The MRI Experience

On Thursday, I survived my very first experience with an MRI. When the year 2006 began, I resolved to have some firsts and try new things, but this wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.

I was extremely nervous about the MRI with no idea what to expect. I had this mental image of scenes out of the film The Exorcist when Regan is undergoing medical tests and the medical equipment they’re using is clanking and banging and making all sorts of loud noises as her mother and doctors look on. (Described in one review of the movie:
The film was enormously popular with moviegoers at Christmas-time of 1973, but some portions of the viewing audience fled from theaters due to nausea or sheer fright/anger, especially during the long sequence of invasive medical testing performed on the hapless patient.) I was also a little anxious about the niggle of claustrophobia that creeps up on me occasionally.

The technician was very friendly and explained everything well after asking me a series of questions to determine whether or not I had any metal in my body. She asked if I’d ever had any surgery and what it was for, then asked if I had any metal clamps in my body. All I could think of to say was “I sure hope they didn’t leave any behind.”

After changing into a very stylish (heh) gown and draw-string pants (scrubs), the tech took me to the MRI room where I came face to face with a beast that looked something like this:

The tube I was going to be inserted into didn’t look big enough. Long enough, sure. But not wide enough. I haven’t bothered to research MRI’s so I’m only guessing here, but I think the whole tight-fit design is intentional. They don’t want you moving, not one bit, while you’re in that thing. I would’ve opted for an open MRI, but the doc’s office made it clear that an open MRI might not be good enough and I’d end up having the claustrophobic’s nightmare version anyhow. Why do this twice when I can get it over with once?

The worst part of the experience, for me, was having to be positioned on my back. That is the most uncomfortable position possible for me with this pain. They gave me something to prop under my legs. After a bit of adjusting here and there, I managed to get into a position that I hoped I could hold for 30 minutes. 30 minutes. That’s a long time to hold still, especially when one is in pain.

The tech handed me a set of headphones, the big, heavy duty kind. She said the MRI is very noisy, sounding a lot like a jackhammer. (No wonder I was thinking Exorcist, even though I’m pretty sure the MRI had barely been invented when that film came out.) The headphones not only protect one’s hearing, they also pipe in music. The music, I gotta tell ya, was a big help in keeping me calm. It was just a local radio station, but that’s better than nothing at all. It would’ve been a very long 30 minutes without the tunes.

Once I was all settled in, they pressed a few buttons and the table with me on it started sliding into the tube. The tech mentioned that most people prefer to close their eyes throughout the procedure. Excellent advice! I was going to watch as the table made that slow slide into the tube, but two seconds in and I was ready to tell them to let me out. I didn’t realize just how tight a fit it would be until my shoulders were in there. At that point I closed my eyes and tried to concentrate on the music and keeping my breathing calm. I also tried to refrain from thinking about how small that space seemed when I was going in.

The pain was pretty intense right from the beginning. As time went on, it got worse, with muscles spasming. Holding still was no easy task when the muscles want to involuntarily move. Every now and then the tech would check in with me, via the headphones, to ask if I was okay. I resisted the urge to say “Hell no! Hurry up, would you?”

I was just about ready to give up and squeeze the little button that tells them to stop when the tech announced “Only 4 more minutes.” Thank goodness! I figured I could hold on for 4 more minutes and I did.

It’s hot in those things. I came out of there practically covered in sweat. Or maybe it was nerves that caused the heat.

The tech wouldn’t give me any hints or clues about what they may or may not have found/seen on the MRI. They’re not allowed to. Hmph. I have to wait 3-4 business days for the results. I suspect I won’t know anything until after Thanksgiving since the results have to go to my doc and then they have to call me, etc., etc. If they call before that, I’ll worry. In the meantime, there must not have been anything there that requires me to be rushed into surgery or to a specialist. At least I’m assuming that if the tech saw anything alarming she would’ve called my doc or someone.

I know it’s not a good idea to assume anything, but I prefer to take the optimistic approach.