ValueSpeak - A Weekly Column by Joseph Walker


It isn’t that I’m afraid of the medical procedure.

OK, maybe it is.

But I’m not really worried about pain or anything like that.  Honest.  I know it won’t hurt.  And even if it did – a little – it wouldn’t be a big deal.  I have always been able to tolerate physical pain pretty well (the phrase “No brain, no pain” comes to mind).

It’s just . . . you know . . . The Machine.

It isn’t a big machine.  It’s actually relatively small and compact.  But then they start it up, and it zooms in close and kind of surrounds you, and you can’t move for like 15 minutes at a time, and you just have to lay there with that machine inches from your chest and neck and you’re not moving and . . . well . . . that’s the part I can’t handle.

At least, I couldn’t handle it the first time I tried it.  The technicians were great – they even gave me a nice pillow upon which to lay my head while I stretched out on the machine in a room that was appropriately dark and restful.  I was as comfortable as one can be on a solid flat surface with a bunch of electrodes hooked to your body.  The machine didn’t look the least bit intimidating as it hovered several feet above me.

But then it started to move toward me.  Slowly.  Mechanically.  Little whirring sounds drawing ever closer as the machine began to envelope me.  Suddenly it felt like I was in an elevator, stuck in between floors.  A very old, very small elevator – and getting older and smaller by the millisecond.

“Just lay still there,” said the technician as he completed his adjustments and turned to leave the room.  “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

“How long?” I asked, trying hard not to let the panic I was feeling creep into my voice.

“Oh, about 15 minutes or so,” he said casually before he closed the door behind him.

And there we were, alone in the darkness: The Machine and me.

Let the terror begin.

The first thing I noticed after the technician left the room was a constant thudding sound – a booming pah-thump counterpoint to the whirring and clicking of The Machine.  Only the thudding sound wasn’t mechanical.  It was . . . biological.  Almost human.  Like a heartbeat. MY heartbeat, it turned out, pounding in my ears, escalating in pitch and rate as The Machine seemed to tighten its grip on my consciousness – if not my body.

Then I noticed my fingers trembling and my legs twitching as Adrenalin surged inside me, filling me with a desire – no, a NEED – to move and be free.  It’s just 15 minutes, I told myself.  I can do this.  I took several deep breaths.  I closed my eyes and tried to be calm.  I sought out my “happy place.”  Unfortunately, my “happy place” quickly morphed into a scene from “Star Wars,” and the walls of that big trash compactor were closing in on me.


I’d like to be able to report that I toughed it out for at least a few minutes in the darkness.  The fact is, it was probably about 45 seconds.

“Excuse me!” I called to the technician.  When he didn’t respond immediately, I kicked it up a few decibels: “EXCUSE ME!!!”

He poked his head in the room.  “Is there a problem?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said weakly, apologetically.  “Me.”

That was the end of my first attempt at this particular medical procedure.  In a few days I’ll be going back for a second attempt, and my fingers are already starting to tremble.  My doctor has prescribed some medication to help me get through it, but I’m still not sure I can face The Machine again. It occurs to me that for all of our scientific advances and technological breakthroughs, at the end of the day progress – medically or otherwise – is still ultimately dependent upon plain, simple human courage.  My friend Jerry has shown it recently as he has endured the rigors of chemotherapy.  Another friend, Monica, put her courage on display last weekend as she closed her eyes and counted backwards from 10 while anesthetics made her numb to the work of a surgeon.  And if they can do it, I guess I can, too.

Even if that means it’s The Machine and me.  Again.

— © Joseph Walker

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Look What Love Has Done:  Five-Minute Messages to Lift Your Spirit. 

How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen?  Home Remedies for an Ailing World.

Christmas on Mill Street A Holiday Novel!

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