M.R.I (My Real Inner-thoughts)

“My body is my own and no one else can touch it.”

This thought comes to me out of the blue as I lay in the MRI machine for my six-monthly check-up 💭

Remember the giraffe puppet that travelled around to primary schools and preached lessons about life education? Apparently, the program was meant to cover important life skills in physical health, safety and social and emotional wellbeing. For me the highlight of the program in the 80’s was not only the stars that used to light up on the roof when they dimmed the lights, but also the packet of cigarettes they would bring out and suggest they are unhealthy and replaced them in front of us with a packet of FADS, (lolly cigarettes, similar to musk sticks) that I used to buy at the pool and pretend I was having a ‘FAG’ while sitting on my towel with my friends.

We had a family joke in our household, whereby my mother would say, “I hate Healthy Harold”. But it wasn’t the FADS that my mum hated. It was the fact that whenever she would try to discipline me, I would explore my inner rebel and say “My body is my own and no one else can touch it. Healthy Harold says.”

So, when I would whisper and giggle with my sisters in mass, and my mum would pinch the skin on my leg, I’d sulkily whisper back “My body is my own, and no one else can touch it”. On the occasion she would produce her ‘smacking stick’, and wave it in the air to reinforce her point if my behaviour was not representative of a ‘good girl’, I’d run from the room screaming “My body is my own and no one else can touch it”.

There was one very rare occasion that my Dad took on the role of disciplinarian when I was trying on a new pair of swimmers. New things were not a common occurrence in our house, so I paraded those swimmers like I had seen Elle McPherson do on the TV. Believing my 7-year-old self had a butt like Elle McPherson, as I turned around to take my last sweep of the lounge room runway, I pulled my swimmers up into my butt like a G-string for a little extra effect. No sooner had I started my grand runway exit, than my Dad jumped up out of his lounge chair, and chased me yelling, “Don’t you ever parade your bottom to anyone in that way ever again!”. I was mortilated (which is a cross between feeling humiliated and mortified all at once), and I ran from the room crying, “My body is my own, and no one else can touch it.”

Looking back, I feel this early lesson from Healthy Harold in the 80s was really the start of what we now are trying to teach as ‘consent’.

There were a few boys in my life who I don’t think listened to Healthy Harold’s message.

Like when I was twelve at our Friday night tennis gathering in our small rural community, and we were playing hide and seek. I snuck into a large metal box that housed a grand piano in the community hall, only to find a sixteen-year-old boy that I hardly knew follow me in to ‘hide’ as well. He suggested we sit on the floor in the back corner so we wouldn’t be seen, only to force his hands down by pants in the hope of a fondle. Thank goodness I screamed, and the ‘seeker’ came running and opened the door.

That boy must have been away on the Healthy Harold day.

Or the guy who took a hook-up way too far after a pub bull ride, at a small rural town several hours from home. I was seventeen and had my P’s. Myself and three friends (one female and two male) were exploring our newfound independence and went for a night away. With a weakness for cowboys and a naïve heart, what I thought was going to blossom into ‘true love’ ended in nothing but a complete disrespectful encounter. Afterward, with my heart in pieces scattered from my throat to my stomach, when I thought he was asleep I snuck quietly out the door and woke up by friends and drove all the way home. And although I was too ashamed to tell them exactly what just happened, my girlfriend held my hand the whole way as I cried, and the boys professed that they would ‘bash him’ if I needed them to.

Mr Cowboy obviously skipped the Healthy Harold days at school as well, however there was true friendship in that car, and an experience that tied four friends together for a lifetime. A big tick for the social and emotional well-being lesson, Harold….

Fast-forward twenty years, and here I am in this MRI machine, whereby my brain is on display to a complete stranger in the next room. I’m not sure why I remembered the Healthy Harold analogy today.

Maybe it was because my Uber driver who brought me to my appointment this morning, and actually introduced himself as ‘John from Lebanon’, had consistently glanced back in the rear vision mirror and said a few too many times “you a very bootiful woman”, then gave me his number and asked me out for lunch. Not cool ‘John from Lebanon’ and sorry but no I don’t want to have lunch with you… especially not today!

As he dropped me off, I felt so uncomfortable that I walked in the opposite direction to the neurologist’s building until I knew he had left. This didn’t help on a morning when I felt very anxious about my appointment where I would find out if the six months of infusion treatment had slowed progression of the disease.

“Only 15 minutes to go”, the sonographer says through my earmuffs. “Ummm, but I have only been in here a short time”, I reply through the microphone that’s hooked up to the cage locked over my head. “Well, depending on how it’s looking I guess, otherwise we will be in to give you the contrast”, he replies.

