Penkava: Resonating with magnetism and humor in an MRI

Michael Penkava
Michael Penkava

It was inevitable. Actually, I don’t know how I escaped it for so many years ... the sports, the home projects, the mall shopping trips.

I’m talking about injuries from perilous acts that would lead me to sliding into what I call “The Tube of Exhilarating Claustrophobia” ... the MRI.

What led to my insertion into that cacophonous cylinder? Well, it wasn’t the time I rode a ladder from the porch roof to the ground like a bronco buster in a rodeo. Nor was it when, chain saw in hand, I tumbled from a white pine holding onto the branch I had just cut.

Nope, all it took was a tumble from ground zero as I was helping my son paint his house. As I was falling, paint brush in one hand and bucket in the other, I foolishly decided that it was more important to protect the brush and bucket than my body, slamming my shoulder into the ground as I broke all of Newton’s laws in a single, stunning impact.

As I lay writhing in pain, my son asked me why I didn’t just let go of the stuff and brace myself. Gritting my teeth, I replied, “Son, do you remember when you backed into your sister’s car and destroyed her hood and bumper?”

“Yes, but …”

“And I asked you why you didn’t look before you backed up?”

“Yes, but …”

“And do you remember what you said?”

“No, but …”

“You said, ‘Dad, I need love, not a lecture.’ ”

“Yes, but …”

“Son, I need love, not a lecture.”

So, after some X-rays and some therapy, I found my shoulder and me at the MRI. The technician asked me if I had any metal in my body.

“Nope, but some people say I’m the Man of Steel.”

She scrunched her eyebrows and asked, “Anything else we should know about?”

“Well, I have kleptophobia.”

“You mean claustrophobia?”

“No, kleptophobia. When I’m in tight spaces, I want to steal things.”

She shook her head, tucked a pillow under my head and told me not to move for 30 minutes.

Suddenly, I was inside the pipette of panic. I pressed the button she had given me.

“Excuse me, are we almost done?”

“Mr. Penkava, we haven’t even started.”

“I was just hoping time passed faster when you are stuck inside a tube and there’s nothing to steal.”

“Mr. Penkava, I will let you steal something when you get out.”

“But then I won’t want to!”

“Mr. Penkava, please lie there quietly or I’m going to have to press the eject button.”

Geesh. She sure woke up on the wrong side of the superconducting magnet.

So, I lay there. Suddenly, there were horrible noises of knocking and hammering. My first thought was that she really did press the eject button, but I wasn’t moving.

I tried to think happy thoughts. A hamburger from The Tracks. A slice of pizza from Casey’s. An Italian beef from Portillo’s. It seemed all my happy thoughts had to do with food. Maybe it was because I felt like a hot dog trapped inside a bun.

Finally, the noise stopped and I was sliding out. I told the lady thanks and that my shoulder felt a lot better. She said something about it being “only a diagnostic test,” but I already was out the door on my way to Bucky’s for a burrito.

• Michael Penkava taught a bunch of kids and wrote a bunch of stuff. He once fell from a 32-foot ladder, but he didn’t get hurt. He was on the first rung. He can be reached at

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