My friend Kara, who has had more than her share of time in the bellows of an MRI scanner, now warily refers to any type of this machine as a “snort.” Borrowed from the tender children’s book “Are You My Mother?” the nickname appropriately describes the noisy and unfriendly grunting that greets you as you come face to face with this gift of modern medicine.
Earlier this week, as I lay for what seemed an eternity in the confinement of one of these monstrosities, I wondered what kind of responses one might get should they interview a few guests wrapping up their visit with one of these magnetic monsters. It occurred to me that many unsuspecting victims may in fact have no concept of what they have just agreed to crawl into, and with the experience fresh on my mind, what better time to do a public service in making sure my fellow MRI mates know exactly how to prepare for their own deafening journey through what I have affectionately nicknamed “Monstro.”
Yep, that’s exactly it, the gargantuan whale from the terrifying old Disney movie Pinocchio; Monstro. Most fitting name I could come up with, seeing how this thing is gigantic, yet when you’re inside it you feel less like you are stretching out in the roominess, and more like you are being squeezed through the intestinal track of something intent on digesting you.
The first hint of concern that popped into my head occurred as the man who would be operating the machine walked me back to where it would take place, and his first sentence was, “this is gonna be a long haul.” As he proceeded to explain how the extent of my MRI exams was going to take hours as they scanned, gave injections, and then re-scanned, and how if I so much as had a sniffle or a deep breath it would throw the whole thing off and they would have to start over, I almost felt as though he was trying to talk me out of it; send me screeching back out the long, slick hallway, aborting the mission in my terror, and thus sparing him whatever agony he was about to endure sitting behind that tinted window. Well, since I didn’t have the luxury of opting out of the information my doctors needed from this scan, I assured him I could keep still long enough to avoid prolonging the process for either of us. Seemingly satisfied with my response, he ducked back behind the mysterious tint of glass to make sure this process was ready to move along.
Another young man directed me to lay flat on this bobsled of sorts, thus baring my legs to the temperatures of the room, which somehow felt colder than the blizzard gusts of snow I had gotten caught in on my way in from the parking lot. Mind you, I was already wearing two pairs of loud and ridiculously mismatched socks because I hadn’t been able to get my feet warm all day, but now with my bare legs stretched beneath the short hem of a hospital gown that offered no further warmth, I hoped they would have a seatbelt to keep me me from shivering myself right off the table. As I scrunched myself up to where he wanted me, I was laying still for him to place some sort of space capsule over and around my head, clipping it down so my head wouldn’t move, and he began expressing again that I wasn’t to cough, sniff, open my eyes, clear my throat, wiggle, or anything else that might shift their view a fraction of anything. I had assumed the shivers wracking my body were apparent by now, but sensing the seriousness in his lecture, I finally piped up that I was unsure I could control the goose-bumped convulsions of my body for any amount of time while in the spare cold storage room they had decided to set up shop. He responded that he would get me a blanket, although most people get hot, so if I wanted the blanket off I could just wait until they talked to me on the little microphone to let them know, and they would come in and remove it. Right. I’ll be lucky if I thaw to a normal body temperature by the time this thing is over.
Next question was had I taken any sedation. No. Should I have? Should this have been offered to me? What have I done…
Tucked in with the blanket I wouldn’t need, he asked what kind of music I liked to listen to, before snapping an air-traffic-controller-sized pair of headphones on me that swallowed both of my ears and half of my eyes. I love all music, never have settled into just one genre, so my reply: “anything but rap.” He suddenly lit up when he realized we apparently have the same taste in music, punched a few more buttons, tucked a “squeeze in case of emergency ball” in my hand, and bounced out of the room with a final “Hold still!”
With a swish of air I was dragged deep into the center cavern of this contraption, and that is when I realized my mistake in being so vague about the music. He had selected for me some random assortment of teeny bopper slash oldies, blasting at such a decibel there was no way to ignore it, let alone entertain the idea of dozing off. If I hadn’t jumped at the deafening blast of the music, I most certainly did at the first thundering roar of the machine as it fired up to do its thing. Oh please don’t yell at me for moving!!
