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I dissected a frozen cat once in a high school physiology class. Well, it wasn’t frozen as much as it was preserved with some chemical that made it look ghoulishly frozen, its face stuck and its eyes wide open. My lab partner and I named him Billy Bob; a name we thought suited him well due to his scruffy mane of fur and all around scraggly alley cat appearance. At the end of the semester, we found that he was really a she (don’t ask how we missed that one) and when she died, she had been pregnant with a litter of kittens.
It was the saddest thing I had ever seen, having to pull the frozen babies from Billy Bob’s womb. There were four all together and they had never had a chance to live. It crushed me to see them on display on our lab table, the class gathering around to gawk. The teacher called it a miracle of science to be able to study the animals up close in the classroom. She told us all to take it in and try to get a grasp on what we were experiencing. A marvelous opportunity.
As soon as class was over, I vomited in the trashcan ten feet from the classroom door.
Sitting in the frozen exam room at Flagstaff Medical Center, my new home away from home, I felt a connection to Billy Bob again. If they had pinned me to a dissection tray, I would have known we were kindred spirits. There was no dissection tray, but I was prepped to be dissected nonetheless. I was ready for the nurse to come in any minute to prepare me for my tests. Strip down, put on the paper gown. Prepare for the Neurologic exam, CT scan, MRI. Maybe they’d do a spinal tap and a myelogram, make sure nothing had formed on my spinal cord. I’d be photographed, x-rayed, dyed, poked and prodded. All the fun stuff.
They would ask me how the headaches had been. Terrible. They would ask me on a scale of one to ten, one being the least and ten being the most, what would I rank my pain levels. Ten. Was I sleeping? Not really. How many hours a night was I sleeping? Depends on the night. On average how many hours was I sleeping a night? I don’t know, maybe four or five. Consecutively? No. Was my skin yellowing? No. Was my eyesight blurring? No. Was my hearing any different? No. Was my speech impaired at all? I’m talking to you, aren’t I? How was my balance? Define balance. Any problems with walking or standing up straight for long periods of time? I walk into door frames, but I’m pretty sure I did that pre-cancer, so I’m going to go with no. Muscle spasms? No. Any numbness or tingling in the arms? No. In the legs? Only when my foot falls asleep. Were there any problems with my memory? Not that I remember. That’s not funny. I’m sorry. Was anything out of the ordinary? No. My weight was down from my last visit, was my diet the same? Yes. Was I eating enough? Define enough. Three meals a day? No. How many meals a day? One and a half, if I’m lucky. Was I nauseous? Yes. How often? All the time. Was I vomiting, or just nauseous? Only vomiting occasionally. Define occasionally. Maybe three or four times a week. How many times a day did I take my medicine? Just once a day for the supposedly miraculaous sugar pill. Was that the prescribed dose? Yes. How many times did I take the prescribed pain killer? As many times as needed. Was that the prescribed dose? No. What was? Twice a day.
The questions would die off, but the symptoms wouldn’t. Pulling those kitten’s out of Billy Bob’s womb was the saddest thing I had seen, until I found myself sitting on that cold exam table. But there was no use in feeling sorry for myself. I may have felt like I wasn’t living, but at least I knew I had a chance once.