Miracles at the MRI
Never underestimate what a day can give you
Montreal in the summer of 1988 was a revelation.
A city of glorious cathedrals, fantastic restaurants, and bustling promenades paraded by an obscene population of stunning girls and women displaying bare legs in summer dresses wearing brilliant smiles. I was fifteen and falling in love every five minutes.
Our family had traveled from British Columbia, the most western of the Canadian provinces, to attend my brother’s graduation from the Royal Military College of Saint-Jean. The college is located at the historic Fort Saint-Jean in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, 40km south of Montreal.
It had been a massive shock to me that my older brother left high school and our home in the fall of his grade 11th year to attend military college. However, that he was interested in a military career wasn’t a surprise. My brother and I had grown up with stories of our Hungarian heritage steeped in a history of warfare, legendary leaders and hero-warrior-kings, and saints. From Attila the Hun to King Arpad, the pride of wearing a uniform and having the heart of a patriot was well ingrained. My father still carried the forlorn spirit of an ex-pat and thus named his two sons after those two iconic Hungarian figures, Attila and Arpad.
No, it was a surprise that he joined the military ranks because my brother had been frail, weak, and lacking a courageous heart all his life. In today’s lingo, he would be aptly called a beta-male. So it was even more of a jolt to my consciousness that he’d made it. Now, as far as military parades go, I find the U.S. Marine Corps the boss of them all, but after witnessing the precision of my brother’s graduating class? Well, we Canadians can hold our heads high. It was a grand display.
The second revelation to hit me that same summer occurred one warm, tropical azure skied afternoon in a small café along Montreal’s old city quarter. It was there that my father, who had become so wholly enchanted with a very pretty and delightfully engaging young waitress, that he dismissed from his reality that he was a married and much older man.
I watched as he turned from my rigid and humorless father to a suave, smooth, charming poet Don Juan. The pretty young girl melted at his words. She beamed at his compliments and giggled with blushing red cheeks at his attention. The old man was smooth AF. As he and I strolled along the sidewalk afterward, I looked up at him in awe and admiration. He, smiling with a look of fine self-satisfaction and a little thunderstorm exploding in his heart and me in wonder, I asked him how he did that and, more importantly, why?
He stopped walking, put his hand on my shoulder, looked me dead in the eyes, then said, “Son, never pass up an opportunity to make a pretty girl smile.”
That was it.
I would have to figure out the charm part on my own, but I loved that advice, and I cherish that memory.
Now, thirty-three years later, I’m sitting in the waiting area of the hospital’s radiology and diagnostic imaging department, awaiting the second MRI to investigate a tumor between the L4/L5 sections of my spine. It’s been bloody bad lately; the pain, the restrictions in mobility, and rapid onset of fatigue. Not too deep down, I suppress the worst fears. My mind is a traffic jam of one worry on top of another. I work hard, focusing my mental fortitude on manifesting a future, a long one. I am not prepared to face the other option. I sit there feeling nervous and suddenly very, very mortal. Then, with the call of my name, I snap my head up, rise from the chair to meet the nurse who summoned me.
I’m looking at a rhapsody of loveliness. Dressed in coral pink/darker than peach but definitely not orange, nurse’s scrubs is an almost unimaginably pretty nurse. She’s young, wearing her blonde hair parted in silky twists that remind me of a unicorn’s horn. She smiles, and it’s sunlight and candy. Tanned skin and a fit frame, she’s a bloody dream for any man fortunate to date her.
“Hi, Arpad,” she says; her eyes are incredible. Dazzling with colors of topaz and with glints of gold, I am instantly enchanted, “I’m Kaylee. Come with me, and we’ll head up.”
She takes me out and is very lovely and chatty as she escorts me to the imaging area. I notice her metallic pink framed glasses that match perfectly with her pink-hued marigold-shaped earrings. Her delightful hands hold a clipboard with my medical information. Her perfectly manicured, French-tipped, dainty fingers are free of rings. The guys still have a shot.
We board the elevator as she explains that the MRI is on the third floor, and with CoVid, its policy that patients are brought to the exam room one at a time. I listen but don’t really hear her. I’m busy having a mental battle. My reserved, well-behaved, and respectful self is trying to dodge the voice of my dead father. “Oh, son, you’ve got to say something!” I hear his rich baritone Hungarian accent laced English imploring me. He’s right. I HAVE to say something. I have probably less than a minute in the company of this gorgeous woman. Then I’ll be laying in a vibrating, humming, chortling, snorting, white tube, and when it’s done, living or dying, I’ll be stepping my way out of there and back to my life.
“I’m sorry, but I have to say this.” I begin. Kaylee shifts her eyes and her body position to face me directly. Now, I just may be dying, but I’m not dead yet, and that body language is a good sign. I’m greenlighted for take-off.
“Kaylee, I’m quite certain you get this sort of thing often, but my gracious, you are stunning. You’re absolutely beautiful.”
Done. Short, sweet, and while unsolicited, hopefully harmless. Get in, get wet, and get out.
“Now pause. Shut up and wait,” I tell myself.
A smile breaks across Kaylee’s face; it’s like sunrise on a tropical beach. “Omigosh,” she says, “that’s so nice of you to say! Thank you so much!” She’s beaming. I’m so freaking elated. Kaylee brings the clipboard into a hug, momentarily looks down to her feet, then back up at me. I hold her gaze.
This is a glorious place to be. This instant. “Let her be the first to speak,” my inner dialogue instructs. The elevator dings. Third floor. The door opens, and we step out.
“Honestly, with the way today started, I just wasn’t sure what I was going to walk into at work.” Kaylee says to me as we saunter down the corridor, then she hits me with that smile that feels like being slapped by a tiny bolt of lightning, “but, with my shift starting like this?” she looks at me for a millisecond longer and says, “Well, I can tell you that you’ve already made my day. Thank you.”
I smile and say, “Thank you too, and you’re welcome.”
Then it’s into the changing room. I curse at my complete lack of dexterity to tie together a hospital gown and walk into the MRI exam room. The doctor there asks me the usual questions and takes me through the typical rundown. I lay on the bench and relax as I’m tracked into the machine. I don’t mind it. The surface is heated beneath my back, I’m not bothered by the confined space, and if it wasn’t for the change in pitch and pattern of the acoustics in the tube, I would have had a nice nap.
I’m calm, keep my eyes closed and feel the light. For the half-hour I’m lying there, I give it up. Whatever this is, it isn’t in my control; there’s nothing I can do. It’s ok.
When it’s over, I thank the doctor and return to the change room. I know I want to see Kaylee again. Just a glimpse would be nice, but I know that any words now have no point and no purpose. I would come off looking foolish, and it would be awkward.
It’s time to go home.
Four days later and I’m sitting in an exam room at my family doctor’s practice. He’s a good doc. He’s young and never rushes you. He listens, and you know he cares about you. Finally, we get to the MRI results. I have a new word to add to my list of favorites.