Two Sundays ago I underwent magnetic resonance scanning of my prostate. I was feeling well, I just had old man waterworks, nothing out of the ordinary. But there was a rise in the prostate antigen. MRI is an ominous sign: generally when a doctor orders an MRI she’s looking for a cancer.
My GP said, I don’t think this is cancer.
My specialist said, It’s probably benign.’
My medical self thought, I don’t think this patient has cancer.
So far, so unconvincing. When the appointments person said, There’ll be no charge. Medicare covers this scan… I really misgave.
Medicare means the Government. Governments are not sentimental, not famously charitable, excepting when it comes to cancer. When it comes to cancer the Government says, No charge, Howard. On the house, old fellow. Sorry for your news.
Cancer evokes awe. When someone says, So and So has cancer, we say, Oh.
Silence follows, we experience awe. True awe, not the cheapened article as in awesome Uber ride. This is the real thing: we stand, hushed; we feel a chill, we’re in the shadow of the absolute.
I turned up at the hospital which was a place of silence. I gave my name, I gave my phone number, I gave my excuses for being there. The man looked at me suspiciously and asked for my Driver’s License. He held it in a gloved hand as far away from his face as his short arms allowed. He photographed the document, grunted and returned it to me. The man sanitised me and allowed me to enter. I walked the empty corridors, climbed abandoned flights of stairs, got lost, retraced my steps and tried again. In the bowels of the building I found MRI. The young woman behind the perspex screen read through the lengthy pre-admission affidavit I’d completed. She read my thirty-three responses to questions: full name, date of birth, did I have dentures, did I have implants, were my hips natural, how about my knees, had I ever had an MRI before, why was I having this examination, how was my health, did I have coronary stents, ureteric stents, urethral stents, was I wearing hearing aids, did I believe in God, did God believe in me, did I have a next of kin, whom did I want notified in case of emergency, had my name changed in the last ten years, and had there been any change in my date of birth. The young woman ticked all my responses. All satisfactory, all correct. Then she noted the date of my document: ten days earlier. Sorry, Howard, I’ll have to ask you to fill out this questionnaire once again. It’s ten days old. We can’t accept it over a week. I filled out the form: same questions, same answers.
A nurse, gowned, masked, gloved, came and claimed me. What’s your full name? Date of birth? By nowI knew the answers by heart. I told him. Here, he said, passing me a small plastic tube, this is your micro-enema. The prostate is radiologically remote, hard to visualise. We can’t have any waste matter obscuring the view.
Waste matter? Perish the thought.
The nurse, probably male, probably forty, but who knows? – led the way. He indicated a door. Here’s your bathroom. Go in there and insert the tube. I entered and looked around. I saw no bath. I sat down above a porcelain bowl. There were only two openings for the tube. I chose the back one and inserted the tube, a novel sensation. I awaited the arrival and departure of waste. Nothing happened. I emerged and the nurse claimed me again. He lay me down, inserted an IV into an arm vein, asked my full name, and what was my date of birth.He recorded the responses and took me into the MRI chamber. I clambered into a mechanical vault whose walls were of mausoleum white. I lay down on a narrow board. A machine propelled me and the narrow board backwards into the mausoleum. Nurse placed earphones over my ears. What music do you like? I answered and he (My name’s Brian) turned a dial to ABC Classic FM. Some musicians performed some fretful baroque sounds which were free of melody. The nurse placed a gadget in my right palm: Press this button if you need to get out urgently. I’m going to inject contrast. What’s your full name and date of birth? He recorded my responses. Okay, we’ll get under way now. You’ll be in there for 40 minutes or so.
I said, there’s something I ought to tell you.
I haven’t discharged any waste.
Now the board slid me feet-first out of the tomb. Back in the bathroom I sat down again. I did my honest best. My output was modest. I returned to the MRI chamber, purged and waste-free. Earphones back on, I heard mechanical sounds of the end of the world, mercifully drowning the Baroque. I napped. Brian tapped me on the shoulder, told me I was free to go. Contact your doctor tomorrow for the report.
I called the next day. I said I was the referring doctor – which was not entirely untrue. I gave my full name as referring doctor. I gave my full name and date of birth as patient. I waited. I don’t think the radiologist will have reported the scan yet, said the pleasant young lady. I’ll just check… Yes, I do have a report. Howard Jonathan Goldenberg?
Born January 8, 1946?
Normal scan. No sign of malignancy.