I go back to lying dead still and start to ponder Healthy Harold again. Although the fundamentals of his healthy lifestyle messages are essentially the same, I now allow medical professionals to not only touch my body, but investigate, report, infuse, withdraw, research, and do whatever they need to in a hope that somebody, someday will find an answer and a cure for MS.

In my search for a healthy body and someone who can put my broken brain back together means my Healthy Harold message has changed a little. If there is even the slightest hope that someone ‘just might’ be able to offer a cure or a ‘slow-down’ or make me feel half normal from a health perspective, I’ll give it a try. This consists of allowing hands I don’t know massage me as often as I can, in a hope that they ease muscle twitches and neurological pain. I’ve allowed a Chinese man who can’t speak english and claims to be an acupuncture specialist, stick needles into my body as I lay face down with tears soaking into the supposedly clean towel I’m breathing in as I pleaded on the inside ‘please make the hurting stop little Chinese man’. This was more emotional turmoil than physical that day. I even allowed a lady in a foreign country perform an infusion of vitamins, minerals and fluids, for hydration, jet lag and hangovers.

Yes Harold, my body is my own but if you proclaim you can put me back together, I’m all in!

“All done”, the sonographer proclaims as he enters the room. “Really?” I question a little disbelievingly. “Yes, and I’ll forward the report upstairs to Dr Barnett for your appointment later this morning”. Wow, that was quick and not what I expected. I put my clothes back on and go to grab a coffee.

Settled back in the waiting room of the neurologist’s office, there’s more people waiting than I have experienced previously. He’s running late, so I guess there’s a back log. But as I sit and take notice of the people around me, I feel a growing sadness.

There’s a middle-aged lady in wheelchair. She has a magazine in her hand, but predominantly stairs straight ahead at nothing at all. “She’s had this for a while”, I think.

There’s a fit young man of Mediterranean appearance. He’s wearing a tight-fitting T-shirt and I admire his physique from across the room. “It’s obvious he works out and must have a positive attitude”, I presume maybe a little too boldly.

There’s a young couple with a baby. I watch them for a while and wonder what on earth they are doing here. The baby girl is happy and the beautiful doting mother sings to her and reads her books. The Dad tries to stay engaged, but it’s not long until I hear the mum trying to reassure him and I realise they are here for his check-up. With so much anxiety and an overly reassuring wife, I can’t help but feel this is a relatively new experience for them.

Then another woman in a wheelchair approaches the reception desk. She’s accompanied by a man who has a quiet kindness to him. She gives her name and date of birth. 1977……. “Oh shit! That’s Jim’s year of birth”, I think. The reality of this is very confronting and just as I start to feel a little overwhelmed, the neurologist calls my name.

It’s time. That all too familiar time where the world stops spinning, birds stop chirping and babies stop crying. That time that can’t be undone. That time where I can’t hide my fear with positive mantras and affirmations. That time where I learn what stage my MS is at.

With not a lot of time for niceties and chit-chat, my neurologist pulls up my scans. He includes me in this process and starts to compare my scan from February to my scan today. He points with his pen at the screen and dissects the images. “Hmmm, this one has reduced, there’s a new one here, that one’s gone, this ones reduced, that’s gone”.

“Hang on”, I interrupt, “what do you mean gone?”

He turns and looks at me. He’s hesitant at first, then he explains “well sometimes, when the patient starts treatment and responds well, we can see a clear improvement to the disease progression. I feel if you continue the treatment and have these results for another 6-12 months, along with other healthy lifestyle behaviours, I predict you are going to live a very normal life”.

The rest is a complete blur. I leave the building. The world has not stopped outside. Birds are chirping and babies are crying. With uncontrollable tears rolling down my face I walk to my fig tree. Nestling myself between the roots and leaning back on the huge trunk I look up at the branches. I feel grounded. I can’t believe what just happened! I cry tears of disbelief and belief all at once. I can’t believe this just happened!!!

Although I know things can change in an instant, for now I’m going to relish in the good news that my neurologist has just told me that on scan I have lesions that are no longer visible and ones that have shrunk.

So, god damn it! I’m going to keep doing all the positive things I’m doing. I’m going to continue to believe in the brain-body connection. I’ll have monthly infusions until my next check-up, I’ll continue to live a full life with health and well-being at its core.

And although ‘My body is my own and no one else can touch it’, if a health professional, massage therapist, acupuncture specialist or vitality guru in an overseas country suggests that they can help me, I’ll be taking part in whatever therapy they have to offer.

I don’t only do this for myself, I do this for the middle-aged woman in the wheelchair with the magazine in her hand. I do it for the baby girl’s Daddy with a new diagnosis, I do this for the man with the quiet kindness whose forty-five-year-old wife is in a wheelchair. And I do this for the many other people who I know are suffering the same roller coaster ride that I am.

🤍 Lynda

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