Whenever I saw someone get an MRI in a movie, I thought, I could not do that. The idea of being trapped in that tube, unable to sit up or move, was terrifying. But, I had to get an MRI. Of my brain.
It was 6 o’clock at night. The offices were closed, except urgent care. I checked in at urgent care and someone came and led me down an employees-only hallway, and down a set of elevators the public did not have access to. It took me several stories below ground, below the parking garage, to an underground bunker. That’s where they did the MRIs.
I had talked to several people, who had all assured me that it wasn’t that bad. You have a little room to move. I was told they give you headphones and play music. And, the general consensus was that the idea of it was scarier than the reality. Regardless, I needed to figure out what was going on, so I was getting an MRI.
I had to change out of my clothes and into very attractive, tailored, hospital gown and pants, to ensure there was no metal on my body. There were a long list of medical questions, and hand-held metal detector. And, there was an IV. I had finished my last steroid infusion that afternoon and thought that my bruised arms would finally get a rest. I was wrong.
The nurse asked if I had a preference on which arm she put the IV in. I turned over both of my arms, revealing bruises on both. “It doesn’t matter.”
IV hanging from my arm, I waddled into the MRI room in the too large hospital pants I was trying not to step on. The MRI machine and the room looked like where they would do alien experiments on a spaceship, just as I expected. I sat on the “bed” and leaned back as instructed. My head was surrounded by cushions so I could not turn my head. They gave me ear plugs, not head phones. No music. “Would you like a blanket?” “Yes, please.” They placed a rubber ball in my hand to squeeze if I needed to get their attention or needed to get out of the machine. Knowing that I could get out, calmed me down, a lot. I could do this. Then, they put a helmet-like cage over my face. I was trapped. I had a mask on, and my head was trapped on every side. I started to panic. It was hard to breathe. “I can’t do this,” I thought.
They must have seen my panic. They asked if I wanted to pull my mask down. “Yes, please.” They pulled it down. I took deep breathes. I had been listening to sleep mediation podcasts to try to sleep while I’d been on steroids. The one I listened to the night before was about being calm. I started breathing in the same rhythm as the meditation, and repeating “calm” in my head on every exhale. I needed the MRI. I needed to calm down, close my eyes, and get through it.
Once I was inside, with my eyes shut, breathing, and repeating “calm,” covered in a warm blanket, I was fine. Aside from the momentary freak out, it was actually almost relaxing. My exhaustion from the steroids probably helped. But, it was loud! The machine made different noises for different scans. Some were a loud banging, like a unbalanced washing machine, or someone banging a hammer into metal. Other times, it was a comical beeping that reminded me of a robot, and it sounded so silly and unscientific, that I had to try not to laugh.
They tell you to keep still, repeatedly. I wanted this to go as quickly as possible, and did not want them to have to re-take any images, or even worse, have to do a second MRI. So, I lay as still as possible. Which meant, tensing my muscles to hold everything in place for the whole hour. When I was done, I finally relaxed. They took out the IV, I got dressed, and I went home.
Of course, they don’t tell you anything. I would have to wait to talk to the neurologist the next day.