"Wow. I can't believe it. This is so… embarrassing."
Kim sat on the edge of the MRI bed, head hanging, arms wrapped around herself, literally shaking from anxiety, not to mention the breeze from the ferociously unflattering hospital gown.
"No big, Kimzila," said Ron, standing next to her with one arm around her shoulders, a bit nonplussed. Which is to say, his usual self. "I guess that among the many anythings that you can do is … suffer from claustrophobia."
Sunday morning a week earlier, Anne Possible – sitting in the breakfast nook with a cup of coffee, skimming through the Examiner before James monopolized it for the rest of the day – had greeted Kim with a raised eyebrow and a spot diagnosis.
"Honey, since your big battle with that Warmonga, you really seem to be favoring your right side, and I would swear you groan under your breath every time you reach over to swat one of the boys. I don't think you're getting much sleep either – I can hear you moving around in the loft. Is everything ok?"
"Oh, it's no big, Mom," said Kim, trying to suppress just that urge to groan as she reached for a box of Puffy-Os. "I've been a little sore since I took that tumble off the top of the pyramid last week. Occupational hazard, you know."
She grimaced, thinking of Ron's barging into the gym and flicking off the lights. For an instant she'd almost agreed with Bonnie about squad-slapping her BFBF.
"I'm sure it'll clear up soon," she concluded, but couldn't keep from grunting in pain as she went to put the box back on the shelf. Thinking better of it, she set it on the counter and took her bowl to the table.
"Well, Kimmie," continued Anne, "you really took quite a blow when Ron threw you into the soda machine at Bueno Nacho, and that Warmonga – well, from what you described, she packed a little more punch than your usual opponents. I really think you should have your back looked at. Just in case. Please?"
Kim looked at her mom. No puppy dog pout. Worse: the determined expression of a medical professional and a concerned mother.
Kim sighed through her mouthful of toasted oat goodness. "Mmmph. Ok, Mom. What do you want me to do?"
"Don't worry, honey. I'll make you an appointment down at the medical center for an MRI. Dr. Stevens will have a quick look and then we'll know if it's just a muscle pull or a pinched nerve. Really, given all the battles you've been through, we should have done this long ago – but you've always bounced back so quickly."
And so Kim had found herself fasting for 12 hours before heading to the Middleton Medical Center the following Thursday. The appointment was late enough so that she didn't have to miss school (except for cheerleading practice, which was a no-go anyway) and so that Ron could keep her company.
During the drive over to the MMC, Ron had been sympathetic about her injury, but positively giddy about the MRI itself.
"Badical, KP! An MRI. Magnetic resonance imaging. Or, as we cognoscenti know it, zeugmatography."
Kim stared at him, openmouthed. He reached out and gently lifted her jaw back into place with a small click, then nudged her chin so her eyes were back on the road.
"What? The Ron-man can't know a thing or two about one of the most revolutionary diagnostic machines of our age?"
Kim's expression shifted from astonishment to skepticism, but this time she managed to stay focused on her driving.
"Seriously, Kim," Ron protested in the face of her unspoken but transparent disbelief. "You remember my paper for Barkin's history of science unit?"
Comprehension dawned in Kim's eyes.
"Yep, that's right! Lauterbur was central to my thesis in Fast Food, Faster Living: Quick Service Restaurants and the History of Innovation. A key data point supporting my theory: fast food is brain food. He scribbled his discovery on a napkin at a Big Boy, Kim! A Big Boy!" His tone grew somewhat gloaty and his eyes took on a faraway look. "Just think of what wonders of medical technology we would have today if he had eaten at J.P. Bearymore's…. As for Rufus and me, all we need are a few more research sessions at BN…"
For a moment Kim didn't know whether to laugh or knock herself unconscious against the steering wheel. Happily, just at that moment they reached the entrance to the Medical Center.
"Ok, Big Boy," Kim said, eliciting a blush and a throat-clearing from Ron, "let's go get zeugma-whatevered."
