Reason for Imaging: r/o Hopelessness
Comparison: The Past, What Else?
There are so many things that remain unremarkable besides the heart. The landscape of days is the same as ever. The children grow. I walk the dogs down the icy street and balance my coffee all the way home. At dusk, there is an orange-gray light in the trees and I often remark on it. My wife comes home from work with stories of strange families or children who have such gifts, like the ability to hold the schedule of all the local trains in their heads. I read on the chair we got when I first had chemo, so comfortable, in our library, with all its pages. I will never be done with all the books, no matter how many years I live.
Patent. That is the medical word for open, unthwarted. My son and I are watching a black and white movie he has chosen. There is a slight scratch to the image, a bubbling in the audio, and my son explains just why that is. He knows everything about 1920’s movies, and as we watch, he sometimes pauses the movie and says, “Fun Fact,” and tells me some odd fact – that was the first time a woman got to wear a dress that short, that Harpo talked, that the girl who is the star got her start in a broadway revue. . Once in a while, I put his hand on his growing shoulder. Patent.
My daughter analyzes all the different drinks from Starbucks and says they are all better with oat milk. She will drink almond milk. She likes the oat milk shaken espresso the best. Cold better than hot. In the afternoons, home from school, before dance where she spends more than an average amount of time in the air, she makes herself a smoothie, finding ingredients everywhere – frozen fruit, bananas, kale, protein powder, oat milk, coconut yoghurt. She has decided not to drink seltzer because she believes all those cans are bad for the earth. Please, she says, don’t get them for me anymore. That I can do.
Nothing is worrisome for infection or neoplasm. My wife and I talk about our Wordles, our days, vaguely understand there is something we need – new shoes for our tiny son who has giant feet that just keep growing, We discuss our daughter’s friends, some of whom we have concerns about but we will say nothing to her. We talk about the show we’re watching about a queer woman dating a trans man, how funny it is, how unfamiliar too. And at least, once during this conversation, never in the same place, so hard to trace or find again, I say to her, “I can’t believe I have metastatic cancer,” and she says back, “I can’t believe it either.”
“The heart size is normal.” Well, not so much.
There is one suspicious finding for which I must have follow-up. As at the chemo port, plunged close to my heart, to shuffle and manage my blood, at the mouth of my days there is a slight clot. A darkness. Not patent. Very small (less than a milliliter, like a very thin emotion.) It could be artifact. An artifact on a CT is: “any systematic discrepancy between the CT numbers in the reconstructed image and the true attenuation coefficients of the object.” The cause of artifacts are often in the angle or light of a particular picture. But they too, could represent the substance of something, the way what you thought was going to happen tempers your days or the way something not seen in the past suddenly becomes visible – old friends you want to see again, an unfinished poem, a regret that has hardened too far, all the way to fact,
Go on with your life. Stop trying to call it hope. The term you might use is patent. For now, you are unclosed.
Forget the starry scatter of nodules resting in your pelvis. There are no new stars yet in your orbit.
Someday, your whole life will be artifact. Someone else will have to tender what was real from what you meant or said. Someone else will stare at the photos and remember what you have already forgotten.
FOLLOW-UP in six months unless symptoms re-occur.
Elizabeth Crowell grew up in northern New Jersey and has a B.A. from Smith College in English Literature and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing/Poetry from Columbia University. She taught college and high school English for many years. She lives outside of Boston with her wife and teenage children.