Top of pine tree against blue sky

...for all the hands that have helped me.

Gratitude 24/40

(written in November)

“I’m fine, mamma” I say as tears flow over my chin and collect on my woolen turtleneck.

My mom takes a breath on the other side of the phone, on the other side of the world. “Sometimes we need to be honest, Hanna. You are not fine. Ask a friend to drive you to the hospital.”

I would rather be receiving a call asking for help than making it. Stubbornness shoots through my bones, trying to keep me upright and able through the pain. My back has been in spasm for a week and, unrelatedly, my speech is starting to slur. The doctor suspects neurological damage and asked me to go for a scan.

I fear that my world will be changed by what I learn. I feel uncertain if I can make the co-payments. I bristle with the irritation of time spilt in fluorescent flavored waiting rooms. I feel the lull of avoidance, the turning away in hope that time heals.

It takes three friends and my mother to soften this willful independence. Soon my friend stops his car at the hospital, and I slowly swing my legs out. Soon I sign waivers and receive a wrist band identifying me as myself. Soon I cringe as I straighten my legs on the scanner bed. Soon I close my eyes as not to see the CT scanner hover over me. I think “I should pay attention and take this in.” But I don’t. I keep still, eyes shut, hands on my abdomen feeling my body breathe.

When I come out of the scan, I notice that some of the beige ceiling tiles are replaced by a backlit scene of a blue sky and green tree branches. Outside the Pittsburgh sky is a scoured pot bottom and the tree branches are bare. The nurse jokes that she wishes the weather outside was this good. I laugh with her.

That same day a patch of blue sky appears inside me as I receive the news that my scan is clear – whatever is causing my speech to slur didn’t show on the CT and it seems not be neurological damage. And the world view I cling to that requires me to be able-bodied and fiercely independent is softening as well. I’m learning to accept my changing health, my needing help. I feel a blue-sky full of gratitude for all the hands that have helped me in these two weeks of unrelenting pain and tests.