by Pete Warzel   There are two manners of conversation that occur in the waiting room of the Radiology Department at Mayo Clinic, Phoenix. The first is a deep dive into the existential, between family members, the why, how, now, of bad things happening to good people. The second is a rat-fucking back-biting nastiness driven by fear. Comments about family members and friends and how they all fall short when it counts, and goddammit it counts now.

There is a third mode of conversation that goes unspoken…silence. That is the talk I am having with myself as I sit and watch the show around me.

It is one hundred and four degrees outside. The piano player is silk-suited and making soft jazz in the lobby of the hospital next door. The clinic runs like clockwork and I have a thought that perhaps the administrator is an Austrian, it is so precise. My x-ray is scheduled for 12:50 PM and at 12:50 PM my name is called, I am given a gown and a dressing room and told when dressed to turn right in the hall and sit. I sit.

There are others sitting, indulging in the conversations hinted above. They are mostly on canes and wheelies, one large man, fit, walks stiffly in socks, no shoes. There is the buzz of folks talking, uninhibited, as if on cell phones in a public place, but there are no phones, only people and voices. “I remember that party, it was when mother was seventy years old.” “When was she born, 1907?” “Yes.” “Well then it would have been her eightieth birthday because Joe was already born and in 1977 he was not.” “Yes, right. Jill was there then and after that she recused her mother from anything to do with her life for the next thirty years. Her mother had done the same. Must be something in the water.”

It drones. I only see the back of his head but see his daughter clearly. He has neatly trimmed gray hair and sits in a wheel chair. He is quite intelligent and clear, and of all here the most unafraid.

I am called into the room and put sideways up against the target, moved forward a bit, chin up. A click and whirr. Then I am asked to reach up to a bar with my right hand, left shoulder down, so they can get a picture, an image, between my shoulder blades. That worries me a bit…for what? What is between? The image does not give them what they want and they shoot again, a bit angled. No, not clear. One more time and they have it, whatever it is they are looking for.

A quick pace to Building 3, Phoenix campus, sign in for 2:00 MRI, actually two MRIs, a cervical and a thoracic. At 1:59 I am given a gown and some white stretch pants, a pair of rubber nubbed socks and when dressed walked into the machine room. I think of the machine as “Machine”, a term that Gary Kasparov used in a post-match discussion in New York regarding his opponent Deep Blue. I watched the match on closed circuit tv and then heard Gary say “Machine did this. Machine surprised me,” as if Deep Blue was a person, a chess master, named Machine. This MRI is Machine to me.

I have had numerous MRI scans done in my lifetime and the more I participate the more I detest Machine. It is a sterile tube that makes obnoxious sounds, pounding, vibrating, disrupting an afternoon. Cool air blows through the tube so you do not feel you are stuffed and locked in a closet, left to fend in the dark alone. But this time there is something new. Before entering the tube you are scanned by a metal detector to make sure you have not lied during intake about not having metal or implants buried deep in your self. No beeping, I am metal free, and truthful.

Who would lie knowing an electro-magnet field is exciting your hydrogen atoms to a frequency that can be captured, measured, turned into an image. The banging is part of the deal. Mechanical coils flipping on and off…looking at your plumbing. The magnets would also pull the metal from your flesh.

The second surprise was an offer of headphones and a choice of music. I spent the next hour and fifteen minutes listening to Pink Floyd.

It was as hour and fifteen minutes because it was actually two scans rolled into one. The neck, where they suspect most of the problems are, and the first vertebra down the back, where when it goes bad feels like I have been shot through the left shoulder blade and end up face down on the floor, arms extended out above my head, in the only position that takes the pressure off whatever nerve is making me insane. An hour and fifteen minutes of a voice telling me I am doing great, of coils banging, of magnetic vibrations in my chest, and David Gilmour playing his heart out on a Fender Stratocaster.

About two-thirds into the event there comes a frequency that puts me into a panic attack. Bad shit. The urge to squeeze the call bulb in my hand and ask, demand, that I be slid out of the tube as fast as possible. Not knowing if they could then pick up the scan where they left off when I calmed I fought my way through it, unable to face another hour and fifteen minutes being buried alive. The tube was my tomb. I fought the fear and thought of my sons, one by one. The panic lessened and I heard The Wall through the noise, my eyes flickered but I would not open them and see the clean curve of the cylinder three inches from my eyes.Then done. I am slid out slowly and the music is off. All is quiet and the images captured for a report that will tell us all what I do with the rest of my life. The conversation I was having while immobile and freaked was one of silence. Perhaps the next time I will scream bloody murder and fuck all the images that tell the tale.        About the Author:Pete WarzelPete Warzel has published fiction, essays, poetry, and articles in literary journals, newspapers and national magazines such as “Pilgrimage”, “Zone3, “New Mexico Magazine”, “Colorado Expressions”, “Cowboys and Indians Magazine” and “Gray’s Sporting Journal”, and was the books editor of “Montana Quarterly Magazine” for many years. He lives in Denver, Colorado and Santa Fe, New Mexico, and all the side roads in-between.