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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Pigs can fly

Monday I appeared at the heart institute at 6:30 in the morning as scheduled.

"And you are...?"

"Risa Stephanie Bear."

We did birth date, address, all that, and she waved me to a seat. I waited. There were about five other people.

The intake nurse came out with a clipboard. Loudly and clearly, looking at all the men in the room, she paged [boy name] several times. I was slow in catching on that she meant me.

The receptionist pointed to me. "That's his birth name," she said, in front of everyone.

I sat across from the intake nurse as she sat down to a keyboard. "Risa Stephanie Bear is my only name, my legal name for the last year, and the only one to which I can properly answer," I said by way of opening pleasantries.

She didn't really seem that interested.

She printed out a label. "Is all this correct?"

I looked it over. "No, but that's not your fault." I pointed to the "M" after my name. "This is changing forever in one week."

Our eyes met. Sure it is, said hers. And pigs can fly.

-- Just so you know that great hospitals can harbor small minds.

Upstairs, I was given an IV with thallium isotopes in it and popped into a massive machine with a moving bed and huge metal donuts that clucked to themselves as they looked at my heart from a variety of angles for the next half hour.

I was then led to a small room containing an EKG setup and a large treadmill. The treadmill was explained in detail -- it's a large one, they expect you to have some problems with it (hence stress test?), and stand on both sides of you so that if you fall they can catch you. I could see my lines on the monitor, and to me they looked much cleaner than in in 1993, when everyone seemed to think I could die at any moment.

I've done it, I thought. Turned back the clock and got a little bit more grip on life than I had for decades.

The machine began at a slow walk, and then, every fifteen seconds, picked up the pace,

"Lengthen your stride a little bit."

"Closer to the front."

"Be careful not to grip the bars. If you don't feel right, let us know."

I'm good so far. I think of my 10,000-foot mountains, the hikes around campus, the ten story building. I breathe carefully and steadily, trying to stay ahead of oxygen debt.


They have to get me above 140. I'm at 125. They set the machine to a run.

An even faster run. There it is, 140, 145. They add more thallium, and slow the machine to a gentle stroll.

How did it go? I join them at the monitor.

"We don't know everything yet, but you look really, really good to us. Why did they send you here, anyway?"

Just in case.

In case what? You're healthy as a horse, their eyes tell me.

The younger one stays with me, unplugging things from my chest. I explain my case to her. She's never really heard of transpeople before, but she gets it. I'm not a lifestyle choice. I'm just me.

I learn that she's a neighbor, rides horses on the mountain trails near my place. I realize I've seen her before, riding with her family. Her kids went to school with my kids.

Such a small town we have here.

Another half hour in the embrace of the steel donut, listening to the MRI machine muttering to itself.

And I'm free to go.

Now that that's done, I'm supposed to make an appointment with my doctor. I cannot have the surgery, now eight days away, without a letter from her to Dr. Reed on the test results.

On my two-block walk back to work, I make a cell call.

The receptionist at the little hospital in the country (who has no trouble saying "Ma'am" even with my records right in front of her, God bless her) listens to my explanation of what's needed.

"Wow," she says. "Your doctor is out all this week."

-- risa b


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