Yesterday I skived off work and went to get some x-rays. Nothing major, it’s just for the dodgy knee that flared up while we were all away. I didn’t really want to go – the last time I got x-rayed I had to change into a gown and have a gruff Russian man manipulate my limbs in a way that made me slightly uncomfortable, although probably I was in a worse mood than I would otherwise have been, as I’d just received bad results from a blood test, that turned out to be inaccurate.
But yesterday I managed to do it right. I wore a top and skirt of stretchy cotton jersey, so when my (sweet, young, female) radiographer pointed me in the direction of the changing rooms and indicated I should take my skirt off, she took a closer look at me and enquired whether I was wearing anything with buttons or zippers (I wasn’t) and then indicated I could stay as I was.
Some of the positions I was in were pretty uncomfortable, and one of them in particular had my knee open at an obtuse angle, which hurt, and I had to exert effort to try to stop my foot sliding further away, and that was no good for my knee at all. Before going I’d had a patently foolish notion that there was no point going to get my knee x-rayed when it was feeling okay, and I toyed with the idea of sitting in ways that make it flare up so that there’d be something for them to look at. Of course, the x-rays don’t show what’s happening with the muscle, and on that basis the doctor indicated that the x-rays would probably not tell him anything, so I quickly discarded that notion. The scans should already be at the doctor’s office and I should make a follow-up appointment to discuss them sometime soon. Sometime.
While the radiographer went and looked at the scans to make sure they were okay, she left me to wait in the room, unaccompanied. As I sat on the table, I noticed several large flashing buttons on a console beside me, and wondered what the giant humming machine would do if I pressed them. Possibly nothing, possibly irradiate me, possibly shut down the machine, or possibly explode, killing everyone in the building. The machine itself was enormous and I marvelled at the fact that it appeared to be fixed to a floating ceiling, some sections of which had been misplaced. (It was quite a dingy place.) Had I been a more anxious person, or an anxious person more inclined to claustrophobia, I could well have freaked out about the possibility of the machine slipping its tenuous bonds to the apparently tenuous structure of the building. As it was, I did (briefly, unworriedly) ponder that possibility, and I’m sure it’s not just me, as when I started telling my mother about this experience, she guessed it was going to be about the machine crashing down on me. (I do, after all, get a bit iffy walking under railway bridges.)
The radiographer left me there on the assumption that I wouldn’t do anything. There was a big sign on the wall that said “Emergency Drug Kit” with an arrow to where the kit presumably was. She assumed I wouldn’t see the prominent sign, investigate the location of the kit, and help myself to whatever was inside. I have no idea what kind of drugs radiologists would need, or what on earth I’d do with them if I had them, so presumably her assessment of me was accurate, but I am sure there are people who, if left unsupervised, would have investigated all the pharmaceutical possibities of the room.
The thing that interests me is that she made an assessment. People with mental illness or incapacity, or substance abuse problems, presumably break bones at least as much as the rest of us, so there must be a protocol for those who can’t be trusted to wait quietly in a room by themselves. Probably they get shown out to the waiting room to sit under the watchful eye of the three burly receptionists. I am intrigued by the idea that I send out signals that encourage people to interpret me as trustworthy and relatively competent, in whatever way. Probably, at least in part, it is that I’m white, female, and well-educatedly middle-class. When I worked in a bottle shop I self-consciously broadened my speech. I learned to say ‘ta’, which has stayed with me, somewhat to my chagrin. And I learned to ask more intelligent questions about things about which I know nothing whatsoever.. Earlier, when I worked there, I asked someone why it was so busy and they told me that the State of Origin was on. “Oh yeah,” I said. “Who’s playing?” I’m not even kidding. I wasn’t even kidding then, either.
The other thing that intrigues me about my radiography scenario is that I did behave myself. I sat quietly with my hands in my lap, and looked around, but didn’t touch anything. I didn’t excavate the emergency drug kit, I didn’t push the button. Fair enough, fear of the consequences associated with those things would keep me from doing them. But I didn’t even get up and wander around, looking at the equipment behind the lead screen, even though I wondered what was back there. And it’s not terribly clear to my why I didn’t at least do that much. There was no risk of irradiation. I hadn’t been specifically instructed not to wander around looking at things. But I had a sense that it was not the thing to do, regardless. The door was open, and if the radiographer (or anyone else) should stop by, they would see me behaving in a non-civilised way, that could potentially lead to button-pressing. Certainly, wandering around looking at things could indicate the lack of self-control that could lead to button-pressing.
What I thought at the time was that part of being an adult is feeling the curiosity, the impulse to press the button, but not doing it. I’m turning 26 in a couple of weeks, after all. Surely it’s time to grow up.
When I thought harder, it seemed to me that keeping my hands to myself was one thing, but not looking around made little sense, since the only real consequence would be an awkward situation. I don’t know what the radiographer would have said if she had come in to find me behind the screen. Quite likely she wouldn’t know what to say, either. Maybe the situation had never arisen. But it was a bit off-putting to realise that a non-specific sense that I shouldn’t was sufficient to keep me from so benign a course of action as taking a look around a room I was in. (Of course I also toyed with the idea of analysing the self-surveillance at the heart of my self-discipline with Foucault, but I resisted, because I am a recovering theorykid.)
I’ll be 26 in a couple of weeks. I don’t want being a grownup to mean that I can’t be curious about my surroundings or try stuff out without fearing the authority of non-authority figures.