I held on to the blue squeezy thing with my right hand…not too tightly. My heart palpitating, my mind racing fast. “Should I squeeze it or should I not ?” this thought raced through my mind hundreds of time within those few seconds.
5 minutes ago, the nurse had just had me strapped in. ‘Alright, Mr. Sim, this will take 20 minutes. We will begin in 50 seconds’. These were the words of the nurse as she strapped me securely to the MRI machine, tugged me in a warm blanket, gave me ear plugs (It will be loud, she warned) and was about to roll me in when she added, ‘In case you want to stop, press this.’ She handed me the emergency squeeze bulb which I held casually dismissed, thinking, ‘Why would I need to use this? It’s just a scan right?’.
Once the MRI machine was activated, my vision of the hospital room’s ceiling was being slowly replaced by the inner-cavern of the machine. The cavern was designed in a conical shape so the more I was rolled in, the tighter the space. Finally when it stopped, my nose was barely 4 inches away from the walls of the machine. I was encased in a white barrelled chamber, lying perfectly still, hands snugly wrapped under the blanket, with barely any room to fidget.
It didn’t take long for me to visualise that I was in my own coffin…except fully conscious.
At first I joked, ‘ Wow…so this is how it feels like (to be in a coffin)’ but that cynicism quickly gave way to a much somber realization that this would be an eventuality for me…for all of us.
The 50 seconds seemed like an eternity. My heart started palpitating. My eyes rapidly darting all around the white enclosed chamber. I started to feel for the emergency squeeze bulb.
‘I’m not ready…I’m not ready’, my head was spinning wildly. I could feel my heartbeat accelerating and I was mildly hyperventilating – not in the wildest roller coaster have I even felt such a sense of panic. I thought about pressing the emergency squeeze pump. But really, would I be the biggest wuss they’d ever seen if I did that? Finally, I caved. I pressed it. In 2 seconds, I was out of the MRI machine…looking straight at the bewildered eyes of the masked nurse.
‘What happened Mr. Sim? We were just about to start…’ she asked, puzzled.
I was so glad to be out of the ‘coffin’. My feelings and thoughts were all jumbled up. It took me a few seconds before I could muster a simple reply, ‘(I was) not comfortable in the tight space’.
In her professional tone, the nurse reassured me that the MRI scan will only take 20 minutes (20 minutes!!?? That’s still an eternity in a white enclosed space!). Sensing my unease, she then passed me an eye shade – similar to the ones airlines would hand to their passengers.
‘Here, this will make you feel better. Close your eyes and think happy thoughts.’ She coaxed in a motherly manner.
Despite being strapped in a clinical lab, right next to the noisy MRI machine, I found these words strangely reassuring. Partly because I just wanted to get it over with.
So, in I went again. This time the eyes shaded. ‘Think happy thoughts’, I remembered what the nurse had said.
I surprised myself at my first happy thought. It was none other then the recent outing with my daughter, Dana at the OCBC 2015 Cycling Event. Cycling past my wife, Angie who was smiling and waving at us. It was a very happy thought, for on that breezy Sunday morning, we rekindled our love for our family’s fav sport.
The next happy thought – watching the Black Knights at Marina Barrage during the Golden Jubilee National Day celebrations. This time Buddy, our 1 year-old was in the frame. Dana and I drenched in the rain during the first of three Black Knights Aerial Display but we left happily awestruck. In my thoughts were also the lunch we had after that – Punggol Nasi Lemak at Lavender Street. We had stopped at the eatery on a whim, still drenched but had a good time eating the Nasi Lemak and seeing Buddy try some cucumbers. I was happy. Contented.
Very quickly, my ordeal inside the MRI was over. On the drive back (yes gung-ho me went for the MRI alone without informing my wife as I didn’t want to alarm her), I reflected on my ‘happy thoughts’. I was pleased that they consisted of actual memories: not of fantasies, or wishes and regrets but real memories of happy times spent with my closest and dearest.
Fast forward a month and here I am, near midnight, typing out this post, alone with my thoughts. It had been another hectic weekend – went prawn fishing in the morning with Dana (our first!) to cooking lunch, attending cell group and ending with a long drive to Changi Airport to fetch my Mother-in-Law from the airport. Most parents would concur that weekends are even more draining than regular working weekdays. But strangely, I’m happy. Tired, drained but happy.
It has never been easy at all carving time for family. Especially since my eldest is only 7 and Buddy is 1. They are both still very young and their large age gap meant they have very differing needs. As a working Dad and an educator, I am aware that the best of my weekdays are not reserved for my own children but I still strive each day to leave work by 6pm (I begin at 7am) while the boss is still at work, to be home by 7pm to spend some time with my own kids while they’re still awake – a possibly career-limiting perception. On occasions when they are ill and Angie is tied up at work, I wish I can be home for them but application of childcare leave is also subjected to work exigencies.
Our children are our priority but engaging them meaningfully is a different ball game altogether especially since I’m considered quite an ‘old’ parent (I’m in my mid 40s) with two very young kids (not by choice, if you remember our child-loss experiences). Any chance to create happy memories with them – riding roller coasters, zooming down in the luge, cycling, forest adventures, zipping on the flying fox, you name it, I will do it (as long as my heart and knees allow). I grew up with an acute awareness of my own mortality – my Dad passed away when I was 13, if I don’t do these things with my kids now, then when?
No one has ever said that parenting is easy. It’s tough. Even more so as an educator when I see, each day, the results of unsuccessful parenting, right in my face. I’m constantly reminded that my children have but one father and all of us have only one short lifetime to live, to laugh and to love.
It’s not easy being a husband too. while trying to raise our kids and leave significant impacts in their lives, I must remember the needs of my spouse too. She, their mother, is as much a part of their lives as I am and for that she too deserves the best of me. My tendency is to put the kids’ needs above hers (and mine), neglecting our need for quality couple time.
Life’s not easy, no one said it will be but despite the struggles and challenges, I’m glad when I’m told to think happy thoughts when my eyes are closed (entombed in that claustrophobic MRI machine), my happy thoughts consisted of real memories – warm, loving, real.
This post is dedicated to all parents who struggle day in, day out trying to balance work, family and life: may we treasure the opportunities that each day brings to accumulate more real happy thoughts.
“No one ever said on their deathbed ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office.’ — Harold Kushner