Thursday 21st January 2010
Gestation: 16 weeks, 6 days
One year ago.
We enter through the curved, reflective doors of the Radiology Centre. As they open, we are hit by a waft of something you can’t bottle. I guess you’d call it calm. It feels like there is a vacuum in here; I see people moving about, but they don’t seem to be making enough sound. Even if you tried to shout, I don’t know that you’d be heard above a whisper. It’s really kind of weird.
The place is decked out in black marble, a mix between stately accountant and airport boarding lounge. It’s nothing like the medical facilities I’m used to; everything seems to be in its place, and nothing looks like it needs replacing.
This couldn’t possibly be part of the Australian healthcare system.
We approach the desk, unsure whether to pull out our passports or our bank details.
“Hi, I’m here for an appointment,” Suse begins. She decides on her driver’s licence, which she hands over while I look for luggage belt. There doesn’t seem to be one, so I stand by her side. It’s my new position.
The woman taps away, saying little, making less noise than seems right. Finally she opens her mouth.
“And how would your doctor like to receive the report?” she asks.
“Umm, he’s my doctor.” Suse looks at me, and I then at the receptionist. She looks anywhere but at us.
“Mail is fine,” I say.
She smiles wanly, taking my details like I’ve just been arrested. And then we sit.
Waiting for the boarding call.
* * * * *
We are here for Suse’s shoulder injection.
I’m hoping it’s an entire shoulder rejuvenation; like something you might see advertised on morning television. Because she hasn’t had much luck with her shoulders. She had a reconstruction on the left three months ago, after discovering a tear of the supraspinatus; a so-called degenerative condition, like she is a frail grandmother in a nursing home, not a fit, sexy, fertile young woman.
And despite arguing with multiple doctors over the merits of mislabelling my wife, it continued to get worse, ever making the fool of me. This happened over six months – preceding the ectopic by just a few weeks. The shoulder finally healed, and the ectopic was settling.
It was clearly time for the next thing to go wrong.
She’d been doing rehab exercises, to rebuild her left shoulder. Each night, Suse tied a big red piece of rubber spaghetti to a doorknob, and pulled it in various directions, like she was spelling her name with her hands. She did it religiously.
And then, two weeks ago, she turned to me one night. Pretty much the night after we remembered how to smile.
“My shoulder is starting to hurt,” she said.
“Oh. It’s still getting used to the surgery, I guess.”
“No, she said. “It’s the right one.”
My heart fell through the floor.
I scooped it up, and rang my friend, the Orthopod who operated on her left shoulder. He suggested a steroid injection into the subacromial space, reminding me that this was an area in her shoulder joint, not one in Central America. He was hoping to settle the inflammation in the bursa; again a body part, not a Buddhist land mass dominated by military rule.
“It may just buy you out of trouble,” he said.
“Just how much trouble are we buying out of?” I asked.
How hard is it to get out of bursa, when you’re in the subacromial space?
“No one really knows. Months. Years. It’s really difficult to say.”
But maybe just long enough to get pregnant.
* * * * *
“Susan?” We both look up. There stands a steely woman at the parapet. “Feel free to come through,” she says.
I stand as well, walking with her over towards the sliding door. “You can stay here, sir,” she says raising her eyebrows. She brandishes her teeth; half-smile, half-bulldog.
“He’s my husband, and my doctor, and I’d really like him to be in there for the procedure,” Suse says, more bulldog than smile.
“Well,” Steel woman replies quietly. “No problem then.”
We walk through the fortress door and into the Alien Space Centre beyond. Steel woman walks on ahead, leading us through to a room; all cream walls and ultrasound machines. Like a console of a Y-wing fighter, she sits in her saddle, facing her control panel.
“Please lie on the bed,” she orders. Suse complies. “And now, just twist your arm back like this.”
She demonstrates. Suse tries to imitate. Steel woman frowns. She then pulls Suse’s shoulder in an unnatural twist, even for a yoga expert like her. I feel like I’m watching a form of medical torture.
Which I kind of am.
“Uh, not really,” Suse replies. “That is exactly the position where the pain is triggered.”
“Okay, good,” Steel woman says. She starts up the Y-wing fighter, and places a probe on Suse’s shoulder. A universe of lights flash on to the screen.
“So will this hurt?” Suse asks. She’s attempting nonchalance, but falls a little short.
