Monday, April 19, 2010 was sooooo scary!

The way I have it figured, if you're going to have a might as well use it as a place to be completely honest.  It has always seemed to me that we wear many masks in the course of our lives...some we create, some that are given to us...some that we wear comfortably, and some that are forced on us, like Hannibal Lechter's. 

Shakespeare said "All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players." In the most direct manner, this famous line from "As You Like It" simply means that we are all actors...we all have different roles that we play throughout the course of our lives. Of course, we like to think we are independent, and that we actually choose how we act, but in reality, we are acting according to scripted roles. As much as we may hate to admit it (and I know that I don't like it one bit!) - this practice makes us all...yes, hypocrites.  As a matter of fact, the word for "actor" is "hypocrite" in the Greek language. It means ‘the person who wears a mask’ (or, "a cover on his face"). In the orginal Greek plays, actors pretended to be someone else by putting on a mask.  Wearing a mask is what it meant to "be a hypocrite". Well... literally it meant “one who speaks from under a mask.” Greek actors wore masks to portray a character.

We all do's part of being human.  We may not like it, but often we are hypocrites.  As a Christian, I think that I probably bristle at the term because Jesus used the same word to describe the dreaded Pharisees (the ultimate "black hats" throughout the Gospel narrative.

Perhaps, at various time in our lives, the playing of roles is not necessarily a bad thing.  It sometimes is necessary, depending on the situation.  Examples:  To some people, I am their Priest, to others, I am their friend, to others I'm a teacher, to Amy, I'm her husband.  Sometimes the lines between these roles gets blurred. I honestly attempt to keep the Priest and the Friends catagory somewhat seperate, because, when someone finds themselves in a life or death situation and I'm called to the hospital in the middle of the night...I'm going to be in my cassock and collar, with Sacraments in hand... with a job to do.  At that moment, when the chips are dowm...the people in my cure need their "Priest"...not their "buddy" or their "pal"!

I think the most obvious "role" that I have been called to is as "a man".  The male of the species.  Most of this, of course, is due to genetics and hormonal (that old "Y" chromosone, too!) since before birth...and, although I believe that I was born with a certain amount  more sensitivity than some of my more "Alpha Male" counterparts...I have been conditioned to play the "man" role.

You've all heard it:  "Real men don't cry".  "Real men don't get scared".

Which is why I need to come clean about my "open" MRI the other afternoon.  My long-time friend and someone who I always call "my second-favorite Amy" - Amy Pease Scarpa - talked at length about this on Sunday morning (on an overseas call from Venice, Italy, where she lives!)  She has had a similar thing happen, and - - you can only truly understand if this kind of thing has ever happened to you.

You see, both Amy Scarpa and I are claustrophobic.  Properly defined, claustrophobia (from Latin claustrum "a shut in place" and Greek φόβος, phóbos, "fear") is the fear of having no escape and being closed in.  It's hard to admit your fears.  Amy told me that it took her over a year to even talk about her MRI experience.

It's very hard to describe, this malady...except to say that it's instantaneous and uncontrolable.  When the feeling of panic starts, there is just no stopping it.  It's extremely emotional and very frustrating, because it's one of the few things I have ever experienced in my life that I have absolutely no control over!

Per my own most vocal request to my doctor...I went to the so-called "open" MRI place here in Pasadena...and - - to look at their sure didn't look like it was going to cause me a problem.  I was indeed, "open" - - at least compared to the old "tunnel" type.  The technician had to put in the thinner pads, because the "ceiling" of the unit was right down on my chest.

I got up on the table....the very nice lady made sure that I was comfortable, propped my bad shoulder up with some foam and a rolled-up towel for my wrist... and then she placed this heavy metal "donut" on my shoulder... She calmly announced: "Ready??"

I said "Yeah...sure..."  She smoothly slid the table apparatus under the big magnet-filled ceiling...and - - then it happened.  I could see that the ceiling of the thing was right above my nose, and my whole upper-body was trapped.  I heard this loud "click" (or was it more of a "clunk"?) as the table locked into place.  I said, "Wait a minute, hold on..." I reached up and out to the right and grasped the outside of the machine above me...and I tried to pull myself out.  No dice.  The table was locked and I could not move.

This is where the "uncontrolable" and "panic" parts begin.  I said, very loudly:  "NO, NO, NO!!  Get me!!  She was right there and very reassuring...  "OK, hang on, I got ya!"  She unlocked the mechanism and slid me back out...and I sat up and just began to sob, completely out of control!  I couldn't catch my breath (part of the "phobia" in "claustrophobia" is the fear of not being able to breathe!)  I sobbed "I'm so sorry...I can't control just happens so quickly...I don't think I can do this..."

She offered to call my doctor and see if I could get some sedatives and come back.  I looked back at the machine and tried to breath slowly.

Then...she asked the $64,000.00 question:  "Do you think a blindfold would help?"

Obviously, this is something that they have tried before with some success.  I said I would be willing to try, just one more time.

On went the blindfold, and back in I went!  There can be no doubt...I still knew where I was...but - because I could not actually SEE where I was...I could be anywhere I wanted to be in my mind's eye!  I definitely heard the click...and perhaps my heart skipped a beat when I heard it...but we began the test.

I told the technician to move the step-ladder we used to get me up on the table right next to me...I just needed to grab onto something "on the outside".  I used the fingers on my right hand, gripping the rail on the ladder, to keep my place as I said the Rosary in my head.  I also pictured my Amy (my first-favorite one!), our Beloved, scenes in the mountains, pine trees, granite snow-capped Sierra mountains and gentle streams...

It was just like being on a nature hike.  Well....maybe a "nature hike" with a jack-hammer being used right next to my head!!  One thing that hasn't changed is that the MRI machines are still really LOUD!!

I hiked, I threw Beloved the ball...I made-believe that the step-ladder handle was Amy's hand...and I prayed the Rosary all the way through (it takes me about 20-minutes, I guess the whole test took about a half-an-hour.)

When it was all over, I left the blindfold in place until I was all the way out...and sat up.  I thanked the technician for her patiance, her kindness and her understanding (afterwards, she told me that she is claustrophobic, too - - and really understands!!)

I got my films immediately to show to my doctor on Thursday.  I have no clue how to read these magnetic pictures...but I'll know a lot more about potential arthroscopic surgery when I see him in a few days.  And if he determines that I will need to have my rotator-cuff repaired, well...we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.

Just don't make me go back in that bloody machine!!!


  1. Dude! I didn't know that you were that way. I am too. It's the reason I ended my sojourn as a prospective professional diver. That, and I was told I would probably die a miserable screaming, gurgling death.

    I think I told you the story, but It started in the hyperbaric chamber when they blew us down to 60 feet. I nearly lost my mind, but managed to get through some how. Not so with the forty pound Miller dive helmet the next day. Once that metal fishbowl was securely fastened to the neck dam, in that very instant, I became a complete idiot. The crazy part is, I had no idea at all that I was so crazy.

    Now, I did know you were leaving and I was so sorry we didn't get a chance to throw back a pint when you were out here in Vegas. I'm glad to see you've got a blog up on your adventure and I'll be lurking about.

  2. Makes me think of the time you rode in the back seat of our Camaro. That was not pretty...