And now she sat on the bed of the giant machine, having just freaked out and scrambled wildly out of the giant doughnut five minutes into the 30-minute scan. She had fought the feeling as long as she could – the oppressive sense of being trapped, being squeezed, being unable to breathe. The incredible feeling of vulnerability. Plus the incessant loud clicking, banging and knocking. In the end her rapidly pounding heart and screaming brain (what if something's going wrong get out get out get out) had overcome her willpower and she had clambered out.
And now sat feeling utterly foolish as a roomful of technicians, her boyfriend, and her mom looked on.
"This is so silly!" Kim moaned. "I mean, I face sitches like this on a daily basis. I laugh in the face of danger! I don't panic. I was in a titanium box in a water-filled chasm under six feet of ice and I never felt like this!"
Still sitting on the MRI bed, she put her arms around Ron and leaned her face into his chest.
Ron paused and stroked her hair.
"Sure, Kim, of course it didn't bother you. You were in mission mode – working the problem, figuring out how to escape, planning your move on Drakken. Nobody was asking you to just sit in the titanium box for 30 minutes and think happy thoughts. Well, except Drakken. And happy thoughts were definitely not what he was going for. But now, well, everybody just wants you to lie there and accept it. Of course your mind is going to want to do everything to get out. It's who you are."
Kim looked up gratefully at Ron. What he had said sounded right. It wasn't the confined space itself, she was convinced; it was the inability to do anything about it.
But Ron's support didn't solve their immediate problem. She turned to her mother.
"Well, Kimmie. You could try it with a sedative. Unfortunately they take about an hour to act, so we would have to reschedule so as not to cut into the next patient's time. Go City Hospital has an open MRI but of course that's a bit of a trip and I don't know when we'd be able to get an appointment. It's too bad – we've been trying to raise the money for our own open MRI, but they are quite expensive and take some time to be delivered."
"Ah yes," said Ron, knowingly. "The open MRIs. Aisle 77, between the iron lungs and those sonic toothbrushes."
Anne and Kim stared at Ron for a moment, then turned back to each other.
"No, Mom," Kim began. "I don't want to put this off. I need to just get it done. I'll try again."
"Are you sure?" asked MrsDrP. "There's no shame in having an attack of claustrophobia in an MRI. It happens to almost 10 percent of all patients. We'll just reschedule."
"Seriously, Mom. I've got to see this through. I can do it. Anything's possible for a possible, you know – including overcoming phobias you didn't even know you had." This last through gritted teeth.
"Wait, KP," interrupted Ron, emerging from a whispered side conversation with Rufus. "I've got an idea."
Mid-way through his explanation, Ron reached out and gently closed Kim and Mrs. Dr. Possible's jaws with a little click.
When he had finished, the Possible women looked at each other for a moment, then back at Ron, then back at each other. Kim nodded, and Anne smiled.
"Alright," shouted Ron. "Clear the theater! Batten down the hatches! We've got some atomic realignment to do."
Eyerolls across the room.
"Rufus – check?"
"Check!" squeaked the mole rat, from his perch.
Kim lay back down on the bed and waited for the machine to swallow her up again.
Dr. Stevens stepped back from the tabletop on which he had been reviewing the images. Anne Possible looked at him with concerned eyes and waited.
"Well, Dr. Possible, the scans are pretty clear – no spinal damage, and no visible source of pressure on any nerves. Perhaps it's just a severe muscle pull. Physical therapy is surely in order, but it doesn't appear to be anything more serious than that. At least as far as her back goes. But… I have to ask …what in god's name is that? I've never seen anything like it and it's quite disturbing."
He pointed to an image of Kim's cranium. Instead of blank space around her head, there was a bulbous shape, as if Kim's skull was exuding a small piece of itself.
"Oh, that! Just the latest in NMR technology." Mrs. Dr. P's eyes twinkled.
"What does that," Stevens said, indicating the image with a horrified expression, "have to do with nuclear magnetic resonance?"
"No, no," Anne Possible said, sunnily. "Not nuclear magnetic resonance. Naked mole rat. Oh, come now, Dr. Stevens. You mean to say you've never seen an MRI of a patient receiving a scalp massage from a hairless rodent? It's the latest innovation in patient care."
Then, ever so gently, she closed Dr. Stevens' jaw with a little click and headed off to her next appointment.