“Oh, not for me it won’t,” Steel woman jests. She laughs in lieu of us.
“No, look it’ll be okay. I’ve had two in my shoulder, and they were great,” she finishes, like she’s talking about cocktails.
“So, not so bad?”
“No, they were really nice, really smooth.”
“What flavour?” I ask.
“No, sorry,” I mumble. A silence falls. Suse looks at me with confusion. I shrug.
“The doctor will be here in a few minutes,” Steel woman says ignoring me completely.
And then she shimmies out of the room.
* * * * *
As advertised, a few minutes pass before the doctor walks in. He is equally metallic, equally steely, as if this was the only tick-a-box on the job application.
“How are you?” he asks, not really wanting a reply. He moves around the room, getting things ready. He’s so clearly on autopilot that he looks bored. It comforts me no end that he’s probably already done fifteen of these injections today.
He begins to speak, telling us about the procedure. I try to listen, but I can’t stop staring at his lips, which don’t seem to be moving. I look to see where his hands are, in case he’s just pressed play on a tape, or an iPod or something, just to save him having to repeat the same spiel again. But I can’t make out where the speaker is hidden. It must be in his mouth.
“…And the tendinosis will be improved by this procedure.” He sighs as he finishes, pressing pause on the tape. I swear it. I saw his hand move.
“Not tendinopathy?” Suse asks.
“Tendinitis, tendinosis, tendinopathy…” He trails off. “Depends on the mood of the day,” he says eventually, almost asleep.
He then sits. He swishes the ultrasound probe over Suse’s shoulder, the snake of cord making a little ripple down it, like you used to do with a skipping rope if you were trying to look cool. But he does it with the flair of a man in control, one who isn’t even trying to be cool anymore.
He’s too bored to be cool.
And then he pulls out his dirty great horse needle. He primes it, a squeeze of juice coming from its end. He does this in a deft movement, again on autopilot. Suse looks at me. I smile, not wanting to let on that there is the sharp end of a sword hovering above her right shoulder.
A fascinating scene ensues.
The doctor’s hand advances forward, the needle plunges through layers of snow on the screen, and Suse’s mouth opens in pain. All in chorus. It’s like watching a movie with a split screen effect, where you are privy to the perspectives of different angles at once. This is that.
I watch as he depresses the plunger. As he does, the thin layers of pixels spread apart, like an air-matt levitating as the steroid is instilled. Suse’s mouth yawns open, as if operated by the plunger. The weird scene continues, until the snowstorm settles, her yawn closes, and he retracts the needle. In perfect synergy.
I resist the temptation to clap.
“All done,” he says, sighing once again. “Not so bad, eh?”
“I’m not sure yet,” she replies. She looks like she’s just been slapped. Her eyes are fixed firmly on the end of the needle, watching it all the way to the disposal bin. Even after that, Suse stares at the yellow container, like she’s waiting for it to bite.
“The nurse will be back in a minute,” he says finally. And then he sighs a final time. Just a little. Like a junkie who’s just had a dirty hit. The highs just aren’t there anymore.
And then he disappears. He vanishes so quickly I’m not sure whether he even used the door. The man is slick. And bored.
And just a little bit sad, too.
“What just happened?” Suse asks.
“A sad, robotic man just fixed your shoulder.”
“We can only hope.”
“That we can.”
We stay motionless for a few more minutes, there in the room, both lost in our own thoughts. Suse lies there, gradually starting to stir from her spell, moving her shoulder in bigger and bigger arcs.
“This is so weird,” she says finally. “I can hear the squish. Can you hear that?”
I roll across, as yet unable to get out of my saddle. I put my ear to her shoulder. And then I hear it.
“So now you’ve got a shoulder that squelches.”
Steel woman enters. She helps us both up, clearly understanding that it is as difficult for the partner to leave as it is for the patient.
“Thank you,” we both say.
“My pleasure,” she says, smiling kindly. “And enjoy the squelch.”
Suse grins, waving with her good arm.
“This day has been so surreal,” she whispers as we walk. She then laughs, moving her arm like it’s her new party trick.
We walk out through the door, and then through the Arrivals Gate, with a faint hope that there will be someone with our name on a card to greet us.
Or if not, someone to reassure us that we’ll be pregnant before the next operation.
* * * * *