Friday 9th March 2012

by Megan Beth Koester

I have been here, exactly here, twice before. I am sitting in the basement of the VA Hospital, waiting to be injected with a radioactive compound that will make the nicotinic receptors in my brain glisten from the confines of a PET scanner. Let’s discuss.

The last time I came home sobbing and covered in blood, feeling very Evan Dando-esque (“Why Do You Do This to Yourself?” indeed). I scoffed at the nurse when she told me hydrogen peroxide would get out the blood, my blood, she spilled all over my sweater – but it actually did. And that woman lived to see another day.

Our task, should degeneracy had forced us to choose to accept it, was to not smoke for one day. ONE goddamned day. I’m an alternate, who has already explained that I really can’t and shouldn’t be here, seeing as I have some temp work to take care of in Inglewood from 8PM to 12AM tonight (gotta pay off those student loans!). The American Hero I’m understudying for strolls in and takes the lung equivalent of a piss test. He has three times the amount of CO2 in his lungs as he’s supposed to. THREE goddamned times. It looks like someone can’t shake the dragon. “Have you been around secondhand smoke?” the girl behind the counter asks. He fervently nods – yes, yes, he’s been around secondhand smoke. “Everybody smokes,” he explains. His explanation is as empty as his promise not to smoke. I am no longer the alternate.

I’m taken to the basement, where I await my injection. The coed who’s running the show asks me what I’d like to eat for lunch; after a teeth-pulling analysis of what the VA Hospital’s cafeteria offers its fallen heroes, I reluctantly order a steak panini. Immediately afterward, though, I change my order to a tuna sandwich. I’ve eaten tuna sandwiches the previous two times; to shake things up would seem disingenuous. I am the same person, the same degenerate, who has allowed radiation to be put in my veins three times – since when do I deserve grilled sandwiches, let alone steak? This, exactly this, is my lot in life. And damned if I’m gonna pretend like it isn’t. She returns with a chicken salad sandwich.

The nurse, my former (and now present) nemesis, instantly makes me bleed. Thick drops run down my arm as history repeats itself. She is just as incoherent as I remember, and her smile as big. Nothing can get her down, lest of all the blood coming out of the tube that she has artlessly jammed into my vein. She laughs. “We take care of blood later,” she tells me. I nod silently and watch the blood continue its mad dash for freedom.

The bathroom is the same as I remember it – reeking of urine. The first time I go in, a fresh load of it is lingering in the urinal. I wrap what can only be described as a roll of toilet paper around my hand and flush it. Urine seems to permeate every surface and every molecule of air in this bathroom; it’s as if the entire hospital was built on an ancient diaper burial ground. Even the hand sanitizer dispenser appears to have a thick, crusty pool of dried urine below it. I leave the bathroom and walk down the hall back to my room. Terrified looking old men in darkened rooms stare back at me as I do it.

I sit down, nod off, and wake with a start. Someone in the hall is (loudly) extolling the virtues of sweet wine. I nod back off.

I use my computer to take a photograph of the IVs coming out of my arm. The image has a pornographic quality to it. I hastily delete it.

When I came in, it was light. When I leave, it’s dark. There’s blood on my shirt again. But I pour some hydrogen peroxide on it.

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