clinical proof: me

By Michele George-Griffin

It had been almost a year. A year of doctor’s appointments, ER visits, and elective procedures, and yet there were still no answers. I had just come home to Chicago from Saint Louis University, in the middle of my freshman year, on a medical leave of absence, getting sicker by the minute. At yet another appointment, the faint voice of a doctor I didn’t recognize mentioned somewhere called the Mayo Clinic, as I stared at the “happy” frog painting next to the sink in her office. My eyes watered, like they always did, as I heard her very casually saying it was probably my last shot at getting answers. I was done, done with it all because at this point, the ER nurses knew me by name. As I told my mother, I had no desire to drive six hours to Minnesota to another place of horror, just to leave more traumatized than when I came. I didn’t want to test fate any more. It had been a horrible year, and I deemed it too hard to go on; I wasn’t going.

I could feel the outside temperature drop, as I rested my head on the shaky car window unwillingly listening to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” play through the speakers, again. It was a week after my doctor’s appointment, and one week before Thanksgiving. Our GPS announced to the planet that our destination was on the right. Our 2013 gold, old enough that it was starting to seem brown, Honda skidded on snow as we pulled into the main outdoor entrance of the Mayo Clinic. It looked like a hotel. My foggy eyes squinted from the car, forehead wrinkling, as I looked inside the golden revolving doors. My mother quickly got out of the car, and started to get our bags before the bellboy could even come through the doors. I opened the car door to be greeted with a coldness that went straight into my pores, quickly reaching my heart. Hoisting up my fragile body, with all the strength I had saved up that day, I launched myself from the comforting black leather car seat onto my re-assembled wheelchair. The Minnesota air was no match for my thin, gray sweater, and for the first time the need to go in hit me. We learned from the short woman sitting behind the desk of the hotel that we had to go underground to get to the hospital, since the hotel was connected to it and other places by tunnels. After dropping off our bags and ignoring this sinking feeling, we went on our way down.

The ding of the elevator pierced my ears, the dread of being at this place filling my body. My mother wheeled me down the dimly lit hallway, covered in informational posters with smiling doctors on them. My wheelchair sank into the old pine-green rug connecting the short hallway from the elevators to the underground entrance. I couldn’t help thinking to myself that I shouldn’t have come, and we should just go home. This place is no different; this place is not special. I then felt my breath leave my body as we turned the corner. The shaggy green carpet ended and I started to wheel across soothing marble floors, trying to breathe it all in. The stairway shimmered like the steps to heaven, as the grand piano watched over the room from the main floor. An enormous brown statue of a man hung from the wall, inviting you down the next hallway of confusion and magic. The fakest trees I had ever seen were strategically placed around the edge of the room in front of the giant pitch-black windows, the only indication of time in this sacred, otherwise bright place. No longer able to push through my need to lie down, I let the explorer in me get some rest as we headed back upstairs to our makeshift hotel home.

After meeting my doctors at the Mayo Clinic in a two-hour ordeal, my first two procedures were scheduled for the next day at the dark, surprisingly wooden desk. I was one of three kids in the waiting room amongst a sea of people with their loved ones, invisibly shaking with fear, as these procedures had gone poorly in the past. We took the elevator back down to the main floor, letting the illusion of a spiritual vacation take over us again, and left the doctors and machines behind us for the day. I passed the piano and my fingers ached, waiting for me to be strong enough for me to lift my spirits enough to let them play. I couldn’t convince myself to go over there, not out of fear of other people listening, but fear that I wasn’t ready to accept the challenge. There were tears in my eyes as I wheeled myself across the main floor, but not because of the defeating feeling that usually caused this. Everyone was smiling or at least trying to, some with tears in their eyes. Other people, older people, passed me in their wheelchairs, and I realized that I too was smiling. In this gigantic hospital, everyone was going through this waiting game of trying to see if they were going to make it out of there. We were stuck in this cloud, awaiting judgement day for ourselves, but also for our loved ones.

On the fourth night, I wheeled past the piano again. Then again. Then again on purpose. I stared at it for a long time, while a Russian woman with short brown hair spoke softly into the phone, placing herself on a couch right next to the piano. My mother moved the bench and wheeled me up until my arm cushions couldn’t go any further under the piano. I warmed up with some basic scales, making sure the beauty was worthy of everyone in the Mayo Clinic, whether they were in the building or fast asleep in their beds. I then gathered all my strength and started to play an original called “Proof.” My mother cried as she sat on the couch next to the woman talking in hushed tones. She learned over and informed me that the woman on the phone talked of how beautiful the song playing was and how badly she needed this.

Small tears rolled down my face into the crevasses of my smile, as I thanked whoever would listen in my head for this moment. I played “Proof” again. Then again. Then again on purpose.

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