In my early twenties I underwent a series of medical tests known as the General Internal or “GI” series. The first test required ingesting a chalky, metallic tasting substance called barium, before x-rays are taken of the upper torso area. The second part of this series entailed the barium solution injected as an enema, which is held internally while the lower abdomen is x-rayed. All fun aside, this series of tests provided a diagnosis and effective treatment for a troublesome malady I had suffered for years.
The day of the second part of the series, I walked into the Radiology Department at Saint Mary’s Hospital in San Francisco. A young female nurse directed me to the adjoining bathroom where I disrobed and put on a flimsy paper gown, being sure it opened in the back as directed. I returned to endure the unpleasant process of the barium enema. With the procedure finally over, I walked to the bathroom but found the door locked.
“Oh, an elderly gentleman is in there right now, but he’ll be done in just a sec,” the nurse assured me, and left the room. Didn’t she know that seconds seem like centuries under the circumstances? But I had no other options: my clothes, purse, and most importantly, a toilet waited behind that locked door. So alone in the room I waited. Within minutes of her leaving, I heard the elderly gentleman calling,
The nurse did not come. I continued to wait. Again, the poor old guy rasped, “Nurse, nurse,” with increasing urgency. Minutes passed; they seemed like hours. I paced.
“Nurse, nurse!” the old coot bellowed, his voice breaking into a cough. Anger arose and bled into my anxiety. My predicament felt hopeless. I started to panic. Still no one came. Again I heard the damn fool calling “Nurse, nurse.” I knew time and barium would soon run out. I considered banging on the bathroom door and pleading with him to take his problem outside the bathroom, if only for a “sec.” The thought that he may respond by opening the door, that I might then be confronted with a naked, decrepit body begging for help, caused me to reconsider the situation. I decided on a different course of action.
I cracked opened the radiology room door and peaked out.
“Oh, nurse, nurse?” I chirped, in comparison. Looking up then down the corridor, I saw no one. I couldn’t recall seeing a bathroom on the way in either, but figured I had a fifty-fifty chance of finding one in either direction. I dashed out heading south, praying now not to run into anyone. Barefoot, pinching close the back of that silly gown, I tiptoed down the cold, gray linoleum floor. In the background, I faintly heard “Nurse, nurse” and cursed that old bastard.
Far down the corridor, I found a bathroom. Falling into it, I slammed the door behind me. Relief. At last. Relief so profound it caused me to feel faint. I looked around the minuscule cube and saw a red button on the wall. I considered pushing it but didn’t. I laid down on the tiled floor hoping the faint feeling would pass. It didn’t. Panic set in again. I had no ID on me, and I had no idea where within the labyrinth of the large hospital I might be. But I knew with certainty I would soon faint.
I pushed myself up and opened the bathroom door. A shiny steel examination table in a room across from the bathroom looked inviting. I lunged across the hallway and dove onto that table, arms outstretched, face down. Out of the corner of my eye, I recall seeing a guy standing off to one side of the room. I remember he whooped, “Whoa,” as I glided onto that table, my bare butt smiling up at him.
When I came to, he stood over me, waving smelling salts under my nose.
“Are you OK?” he asked. He wore a sly smile on his face but concern oozed from his dark brown eyes as he helped me sit up. I quickly assessed his handsomeness. My tongue curled inside my mouth, stifling any response.
“Where did you come from?” he then asked. Still tongue-tied, I shook my head and shrugged my shoulders. At this point, a middle-aged woman wearing a business suit came in. The two of them discussed the situation and then the woman suggested she escort me back down the corridor. Sliding off the table, I grabbed at the back of my gown, now soggy with perspiration. It tore. I glanced back as I left the room and saw the handsome guy watching. He raised a hand to wave goodbye. I withered with embarrassment, averting my eyes. Trudging along that endlessly long and brightly illuminated corridor, I felt his eyes boring into my semi-exposed backside.
My escort and I soon found the radiology room. The young female nurse greeted me with surprised exclamations and then went to retrieve my clothes. Apparently, the elderly gentleman still occupied the bathroom. I no longer cared. I dressed quickly, woozy but anxious to leave. Outside, cool air helped clear my head, while a thick fog provided a welcomed sense of anonymity.