As she sorted photos, I wiggled my knee, tapped my feet, drummed my fingers.
After a few minutes, she stood. “Alright, Elizabeth, thank you for your patience. We’re all done here, so I’ll just go ahead and get these photos to Dr. Patron, and he’ll see you in a few minutes.”
My stomach dropped. I stood. A woman appeared in a doorway to lead me to an exam room. I swung my backpack over my shoulder and followed her through the corridors, hoping I was ready for what would come next.
To Be Continued…
This post is part of my “Through A Mirror Dimly” series about a recent health issue I’ve been experiencing. I started telling this story during the season of Lent as a way to make sense of the ways that my own suffering teaches me about the suffering of Jesus Christ.
I also invite you to engage with your own suffering through this series: how does your personal pain illuminate the suffering of Jesus for you? And what can your pain teach you about the life of faith?
ALSO I will be concluding this series soon so I can resume telling my falling-in-love story. Just a few more posts to go until this will be complete (although I think it’s safe to say that it’s become my next book project!). I’d love to hear what you thought of the series – comment away! 😀
And if you like it, share it – the only compensation I receive for this blog is reader support, which will hopefully give me the platform to publish a book soon. I’d appreciate your shares! 🙂