Monday, December 29, 2014


I laid on the table in a hospital gown and a pair of knee high stilletto boots, trying not to breathe as I had been instructed.  There was a series of buzzes, and the x-rays were complete.

"Do you want to see them?" asked the tech. He is flirtatious, but I don't think he can help it and I think he is harmless and I think he is probably flirtatious with everyone, and besides, I'm married and look like I just gave birth to a 9 pound, 11 ounce baby so these things don't happen to me anymore, and so I said,

"Sure." I stood in front of the monitor, holding my hospital gown closed as he brought up the images.
"What do you think?  Do you have a slipped disc?"

"I don't know!  Do I?  I can't read this."

"I can't tell you."

"Because you're not the doctor."

"Right.  I'm not the doctor.  I can't tell you.  But I told you what to look for.  What do you see?"

"I don't know.  I can't tell."

"Well, here are your vertebrae and - Oh.  You have an extra vertebra!"

"No I don't."

"Yes you do.  Look.  One, two, three, four, five, six."

"You're teasing me."

"Hey," he motioned to another tech passing by.  "Count her lumbar vertebra."

"One, two, three, four, five, hey!  An L6.  That's why she's tall."

"She's not that tall.  Look at her shoes."  We all looked down at my boots.

"I'm 5'7"," I shot back defiantly.  "How do you know when to stop counting the lumbar vertebra?" For two and a half years I have been reading x-ray reports in workers' compensation cases, but still didn't know what to look for in the images.

"You stop at the rib cage.  See.  You have six between the sacrum and the ribs."  I tilted my head at the image in confusion.

"Am I done?"

"Yes.  You can get dressed.  And about the L6.  It's uncommon, but not that uncommon.  We usually see it in tall people - I mean, really tall, like over 6 feet.  It's just surprising."

As I drove home I chewed on the irony of it all.  Our spine develops from the neural tube, a flat piece of matter that develops very early after conception and becomes our spine, skull, and brain.  At some point in my fetal development, an L6 vertebra was created.  It's ironic, of course, because I now sit with the knowledge that I have this extra, useless bone, the product of the same part that failed to produce an entire skull in Gabriel.  An extra vertebra is to me like 10,000 spoons, when all I need is a knife.  I would like to sit down with God and say to Him, "Excuse me, but I don't actually need this L6.  Do You think I could instead get a skull cap for Gabriel?"  I suspect there's no real bargaining with God, though.  Even if there was, I'm not sure it would look like that.  Even if there was, it's too late now, isn't it?

The x-rays were over a week ago.  My doctor was on vacation, and we've had a holiday, and the long and short of it is, I still don't have an x-ray report.  To some degree, the findings stopped mattering to me.  A part of me stopped wanting relief from the complaints that brought me into the doctor's office that day.  A big part of me thinks I should suffer, because my son suffered, and there wasn't a damn thing his own mother could do to stop it.

Here I sit, held up by a frame that has more than I need, still missing the biggest part of me.  And isn't it ironic?

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