LIT-UP WINDOWS IN THE DARK
@ellowrites @melissadawn @austerlitz
I arrived a little early at the cardiology office over at Saint Mary's Hospital Center for my appointment and the first thing the receptionist asked was did I have my requisition. I did not have my requisition, much to my embarrassment, and nothing to be done except to confess I forgot it. So of course she has to explain to me that they need the requisition so that the technician will know what to do, because my own Doctor is not going to be there. Yes, I understand that. So then she wants to know “Do you know why you are here?” For a brief second - or maybe it was a million years, no way to tell - time stopped. I grew up and came of age during that period of history when a philosophy known as existentialism was very much in vogue and so naturally my first thought during the million or so years while time stopped - think about this people, it’s a metaphysical paradox - was to say “none of us knows why we are here young lady.
Fortunately, some of us have a modicum of impulse control, in striking contrast to a person who hails from the Bronx whose name I do not care to mention, so I did not express the first thought that popped into my head. Instead of that I said “yes, I have a leaky aortic heart valve and I am here on my Doctor's instructions for a follow-up echo-cardiogram.” This seemed to impress her, because she then went on to say “good for you - 99% of our patients have no idea why they are here,” thus validating my own deeper metaphysical intuition about her question. Anyway, that got me the necessary paperwork, along with instructions to put the document with my name on it in the blue box and sit in the waiting room. When I was a kid I always got good marks in "follows instructions" so I set out down the corridor to follow the instructions. How hard could this be - I’m not color blind? A few minutes of subdued panic ensued while I looked for the blue box, found it, took off my coat and sat down to wait with Mozart’s Starling.
I did not have Mozart’s actual starling with me. Mozart’s pet starling died a very long time ago, and he was buried centuries ago somewhere in Vienna, in what was apparently an elaborate funeral ceremony. This was considered odd, even at the time, and not just because he made such a big deal out of a dead bird. Evidently the starling was able to imitate the main theme of one of Mozart’s piano concertos, unless it was the other way around and Mozart actually stole this musical phrase from the starling. In any event Wolfgang loved the bird, that’s true, but inviting friends to a public funeral? After all, Mozart did not attend his own father Leopold Mozart’s funeral earlier in the same year, a state of affairs that has provoked much tut-tutting and head-wagging disapproval on the part of Wolfgang’s biographers, along with a fair amount of speculation about the composer’s actual feelings for Leopold.
When my own father died I attended his funeral at a very inconvenient location somewhere in Queens, and because it was a long way to drive all the way over from New Jersey, passing through the Holland Tunnel, struggling through traffic congestion in Manhattan, and then over the Williamsburg Bridge to Brooklyn, eventually reaching the funeral home in Queens, many of his business associates and even close friends were unable to attend, speaking of tut-tutting and head-wagging disapproval. None of this was any idea of mine, but this is what his wife wanted - and that would be his second wife, not my mother - and so it came to pass. There was then a lengthy funeral procession to a cemetery somewhere in Westchester County where my father was buried right next to second wife's first husband. After it was all over one of my aunts memorably proclaimed “emotions are so exhausting, aren’t they?” This all came back to me when I was occupied with reading about why Mozart did not go to his father’s funeral because it involved a long journey or something of that sort, but maybe he was still angry at his father for - um - I don’t know exactly why he would be angry at his father, but maybe he resented being made into one of the greatest musical prodigies who ever lived. Who knows? I was never going to be any kind of a genius like Mozart but I had my own reasons for being angry with my father, although I did in fact attend his funeral.
I was reading all about Mozart and his pet Starling in that book by Lyanda Lynn Haupt, which I found quite interesting, when a young woman appeared, calling out my name. Her name, according to her name-tag, was Nadia; she had a last name as well, along with an indication of her professional status, but I was unable to read all of that in the time - and space - available for such an investigation. She escorted me into the echo-cardiogram chamber, asked me for the requisition, and I told her my story about how I forgot. Then I told her why I was here. Evidently she was satisfied, because she just nodded, told me to take off my shirt and lie down on my left side. Since the last two echoes were both done by physicians I assumed she must also be a physician, young as she was, but I thought it better not to bring up this question because I noticed that Dr. Petropoulos was also present, suggesting that the young woman was a technician, although she could just as well have been a resident or an intern or whatever.
So there I lie, looking at this young woman’s very interesting and attractive face while she is doing something with a keyboard and a screen that requires all of her attention. And since I can’t very well lie there with my shirt off staring at this person I started looking around and the first thing I noticed is a sign on the window with the admonition that the window must be closed at the end of the day or else they will come and screw it shut. For sure there is enough material there for at least a one-act play or a short story, but Nadia is busy pushing buttons and sliding the little probe all over my rib-cage so I kept my mouth shut about shutting the window and who exactly is threatening to screw it shut if they continue to be sloppy about their procedures.
If I turn my head slightly to the left and look up I can see the ultra-sound screen. And there, confidently pumping away, is a cross-section of my heart that looks bigger than I expected, with occasional flashes of red and blue showing up inexplicably. To my untrained eye it looked sturdy and capable. At length we are finished, Nadia and I, and she put a towel over my chest to wipe up the goo, whereupon I took the opportunity to ask a few questions. Is the image on the screen the same size as my heart? No - the actual heart is smaller, just the size of my fist. What are those red and blue flashes? They show the direction of the blood flow. And then. And then. Nadia turns back and says “It’s not like what you see in the biology textbooks. It’s not showing you the oxygenated and the de-oxygenated blood.” A tiny sympathetic grin and off she goes to summon the actual Dr. and that would be my old friend Dr. Petropoulos from two years ago. It’s not what you see in the biology textbooks, forsooth. How Nadia read my mind or somehow guessed what I really wanted to know was one of life’s small mysteries, but that window the administration was threatening to screw down tight lit up for a few seconds there and a few seconds is all it really takes. Let’s say a little bit of subtle entertainment in a place where entertainment is the last thing you’re expecting.