Keep Your Pants On…and Other Tips for Surviving Your MRI

Posted: October 2, 2012 in family, Health, humor, Life, Medical, storytelling
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

“You oughta have your head examined,” said the doctor. Not the first person to tell me that but the first one with the authority to make it happen. Which is how I ended up frozen in a tube, listening to Hell’s little cobblers banging their hammers in my ears.

I’ve undergone countless medical tests over the last 35 years but unfamiliar procedures still make me nervous. I handled the news of my brain MRI like any other mature adult would: I surfed the Internet for information about the torture device in question and queried friends and family who’ve gone through it for their advice. The best response came from my sister, who lovingly said, “Suck it up and don’t be a baby.”

For the uninitiated, a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner is a big, powerful magnet that partners with a radio transmitter and receiver to map three-dimensional images of your body. It does that by freaking out your protons with radio waves and then tracking the radio signals. For this to happen, you lay motionless inside a big magnetic tube and listen to tiny little jackhammers going off at different frequencies all around you.

Now that I’ve gone through my MRI, in the interest of public education, I offer the following tips to anyone who may be sliding into the shiny coffin of cacophony in the near future:

Keep your pants on. Hospital gowns are designed for easy access. As a former hospital candy striper in my early teens, I witnessed more full moons than a “Twilight” werewolf.  If you don’t want to have a breezy backside when they’re shooting radio beams into you, go comfortable and metal-free. Sweats, t-shirt, sports bra, no jewelry, and if you have piercings, TAKE THEM OUT. Big magnet, remember? Keeping your nipple rings on when they flip the switch may give you perky breasts again in 0 to 2 seconds but baby, it’s gonna hurt.

Take the potty break. Nothing makes me have to pee more than someone telling me I won’t be able to for an undetermined amount of time. Doesn’t matter if you’ve hit every rest room from the lobby to Radiology, if they offer you the chance to go before the MRI begins, take it. If loud noises scare the piss out of you, you’ll thank me.

Keep your mind occupied. MRI’s are loud. Like stick your head in a metal coffee can and let somebody shoot BB’s at it loud. Pings, bongs, clangs. Focusing on something else can help. My sister, whose MS requires her to get MRI’s on a somewhat frequent basis, counts from 1 to 100, forward and backward, until it’s over. I wrote dialogue in my head for a new story. It mostly consisted of “Shut up, shut up, for the love of God, SHUT UP!” But it helped.

Claustrophobia is not a crime. I discovered I was claustrophobic several years ago while walking through a 600-foot tunnel to an underground waterfall. The trip in took 15 minutes. The trip out took half that. The technician will ask you before the test if you’re claustrophobic. If you are, that’s the time to tell them. Not when they’ve got you shoved halfway into a can which barely gives you enough room to scratch whatever’s itching.

Push the button.  One of the last things the technician will do is put a squeeze bulb in your hand. That’s the panic button. You probably won’t have to use it but it’s comforting to know you have the option. But keep in mind, while squeezing it will buy you a quick trip back out into the great wide open, it also means the whole process starts over from the beginning.

The most grueling part of an MRI comes after you’ve been sprung from the tube and sent on your merry way – waiting for the results. To those of you still waiting, best wishes and good luck.

  1. Carroll says:

    Very good, Kelly. You have to be strong to have an <MRI.

  2. Kay Vallery Young says:

    I think I want to hear the results–and I want them to be good! I thought you described the procedure very well–been there, done that, and I couldn’t count the number of people who responded to the news I’d had my head examined with–well, was it empty?

    • All I know right now is that it’s not MS – which is good. Another round of nerve study tests are coming up next month. I got asked if my head was empty, too! Must be because we’re so good-looking, people can’t believe we’re geniuses, too. =)

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