As the music screamed and the machine shook and buzzed, I tried to distract myself. First I wondered how claustrophobic people must feel in here. My 5′ 2″, 105 pound frame had about a stretched out hand’s width of space between me and the ceiling, and I don’t think I would have had room to roll from stomach to back if I had tried. How on earth would a person of a bigger chest diameter even breathe in this thing, I wondered. Then a deep breath, but not a big deep breath, because that would bring someone flying out of that room to tell me we had to start all over because I messed it up! No, little deep breath, and then aaaaaagh, pot. Where is that coming from?! Are they pumping that in through the small air circulation vent? Little breath. Eew, it’s a skunky smelling marijuana, no doubt the lingering scent of whatever poor soul got crammed in here before me having tried their best to relax them self before their scan. If I could take a deep breath maybe it would relax me too.
Something else that deserves to be passed on to future MRI passengers, is the wisdom in choosing your pre-scan meals. You know how a syringe full of liquid is repeatedly flicked to bring the bubbles to the surface to be expelled? Yeah, imagine your body, containing whatever you last indulged in, lying straight and still, being thumped and shaken by the clunking of whatever this machine is doing beneath you. I suspect those bubbles you feel blipping together in your insides are gathering to find their way to the nearest exist, and depending whether you chose a ham sandwich or last night’s left over chili for lunch, I imagine you could find yourself wishing that stale marijuana smell was the only thing you were stuck inhaling inside your cramped cell. Not that I speak from experience, but I had enough time to think it through during this day-long escapade.
My feet dangling somewhere I presumed to be outside of the tube, I was pleased to discover my body was beginning to feel warm, despite my feet feeling like large bricks of ice attached to my legs. Wait, never-mind, this is not comfortably warm, I am suddenly sweltering… which is making me feel panicked, which is making me breathe faster, which is about to boil down to one big wiggle as I tear this thing off my head and bust out of here. The microphone! He said tell them I’m too hot when they come on the microphone. When are they going to come on the microphone? I haven’t heard them say anything since telling me I was almost nearly halfway through. (What kind of an update is that anyway?! Give me something concrete!) I feel like a Thanksgiving turkey, roasting from the inside out. All the energy being directed into my body has efficiently warmed me up from a chilly winter morning to needing to take shelter from a midday sun in Phoenix. Should I squeeze the emergency bulb? It’s not really an emergency… what if I do that and it resets everything and we have to start back at the beginning? I better not. Anyway, I’m pretty sure my hands have become one big melted blob with the ball between them, and I can’t feel where to squeeze anyway. Oh hallelujah, the thing just stopped and I am on my way out for my halfway point injection. “Yes ma’am, I am doing ok, could you just peel this blanket off of me please, and be careful not to rip the smoldering skin that is adhered to it.”
The dye injection may make me nauseous, I’m warned. Good. Ok. What am I supposed to do with that information? Give myself time to sit up and puke to the side instead of straight up and back into my face? Wait, no, my head is bolted down, that’s not going to happen. The emergency bulb! Yes! Puking in my own face would be an emergency, and THEN I can squeeze the bulb and help will come running. Ok, here we go. Keep holding still, being whished back inside the tunnel to finish this thing up. My hands were resting on my stomach, clasping the bulb which would be my white flag should I need it… until I felt the bulb sharply yanked from my grasp as my bobsled swooshed back into the tunnel and the lifeline cord was caught in the track of the moving sled. No one noticed, and there I was, like the filling inside a twinkie, laying still, quiet, counting moments until I was busted out of my confinement. Until the next go-around that is, when I will come fully prepared with an empty stomach, a sedated mind, and a VERY. SPECIFIC. PLAYLIST.
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