I clip it to the string of twine that hangs on the wall between my living room and kitchen.
Yes, I think. I am going to live life as if everything is rigged in my favor.
It seems like a perfect plan.
My birthday coincides with Rosh Hashanah, a new school year, and the start of autumn, when nights turn cool and trees are flecked with gold.
In case I haven't said it before, I'm a fan of fresh starts.
This year for my birthday, I get my first take-out coffee in 6 months.
|This is a BIG step!|
My mom makes an apple cake, and we celebrate on the patio.
|From a safe social distance, of course.|
That “fresh start” feeling – where everything is rigged in my favor – lasts a while.
Then abdominal problems kick in.
I don’t know why. They just start out of nowhere, like they always do.
The pain is intense. Deep and dark and definite. Restrictive, yet familiar, like well-worn tire tracks on a road I've driven before.
I am in pain and will always be in pain. NOTHING is rigged in my favor.
It shrinks my life to a place where I can’t imagine being anywhere else.
At Mile 8,943, I am at Jefferson again – as an outpatient this time.
The department is called Nuclear Medicine, and I’m here for a test called a HIDA Scan.
When I check in, the receptionist puts an ID bracelet on my wrist. I take this as a bad sign.
Then I look out the window of the waiting room. It’s a foggy morning, but there's a message out there:
|I take this as a good sign.|
In the exam room sits a monstrous machine. It hovers over a canoe-shaped platform into which my body fits perfectly.
“How does this work for people bigger than I am?” I joke.
The technician, Mohammad, laughs because that describes pretty much everyone.
He covers me with a heated blanket. The blanket reminds me of being in pre-op, but I decide it’s good sign anyway. The room is freezing.
The test takes two hours. Mohammad injects a "tracer" that glows as it passes through my abdominal organs. He puts on a soft soundtrack and records everything on video.
I look around as I lie there. On one wall is a clock. I try not to check it. On the other wall, is a coiled up NG tube. I try not to think about why it's there.
It's a long time to lie still and stay calm, so I focus on the ceiling.
|Relaxing view, isn't it?|
It reminds me of early evening. In a garden café. In Vienna.
I know it's just art, a trick of light and color. This room is on the 8th floor of a 16-story hospital in the middle of Center City.
Yet when I get anxious, I stare up at the trees, and clouds, and crescent moon.
Believe it or not, it makes a difference.
I’ve been reading Jodi Picoult’s newest novel, The Book of Two Ways.
The title refers to an Egyptian text about the afterlife, but also to the quantum physics theory that there are multiple outcomes to every event, and that each one continues to exist in its own parallel universe, even if we only perceive one path at a time.
To me, it sounds like Alice's Looking Glass, or the B-side of a record, or the Upside Down from Stranger Things.
I'm not sure I believe in this theory. I gave up on What-Ifs many miles ago.
Still, it’s nice to dream.
If there are two ways, then a universe exists where I didn’t get in an accident at all.
Where the truck and I both rode safely through that intersection. Where I don't trip on the sidewalk, or conserve "leg time," or worry about needing the ER during a pandemic. (Heck, there must be a no-pandemic universe out there too!)
In that universe, everything would be rigged in my favor, right?
But couldn’t two ways also be a matter of perspective? Like shifting our focus?
Sure, I’m on a chilly table with radioactivity flowing through my veins. But I'm also at a café drinking coffee, eating sacher-torte, and gazing up at the Austrian sky.
Somehow, at Mile 8,943, I manage to be in both places at once.
|Or something like that!|
I'm not going to lie.
Pain is pain. There’s no other way to look at it. When it hits full force, it's blinding, and I can't see anything else.
There's a universe where this pain is related to my accident and won't ever go away.
Then, there's another universe where it's not. And it will.
Between those two universes, there are doctors and nurses who listen, and care, and try to get to the bottom of it. Between those two universes, there is daily life.
Between those two universes, there's a HIDA Scan.
When the test is over and I finally get home, I find another birthday card in the mail. Surprise, it's from Shelley's mom. And by extension, Shelley.
|Inside is a little reminder of her!|
It reminds me, too, of something Shelley used to say:
"We make the best decisions we can, based on the information we have at the time."
I don't know what this round of tests will show. There's a small chance it'll point to an easy solution, one that's obviously rigged in my favor.
But life doesn't usually work that way. It's rarely good or bad, everything or nothing, always or never. It's more like a sliding scale.
To live life as if everything is rigged in your favor... I think the words AS IF are key.
"As if" means to move forward anyway, despite uncertainty. It means to tread carefully, taking steps with PURPOSE and HOPE.
I believe there are more than two ways. Many more.
Our challenge is to walk the line between.