What Happened with the Barium
I was slightly comforted when Edward and I stepped outside to discover the most gorgeous weather in full bloom. Although I'm never awake to enjoy it, I love the slow, private feeling of early morning. I decided then and there to make a habit of waking up at 5am after I turn 60.
The hour-long train ride brought all the stress right back. I was with my husband, whose "Don't be a baby" pep talks only confirmed that I'd be getting no assistance from his corner. I hunkered down, feeling tense, alone, and really quite thirsty since I'd been told not to drink anything after nine the night before. I waffled for a little bit, telling myself there had to be some way out of this, then trying to talk myself into accepting that I had to do it. But inexorably, my fear gained firm and total control. The barium-water suspension (in a now Super Big Gulp sized tankard) I kept trying to picture myself swallowing had morphed from the consistency of milkshake to plaster of paris. I'd once made a mask of someone's face with plaster of paris and I remember how fast it set. I imagined the barium congealing halfway down my throat.
I could do this. I had to do it. But then I thought: No, I bloody well do not have to do it. People have died from refusing blood transfusions and chemotherapy, and maybe refusing was the wrong choice, but it was their choice to make. Suddenly the expression "pick your battles" popped into my head and, worthy or not, I picked: There'd be no drinking of barium for me today.
A dozen scenarios played in my head as I tested out my limited Japanese, trying to formulate the most articulate, effective argument I could present to the staff at the clinic. I quickly nixed the idea of sobbing out a heartrending plea and prostrating myself before a stony nurse. (I don't know why, but all the nurses I've ever encountered in Japan have been stony, both in heart and facial expression, which utterly baffles me since why would an uncaring person choose a line of work in which it's practically your job to care?) I tried out calm, lucid, and reasonable, but found it difficult to maintain this facade when my only defense was: "I can't swallow thick, creamy drinks." Eventually, I stopped rehearsing and just told myself I'd stick to my guns, no matter what. I wouldn't worry about being polite and accommodating for once. I would stand up for myself.
Finally we were exiting the train, me all grim-faced determination. And then, after a short wait in the clinic reception area, my moment arrived, my battle, and I made myself squarely face the nurse holding my chart.
Me: [Pleasant but firm] Excuse me, is the part of the exam that requires drinking barium absolutely necessary?
Husband: [Surprised, almost disappointed at my reprieve, the stinker] Really?
Nurse: Totally up to you.
Of course since the nurse was speaking in formal Japanese, her response took several pages longer to get out. But the above was the essence of it. God, you would not believe the relief that just about caused my chest to cave in at that moment. Admittedly, as far as battles went, it was a pretty pitiful one. Not even sure one could call it a "battle." But I'd won. I wouldn't have to choke down, or puke up, barium. I was the happiest girl in the whole world.