“If you get scared, just yell stop and we’ll take you back out,” the doctor reassured me as he stuck two plugs into my ears. “It’s going to be really loud.”
I nodded, unable to do anything else, since the rest of my body was strapped to a cot. Behind me sat a white tunnel, where I’d be spending the next forty minutes in complete isolation. Not my ideal afternoon.
Sometimes we’re brave because we don’t know how dangerous things really are. To the doctors and everyone else who knew I might have a brain tumor, maybe I appeared unafraid and confident. Inside, the idea of dying didn’t compute with me. I couldn’t die. I was only eleven years old.
The plastic walls enveloped my body as my cot descended into the mechanical hole. I practiced breathing. Tempting as it was to tilt my head up and look out of the tunnel, the doctors told me I couldn’t move. Be still like a statue, they said. I took one last deep breath and tried thinking about nothing.
The first noise ruptured through the machine.
M.R.I. scanners can be as loud as one hundred and twenty-five decibels, louder than the front row of a rock concert. Except this wasn’t music.
A giant alarm clock blared through the tunnel like rapid gunfire. With every piercing buzz, my earplugs shriveled under the clamor. An army of tiny robots crawled outside the scanner, beeping and shrieking in bizarre robot voices as they did. Amid the chaos, a slow thumping began building up. Some enormous creature rammed itself into the machine over and over again. Earthquake. The world around me detonated into a million pieces of debris as I screamed.
Everything died down. My cot rolled out of the tunnel and I went into extreme panic.
“Get me out, get me out!” I cried. The doctors tried restraining me, quite successfully since I was a skinny little kid, and called my mom back into the room. It took about ten minutes for her to calm me down. During that time, something inside me clicked. This is real. I’m lying here, strapped to this cot, because I am going to die. The loud noises inside the scanner weren’t scary; they only foreshadowed something truly frightening. Death. For the first time, I began to understand it.
Only thirty minutes, my mom promised me. I bit my lip as I descended back into the scanner. The beeps and buzzes thundered through my ears once again. Despite being slightly more prepared, I still found myself dreading every second of this auditory torture.
“Josh, you’re moving around a lot. You’ve got to stay still in order for this work,” the doctor told me over the intercom.
Breathe. Breathe. A Bible verse my parents taught me popped into my head. When I am afraid, I will trust in You. I repeated the verse to myself about a hundred times, and started to hum it in a simple tune. Surprisingly, it helped take my mind off the violent commotion clattering around me, to the point where it didn’t intimidate me anymore. The noise hadn’t gone away, but it no longer sounded like a gargantuan shredding machine ready to devour me. Instead, I heard voices. Singing.
Maybe I was hallucinating. Maybe not. Either way, all fear had gone away. I came out of the machine a bit more confident and feeling a lot braver. It was over. For now.
The M.R.I. did find a brain tumor in my pituitary gland, an inoperable spot in my head. My parents didn’t tell me. I was confused why we stopped going to the doctor, but didn’t question them. We got a second opinion. Same result. This doctor suggested we wait six months, then take another M.R.I. to see if anything’s changed. But we didn’t. If it was inoperable, it was inoperable, my dad figured. There was nothing to do now, but pray.
Long story short, I’m still alive nearly ten years later, and I probably will be for the next couple decades like the average person’s lifespan. God could’ve avoided putting me through this experience altogether, but then I wouldn’t see each day of my life as a gift. A treasure. An opportunity to smile and make other people’s lives a little bit better. It may be cliché, but we really don’t appreciate how much we have until we almost lose it. In the midst of life’s hardships, I sometimes forget how lucky I am simply to have a life where hardships reside. And that’s something I hope to never take for granted.