March 28, 2009
The Best for Last?
I have never been able to outrun one specific memory of my childhood.
In 1959, Mother took me to St. Luke’s Hospital to have my epilepsy tested. We arrived in the morning, sat together for three hours, and then followed a Nursing Sister along a complicated set of corridors and wrought iron and marble staircases.
We descended. Deeper and deeper into the bowels of the hospital we walked, until, at the end of the tour, we came to a cramped little space marked “E.E.G. Lab”.
The technician and my mother seemed to get on well. They chatted for a long while. Finally, the technician began a longer process of gluing electrodes to my scalp. It was not unlike getting a Toni, the home permanent for little girls.
At the end of this very long process, I was exhausted and my nerves were running high. I had a pain about the size of an apple in the middle of my stomach and I wasn’t sure what came next.
Next, the technician had me lie on a cot and she told me to close my eyes and see if I could fall asleep. She quit talking with my mother, and suddenly everything was quiet. I began to drift off and finally went to sleep.The technician waved something under my nose to wake me.
Apparently, I had drifted very deeply asleep and she wanted me back, awake, in a hurry.
The smell went straight to my brain and did the trick.
Next, she lowered a lamp over my head and told me to stare directly into the center of the bulb, without blinking or closing my eyes. When she turned it on, it began to strobe slowly. She made a second adjustment to the lamp and it picked up the pace of the strobing considerably. I thought my head was going to cave in, until she said I could shut and cover my eyes.
She adjusted the lamp back to its most comfortable setting, and then she directed that I should pant like a dog and watch the light. I was supposed to pant for three minutes, looking into the light all the while.
About 20 seconds into the panting, I tried to stop. The technician told me that if I stopped, she would tell my mother that I could no longer watch television, as a consequence.
After the panting-like-a-dog sequence was finished, she asked me to lie quietly. She took the lamp away, and darkened the room. Some time passed, and we were finished. She took the electrodes out of my hair and she warned my mother not to try to use a brush on it because it would need to be washed out with a special shampoo. She gave my mother the shampoo and we left.
I thought we were done for the day, but no. Mother had a surprise for me : a blood test.
We walked down one more flight of stairs into a laboratory. A nun in full habit greeted us. She slipped into a smallish apron and sleeves and tied a rubber hose around my arm. Mother slipped away. I felt awful. Just as the nun slipped the needle into my arm, I vomited all over her. Then I seized.
When we finally arrived home that night, Mother told me she would never do that again, and I made the same promise back to her.
I pray for the soul of that nun often. I have insisted to God that it just slipped out.
To date, God has never brought it up, but I think extra time has been added to my stay in Purgatory for Defacing a Habited Nun.
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