It’s a Wonderful Life echoes through my house from the living room television set.

“Mom!”

“Yes?” She quickly answers.

“Turn off that movie. Pleeassseee. I’m studying. I can’t concentrate with Jimmy Stewart yelling in the background.” A few more weeks to finals. Once they are over, I can relax… But not until then.

Her cotton slippers scuffle up the staircase to my room. She comes to check on me, like she always does, and to see if I need anything.

“Just some Tylenol. Thanks.” This will be the fourth time today trying to get rid of this headache. No time to stop. Need to finish my homework and then run on the treadmill before bed.

It is junior year of high school. From the outside everything seems perfect: good grades, on a varsity squad, tons of friends, and lots of fun times. All according to plan. However there’s always that constant dull pain. Just take some Tylenol. And everything will be fine. Need to keep to my schedule of things. No time to take care of this headache. By the time the pain moved from my head down to my neck and I finished off another bottle of Tylenol in less than a month, a MRI seemed like a good suggestion.

The day of the MRI, I am on a school retreat with my religion class; but I can’t sit still. I pace around a lot. I cry for no reason over the smallest issues talked about in our retreat groups since my mind keeps wandering. I don’t want to be strapped down in that tube? What if they find something? Relax. It’s just routine. The doctors, dozens of doctors, don’t know what else to do. Ok. Continue smiling. They are just going to think you are a sensitive girl. No one knows what’s going on. Smile. Just two more hours.

My mom, dad, and I drive to the hospital. The sun had already set, so it was dark when we come out of the parking lot elevators at the hospital. It’s dead. No one is around. We walk around the gloomy beige hallways looking for the right office. We find it. There are no windows to the office, just a doorbell. My dad rings the bell for the office to let us in. My mom and I sit down next to the typical doctor office fish tank, while she fills out my paperwork.

“Jennifer. Pass –Passan- sci,” a technician dressed in all white stumbles over.

I choke the words out, “Passanisi. Yes, that’s me.”

They give me my own closet to hang all my clothes and jewelry in while I slip into gown and cotton pants that are three sizes too big. I even get little blue slipper socks to wear to keep my feet warm. I’m all dressed and we wait more in a second waiting room. The TV is too fuzzy to watch, but it’s a good distraction besides watching my father playing with the kid’s toys. He’s always playing around, trying to find fun in all situations. And they call my name again.

We enter a huge white room with a big white machine with a tinny, tiny hole which I am supposed to fit in. Yeah right am I going stay strapped to that thing! I lie down on the table. Not bad. No straps. Wait, here comes the headgear. It looks like one of those French fry cooking baskets but made out of a yellow plastic material. It is closed right over my face so that the head and neck don’t move too much. But I can look up and out since it has reflective mirrors to let me see what is going on outside the machine where my feet hang out. The technician pushes me into the machine. It’s not as constricted as I thought it would be. I can even see my parents standing right there next to my feet. The technician retreats back to his workstation to begin and speaks to me through the microphone.

“The first one is going to be a short session. And just warning you, it’s loud.”

Holy Shit! I need to get out of here. I can’t take this. Breathe. It’s ok. Mom and Dad are right there at my feet. Please end now. Please end now. Please end now.

“Can I come out?” I plead.

“Sure, but you need to stay on the table and keep the same position,” the technician responds.

The technician slides me out of the machine. This was the shortest one and just the beginning. Over the next hour and a half, I am taken out of the machine in between each different scan of each different section of my head. Not quite done yet. They inject dye into my blood stream for another series of tests. They still need more scans. They phone an on-call doctor to come look. By the second hour, it is finally over. The doctor still isn’t there. My mom and dad help peel me off the table. But we can’t leave. We have to wait until an official doctor comes.
What was taking so long? Why did they do so many tests? It was only supposed to be a half hour. I walk back into the first waiting room to find my mom on the pay phone, crying, to my sister. No doctor has to tell me something is wrong. It is written all over my mother’s face.

