Recently, I endured an MRI procedure on my chest and abdomen. Here is a description of the procedure and my thoughts on the experience, which for me was a first.
MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is a non-invasive diagnostic tool that doctors use to gain information on soft tissues, organs and bones in the body. It is pretty high-tech, and best of all it does not use harmful X-rays.
My appointment was scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Friday, 08 July 2016. Needed paperwork, insurance and patient payment required me to arrive 30 minutes prior to the appointment time. Finishing all this other stuff, I returned to the waiting area in the Radiology Dept of the hospital at 1:15. No problems so far.
Why is it that the medical personnel never take you in on time?!
All week long, I had put this appointment out of my mind and did not stress over it. Then, as the minutes ticked by after the appointment time had passed, I had time to think about what was going to happen and began to be anxious and apprehensive. Finally, at 1:45 p.m., the technician came over to walk me down a long corridor to the MRI area.
After swapping my jeans for a hospital provided cloth pajama bottom, the technician had me get up and lay down on the hard plastic slab of the machine. She gave me ear plugs and told me the machine can get quite loud inside. After strapping the shield like heavy plastic piece to my chest and abdomen, the machine started pulling me slowly inside. Have you ever fed a dollar bill into a machine (such as when you buy a snack, or pay a bus fare)? The machine eventually wakes up and pulls the bill inside. Well, I was now the dollar bill.
Shauna, the technician, at this point tells me I will have to hold my breath at times. I said “Stop”. She stopped the patient intake. After informing her that no one had said anything about holding my breath (which I have never been very good at), she calmed my fears by saying that it would be for no more than about 20 seconds. It was also explained that holding the breath and lying very still allows for correct imaging free of distortion. As I had told Shauna that my personal discomfort was not the main concern here, and had stressed that she get good imaging (for the doctors) even if it meant keeping me in for a little longer, I was determined to lay very still and hold my breath as best I could. She also suggested closing my eyes.
When I had made the appointment by phone, the hospital person had told me that the use of a blindfold had been helpful for some patients. I was also asked if I was claustrophobic.
A blind fold would have made me feel more vulnerable and, for me, that would have greatly increased my psychological discomfort.
I had thought that the top of the machine, or the cover of the casket, might be only like 2 inches above my eyes. That would have freaked me out. The inside top of the patient area actually curves up a little. It appeared that directly over me it was perhaps as much as 6 or so inches above me. Curving down to the sides of my body, the wall seemed to be a little closer. I could see this as it is not totally dark inside. Inside there is rather soft lighting.
I did close my eyes for most of the time.
The air is circulated at a fairly fast rate and that helps a person to breathe in this confined space.
A series of bizarre noises is interspersed with commands from the machine (in a female recorded voice) to “Breathe in”. . . “Hold breath.” The machine then did its imaging for 10 to 20 seconds while I held my breath and lay very still. And, then “Relax.” At which point, I could exhale and return to normal breathing.
After mapping one area of my torso, the machine slid me in several inches deeper. In hindsight, this could be analogous to being in the birth canal. But, I did not think of this at the time. Then, we went through the same process again. A while later, the machine pushed me out several inches back towards the opening. Then it did more imaging. I thought this was a good sign and that it would not take too long to finish. As time went on, I alternated between holding my breath while the machine did its work and relaxing and trying to breath normally. It seemed all was going well.
Then, the machine pulled me back in a bit. This was not good, I was growing fatigued somewhat. I had lay perfectly still for what must have been 15 to 20 minutes or more. Try doing that on the couch or in your bed. Eventually you want to change positions. In this coffin like space, I could not have moved much if I had tried to. The machine pulling me back in led me to think that the process was not going well albeit I was trying hard to lay still and hold my breath during its imaging.
One loses a sense of the passage of time after a while. When it was finally over, it turned out that I was entombed for about 32 to 33 minutes.
Towards, the end of the process, like in the last 4 or 5 minutes, I called out to Shauna hoping she would hear me and tell me that we were nearly done. There was no response from her.
At this point, I was becoming very mentally agitated. But the worst was now upon me. The last couple of imaging runs were for 25 seconds. I was counting in my mind the loud pulses from the machine. I counted to 25 before it stopped and these loud bursts were nearly one second apart from each other. Thus, I was now having to hold my breath for longer than I was comfortable with in this very confined space. The thought whipped through my mind that if this process continued much longer, with these long imaging runs, my brain would become jelly or I might go mad. This must have been the climax of the process. The machine had had its way with me – that was for sure. I felt somewhat violated.
The machine finally began pushing me out the way that I had been pulled in. It did not stop. This time, the process was truly finished.
Shauna, when I was “delivered” back into the world, asked if I was all right. I did not reply for several or more seconds. She helped me to roll off the slab and take to my feet. I finally asked her if the imaging was complete and did she obtain good images. She assured me she had. Then I said that this was not something I would like to do very often. I asked her if she had heard me call out to her a few minutes before the end. She said that she cannot hear anyone speaking out from inside the machine.
It was a “close run thing” (as Wellington had said of Waterloo) for me. If the procedure had continued for much longer, my brain perhaps would have been jelly and I would not be blogging right now.
All in all, if I could do it, most anybody else ought to be able to come through it. So, if your doctor needs for you to undergo this, my advice is do not stress over it. There is the option of arriving a little earlier and having the medical staff give you a small amount of tranquilizer – not so much that you go to sleep (as you need to be awake), but enough so that you will be relaxed and not overwrought. (I did not make use of that option as I needed to drive home afterwards.) Make sure you get the ear plugs, because there are times when the machine does get loud in its pulses.
As best you can, when you are in the machine, control your mind. Your mind can be your friend or your enemy, so you must try to control it. The body will survive this experience. It is the mind that suffers a bit during it.
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