For my writing exercise this week, I was supposed to visit a cafe, however I’ve exchanged the lure of a frothy cappuccino for a sickly lime green glucose drink at the Gravity Cafe. Of course you’ve never heard of this cafe, because it’s actually the all grey environment of Gravity Pathology in Sydney. Gravity is a happening place with people of all descriptions coming and going. In this place, you pay for a drink with your own blood.
I’m having an assortment of blood tests, the most obnoxious being the ‘blood glucose’ two hour special. My anxiety began last night as I sat on the edge of my bed calculating how long it would be before I could stuff some breakfast down my famished throat. It was ten thirty pm and my test wouldn’t begin until nine thirty am. The required minimum fasting time was eight hours, would I make it to eleven thirty am with nil by mouth? Should I wake myself up at one am and eat one last supper? It was all too hard, I felt tired and went to bed.
On arrival at Gravity, I was swamped by three eager vampires in black pin striped pants and grey shirts. As I sat nervously clenching the little plastic wrapped roll in my fist, I wondered about two things. After each patient, do they discard and re-wrap the plastic wrapping on the roll my hand was currently sweating on? And I wondered about the interior decorators choice of grey walls, grey timber frames, grey chairs, grey carpet, grey desk and to compliment the look, grey uniforms for the staff. I’ve heard that people who have had heart operations often have red dreams. Do the staff at Gravity dream in shades of grey?
The blood spinning machine, SPINTRON was uncomfortably close to my left side. I hoped the lid had been firmly secured and crazily imagined what might happen if the lid opened while spinning the red vials of blood. I visualised vibrant crimson splashes flying across the grey walls like a Pro Hart painting. Then I would be ducking for cover and having a whole new set of concerns. Predictably, this didn’t happen. I couldn’t even blame the sugar laden lolly water for such weird imaginings.
The girl attending to me was of middle eastern appearance. Uncomfortably, for me, she was being supervised by Cherie, the staff trainer for Gravity. She was wearing a soft grey knitted top, teamed with a black skirt and black high heels. Being the supervisor, she afforded the luxury of not wearing the plebby grey button up shirts, but she wasn’t getting away with not wearing the Gravity flagship colour, grey. Cherie was tall, blonde, with a serious pulled back ponytail. I wondered how long she would stay in those high heels.
As the apprentice vampire sucked four vials of blood from my arm, I was handed a plastic bottle containing the lime green glucose drink. I was told it had to be consumed within eight to ten minutes, then they would begin timing. As I sipped I began to feel anxious about the effect this sickly sugar drink might have on me. I sipped slowly, conjuring up worst case scenarios. Calm, personable me was fast becoming a jittery question asker. I’ve been down that path before, unraveling in front of strangers as panic wells up inside me.
“If I do happen to turn out to be diabetic….what will this stuff do to me?” I ask pretending to be calm.
“You might feel very sleepy, but DON’T fall asleep” was the reply from Cherie the supervisor.
“What happens if I do fall asleep?” I ask putting the cup down.
“You won’t come back!” answers Cherie.
I can’t believe what she’s saying….if I fall asleep….I might not COME BACK….. I might go into a diabetic coma…..possibly die…..but then I recall telling them I would be waiting the two hours in the car. She thought I’d fall asleep in the car and ‘wouldn’t come back’ Sleep had crossed my mind….two hours without the kids….some music, put the seat back….There was no way I was going to risk falling asleep now, I was staying right where I was.
“Is there any other way of taking this test?”
“What if I feel sick or faint – I’m prone to anxiety you see, that’s my problem”
“It would be best if you can ride through it, the second hour is easier.
“How much sugar is in it – I could eat two slices of pavlova easily, would it be that much?
“Yes, like eating a large chocolate bar….”
“How big a chocolate bar do you mean?”
”A king size one”
“If I feel sick, can I pull the plug on the test?”
“Yes, you can, but if you make it through the first hour, you should hang in there”
I picked up the drink and swigged the last few mouthfuls. There was no turning back now, I felt better already. I make my way to the waiting room adding over my shoulder…
“My Doctors right next door”
I imagine rolling eyes behind me.
After five minutes the timer rings. I jokingly call out….
”I hope you’re timing me correctly!”
“What makes you think that timer is for you….it could be mine” a gentle faced Chinese man questions from the other side of the room.
We laugh and suddenly we’re chatting, while I fumble with the timer on my mobile phone. We begin talking about anxiety and I feel I’m talking to Confucius.
“It’s OK to be wary and cautious, predicting possible outcomes. If the worry becomes too big and begins to make the person sick, then, it is not O.K.”
He walks across to the jumble of magazines lying next to me. I expect he is ditching the book he has been reading for a Time or Men’s Health magazine. Instead he extracts a Bible. An unlikely find amongst the dog eared Women’s Weekly’s and Hello mags lying skewiff across the table. He returns to his seat and begins to research a quote he has just read in his book.
“What are you reading?” I ask curiously.
He holds up the book …..”Mentoring Paradigms” by Edmund Chan. He explains it is a spiritual book about helping others achieve and reach their potential. It involved something about the three “E’s”. Efficiency, some other E word and the most important being “EFICACY”. We share some of our spiritual ideas back and forth across the grey space and are soon joined by a lady and her walker. She sits down heavily and adds that she also is a worrier.
I can’t help having the feeling that peoples paths cross for a reason. I find myself thinking about the old television series “Kung Fu” where this poor guy wanders aimlessly through the wild west of America, wanted for a crime he didn’t commit. He has flash backs of his wise mentor giving him the rules of life. The wise Chinese mentor always started his little gems with ….. “Remember Grasshopper……. Today I feel like Grasshopper and this stranger opposite me has taken me under his wing and before I’ve realised, I’ve forgotten all my anxiety and am looking forward to settling down to write.
It could only be half an hour remaining and I notice that Cherie has slipped into some more comfortable flat shoes. She knows I’ve been writing about my experience at Gravity and perhaps suspects I could be a ‘mystery shopper’ of sorts? Either way, she is determined to distract me from my writing. We discuss everything from nursing, police stress, first communions, the drop off and pick up zone at her children’s school and wedding photography. Believe it or not, these topics can actually be linked together in a way only women communicate. But sometimes I find it exhausting talking to strangers. Keeping the conversation rolling, looking animated and nodding enthusiastically makes me dizzy. Nodding actually gives me a headache. Sometimes I consciously catch myself nodding and wonder if I’ve been overdoing it. Did I look like one of those nodding dogs you used to see in the back of Valiant’s – on cushions – psychotically nodding their little heads off.
I catch myself nodding to Cherie and hold my head still, use my eyes more and punctuate sentences with “Oh really!” About seven times I get the feeling Cherie is heading back to her office. But she has an odd habit of clasping her hands together at chest height, swiveling on her heels away from me until she has pivoted in the direction of her office. At this point, I’m relieved the small talk trial is over, but no, she pivots right back around to me and continues her conversation. This goes on – talk, pivot, pause, back to conversation. I wonder if she is practicing a new dance step.
Who cares…my buzzer has just gone off. I have my third and final blood test and I’m out of there scoffing a handful of almonds. Mmmm…a salad bread roll or sushi at my favourite restaurant? Yeah…it’s over, I didn’t feel sick, headachey or slightly sleepy. I didn’t even lapse into a coma. Now I have to wait for the results…what will I scare myself with in the mean time?