We do not find out what it officially is until the next day when we return to my doctor’s office. The receptionist sits us down in his office – my mother and me in the two chairs right in front of his desk and my father behind us. Pictures of celebrities, as well as many doctoral awards, hang on his wall. I imagine a robust, middle aged, full of spunk kind of man to walk through the door. The actual doctor, on the other hand, walking through the door was the most unassuming looking man. Small, thin, and aging. However, he’s the genius. The most sought after doctor in this field. He is going to take care of me.

We have a lengthy discussion of the small dot the MRI scan found. He goes on to tell us how many surgeries – a surgery he invented- he has performed in this area. And on and on he goes about medical stuff. Let’s see, practice for the season is starting up soon. I HAVE to make the varsity squad this year. I have 2 AP classes coming up. I’m sure that will look good on my record for college. And I need to…

“So, how soon can you come in, in two weeks?” the doctor interrupts my daydreaming.

“Well, how long am I going to be home for after the surgery?”

“Well, it depends on you. Typically it would be a month before you go back to school and six to eight weeks before you start your sports up again”

I just stare back at the doctor. This is going to interrupt my plans.

Well, time to have fun. I have a few weeks to the surgery and I don’t feel like anything is wrong. I still continue attending all my classes and going to practice. No one around school really knows what’s going on. But those that do are constantly asking me if I’m all right. You might think it would become redundant, but it is quite touching to know people you don’t normally hang out with give you a second thought.

In the previous weeks leading up to the procedure, nothing has really fazed me. Until now. The week before the surgery is filled with thoughts of not waking up. What if something goes wrong? What if it is something other than they diagnosed? The stream of ‘what-ifs’ follows me into the surgical room.

I don’t remember entering the surgical room. I am told I was crying as I left my mom’s side. But I remember waking up from the surgery and not being able to see very well. I begin to rub my eyes. Everything is blurry. I want water. I guess I say it out loud. I nurse comes up to me. I can’t make out her face, but she puts a wet sponge in my mouth. My mouth is so dry. I move my hands down my body.

“Would you like me to put a gown over you?” she softly responds.

I nod my head. I want water again. And suddenly my sister is there with my aunt putting the same sponge in my mouth. Then suddenly everyone is asked to leave. Beep. Light bulb flashes. And they all come back.

The nurse comes over again to say,“ You’re dad is right outside. He wants to say hi before he leaves.”

So she wheels me in the bed into the hallway where my mom, aunt and sister are standing. My dad gives me a kiss good bye before he leaves on his business trip, while my best friends, Mary Kate and Christina, appear. I want to get up, but my body won’t move. I want to see.

“Mom, why can’t I see? Everything is blurry?”

Christina places my glasses on my face. Wow, I didn’t realize how drugged I was.

After a half hour my night nurse escorts everyone out, everyone except my mom. She pulls up a chair, grabs a pillow and blanket, and sleeps next to me the whole time. One night in the hospital is definitely enough time before you want to get home as quickly as you can. Time to go home. But not before they take off the bandage on my face. They finish pulling off the gauze, as I try getting up for the first time since yesterday. I can barely walk two steps. I want to leave now. I am barely able to walk over to the mirror to see the damage. My mom keeps warning me not to look in the mirror. But I have to. Tears run down my face. I am going to scare little kids if they see me like this.

This special procedure my neurosurgeon invented entailed him going up through my mouth, drilling a hole in my nose, and then literally sucking out the bad stuff. Disgusting! But I rather have this new surgery than the old one- having my head shaved, skull cracked, and brain probed from the back to get to the cyst. I am so fortunate to have met this doctor or else I would have been out for six months and had to repeat a year of high school with the older procedure. That would be killer to a teenager’s social life.

My grandparents are downstairs waiting to drive me home. Within ten minutes we are parking the car in our driveway. They carry me up the stairs to my parent’s bedroom where I take a shower and settle into my parent’s bed.

“Hey Mom, you want to watch It’s a Wonderful Life?”

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