The results of the scan pop up on my phone
Just in time for my appointment
And before dread has time to unfurl
I admire the bewildering beauty of the words
Mosaic lung attenuation
Diffuse geographic ground-glass opacities
Scattered calcified granulomas
Traction bronchiectasis in the lingula
Subpleural fibrotic changes
Scrabbling against the tidal rush
My mind jumps first to Serena’s mosaic installations
Kaleidoscope walls made of tiny jewel-toned pieces of glass
That my daughter has designed
To adorn buildings with evocations of warmth, celebration, unity—
Permanent reminders of joy.
I land hard on the last line of the report:
Findings consistent with interstitial lung disease.
I try to resist the search engines but it’s no use
A group of rare disorders that cause progressive inflammation and scarring of the lung tissue
Sufferers have an average life expectancy of three to five years.
My eyes skitter away
As I try out the calculus
True, I’m a diligent worker, but will that really be enough time
To birth a novel, buy a little house by the sea, and find my unfaltering love?
I scroll through the report again
Is that good?
Or will I need honeycombing to be believed?
Even as fat fingers of fear squeeze the air out of the thought.
Before the scan
I was so sure I would be dismissed
That I had rehearsed my lines for the lung guy
Like I had for the young nurse practitioner
Who thought she would be treating run-of-the-mill asthma.
“I know we’ve only just met but I’m not usually like this”
I’d rasped, mewing out sudden sobs because
I didn’t have the air to cry any harder.
“Of course not,” she said. “I can see you’re in real distress.”
A welcome change from the asthma guy
Who concluded my shortness of breath was due to an “anxious personality.”
The asthma guy was by no means the first
To suggest that I was exaggerating a symptom or
Falsely reporting my health regimen
At least by those guys
That if they can’t find a reason after all their years of training
Then the fault must lie with me
But now relief competes with panic for space in my chest.
The scan is all the defense I will need against
A diagnosis of hysterical female.
Wrap your mouth around the tube
Exhale to the count of seven
Inhale to the count of five
Try not to cough.
I’m sorry, we couldn’t capture it
Let’s try again.
Wait until I tell you
Try to hold the cough until you finish the exhale
Blow – 2 – 3 – keep blowing – 4 – 5
No, I’m sorry we couldn’t capture it.
One more try.
Blow – 2 – 3 – keep blowing – 4 –
Why don’t we take a break?
We can try again when you catch your breath.
I nod, speechless with exertion
When will that be? I ask silently.
Even without the poetic scan or
The failed pulmonary function test
The lung guy would not need me to tell him
That I can’t utter a sentence
Without stopping for air
Just walking into his office will make my pulse soar
Make me fight for the space to inhale
My lungs retracting spasmodically
As they have for thirty-eight days now
Every time I walk from the bedroom to the bathroom
From the living room to the kitchen
The cough bending me over
Wringing me out like a grey spaghetti mop
While Serena watches, fingers gripping her chair
Whispering on the phone to her siblings
Trying to decide if she should mention to me yet again that
This is not okay.
So now it has a name.
My children want to know what it portends
And I want to give them answers
Or at least a safe scaffold
As I have always done when they come to me with their scary questions.
Only, what sort of safety is there in this distorted framework?
There is ground glass adorning my lungs
And it’s nothing like Serena’s mosaic walls
Or the kaleidoscope of my finished novel waiting to be born.
The wasted tissue is shredding to papier mâché
Between my ribs
Floating through the interstices
Where the air I hunger for must be trapped
Leaving me breathless
The architecture of my future opaque and
Scattered out of reach.
I ride the indigo sea of my sofa
Drifting far from shore
Heart flailing as I grasp for the only anchor
I thumb through my phone
Nervous, edgy to find it
As if this mooring, too, might be my own dramatic invention
I scroll and scrabble
My breath catching on a knife’s edge
Until—finally! There it is—
I allow myself an unstinting sigh.
The image is real and true, their faces full of the future
This radiant, fretful, generous tribe
That I made.
You’re here, they whisper.
You’re still here.
About Rachel Miranda
Rachel Miranda received her MFA in Writing and Literature from the Bennington Writing Seminars; she is a freelance editor specializing in non-native English and translated literature and the recipient of a Literature Translation Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She is the author of a narrative cookbook titled The World at Our Table: A Euro-American Cookbook of Family Favorites (Via Publishing, 2021), and her creative writing has been published in the online journal Necessary Fiction, and in the anthology, Seeking Its Own Level (MotesBooks 2014), nominated for the Next Generation Indie Book Awards’ Best Anthology of 2015. She is currently completing a coming-of-age historical novel about the immigrant experience and the stealthy persistence of antisemitism in post-Holocaust America.