I scan the waiting room nervously, trying not to make eye contact with the receptionist. I’ve learned that making eye contact is a guaranteed way to get someone to talk to you, which is exactly what I don’t want. I move so that I’m behind Dave, letting him get the receptionist’s attention. Once they’re safely conversing, I feel able to watch her mouth and read her lips. I catch that she’s asking for my insurance card and driver’s license, so I’m able to start retrieving them before Dave turns to me to let me know.
I’m given a huge stack of forms to fill out. I sit down and flip through them, wondering if it’s just a pile of all the same form and maybe I just need to fill out the top one. Nope – they’re all for me. Sheesh! I start answering questions about piercings and possible bullets in my body, allergies and claustrophobia. Eight or nine pages later, I’m finally done. Now I wait.
After only five minutes or so, I see a young girl come into the room and say my name. Dave pops up and asks if he can come with me. I don’t really follow the conversation but I get the gist of it – there’s really not much he can do but stay in the waiting room. The part I’ve been most worried about – communicating with the MRI personnel without Dave there to fall back on if I don’t understand – is about to happen.
I explain to the girl that I’ve completely lost my hearing in the past couple of weeks and I’m relying solely on reading lips. She says, “You can’t hear at all?!” She’s very nice and easy to lip read, so I relax a little bit. We stop at a little room with lockers and a bench, and some blue scrubs on shelves. I’m told to change into the scrubs – leave on my underwear but take off my bra…I can leave my shoes on if I want. I laugh and tell her that I can’t take my pants off without taking off my shoes! (In retrospect, I wish I’d put my shoes back on because by the end of the MRI my feet were absolutely freezing.) She tells me to lock my clothes up and bring the key with me. When I’m done changing, take a seat in the little room outside and she’ll be back for me. I repeat everything she said, especially the part about keeping the key with me – really?! She explains that they have a place for me to leave the key in the MRI room.
I change quickly, and being a girl, I note that she handed me the size Medium scrubs. If I’d had to choose, I would’ve taken the size Large. However, the Medium fits and I’m strangely pleased by this.
I don’t have to wait long before she takes me into the MRI room. It’s overwhelming and a lot to take in – this huge machine! I leave my key on a chair and the doctor shows up. (I think he’s a doctor – if he introduces himself, I don’t catch it.) He talks faster than the girl/nurse and I’m a little lost, which panics me. I catch that he’s telling me I’m going to have an IV for the contrast, and I think he’s telling me some possible side effects after the IV starts, which he says are perfectly normal. I don’t even have time to react to this before I’m led to the machine and instructed to lie down.
Now, IV’s are not my friend. I have teeny tiny veins and phlebotomists cringe when they see my arms. I’ve actually had an experience where they just could not get an IV started (when I was dehydrated) and just gave me Sprite to drink to try to re-hydrate me. Needless to say, I was a little worried about this IV which I had no idea I was going to need. As soon as I laid down, the doctor took my arm, slapped it a couple of times and got the IV in with the first try. What a relief!
After he taped the IV in, he put the headphones on. I laughed and asked if those were to block out the noise…’cause I really didn’t need them! This got a laugh out of the doctor and he went on to explain something else which I didn’t catch. I got the impression the headphones were also there to keep my head immobile, because he tucked in some foam wedge things under the headphones on each side. After that…oh my gosh, what is this…a white metal CAGE was placed over my face. I think I must have looked really alarmed because he asked if I was okay. I blinked and said yes, I’m fine…but it really took me by surprise. The cage was locked down and now I’ve got metal bars surrounding me, with about an inch or so of space between my face and the bars.
They place a wedge under my knees, which elevates them and takes the pressure off my lower back. A rubber bulb is pressed into my hand and I’m told to use it if I need to communicate with them. Then the table starts moving and I go into the chamber.
All I can see is the white walls of the MRI curving overhead, with a blue line running down the center. There are no lights and nothing else to look at. All I hear is my tinnitus, my ears keening.
I lay there, wondering if it’s okay that my arm with the IV is bent. I’ve always thought you shouldn’t bend that arm, but I guess it’s okay because the doctor put my arm in this position – bent with my hand on my stomach, gently grasping the rubber bulb. I start to worry that I’ll have a muscle spasm and squeeze the bulb when I don’t mean to. Then I wonder what people do if they have to sneeze, or cough, or scratch their nose.
I lay there and try to think of ways to pass the time. My God, this is boring. Initially I have to fight some panic at being strapped into the cage…it really does feel like being in a coffin. I’m not a claustrophobic person but I could see how someone would freak out in this situation. The first 5 or 10 minutes I spend concentrating on my breathing and finding things to think about so that I don’t panic. I wonder: eyes open or closed? Does it matter if I’m opening and closing my eyes…does that count as “moving”? What about swallowing? I realize the saliva is kind of pooling in the back of my throat and I’m afraid to swallow…but now that I’m thinking about it I can’t help it. I swallow, and wait for them to pull me back out and admonish me. But it’s okay – nothing happens.
Oddly enough, the chorus of “I’ll Fly Away” is what I end up reciting in my head to calm myself down initially. I’ve only ever heard this song once, when Evan Rachel Wood sang it on Once and Again years ago.
After a while, I’m really getting bored. Then I start getting a series of heart palpitations, one right after the other, for 5 or 6 heartbeats….flutter BUMP, flutter BUMP. It really freaks me out and I feel lightheaded when they end. I spend the next few minutes doing deep breathing and trying to calm myself down. I think of songs to recite in my head. The palpitations go away and luckily they don’t return.
After a while, I’m pulled out of the machine and the doctor straightens my arm, pressing on the IV. I assume there’s a problem with the contrast dye and hope that he doesn’t need to pull the IV and start a new one. He asks if I’m doing okay and I tell him yes, then he tells me there’s only 20 minutes more. Back into the machine.
For the last 20 minutes, I really had trouble staying awake. I would find myself drifting off and then awaking with a jerk, or at least it felt like a jerk. In reality I wasn’t really moving, but it was so startling to snap back awake like that. I started keeping my eyes open more in an effort to stay awake, even though looking at the bars of the cage kind of freaked me out.
The procedure ended without fanfare…I was just brought back out, all the various trappings were removed, and I was asked if was okay. Like a fool, while he was removing the IV I asked the doctor if people tend to freak out a lot. I have a habit of doing this, making chitchat with people when they’re drawing blood or doing IV’s, because it keeps me from focusing on what they’re doing and keeps me from passing out. Well, I couldn’t understand a darn thing he said in response but I think he was saying it does happen pretty frequently, especially for people who’ve never had an MRI done.
He told me they were going to give me the pictures to take home, and I had to have him repeat it 3 times. Finally I said, “Pictures?” and he brightened up….Yes! I got it! It just threw me that they called them “pictures”…I think “copies of the scan” would’ve made more sense to me.
I was told to change back into my clothes and wait in the outside waiting room with Dave. We waited for about 10 minutes or so before they came out with a little CD that had a copy of my scan on it (or the “pictures”, as they said). And that was it. All done!
I was very happy with the place that did my MRI and I highly recommend them. Everyone that I dealt with was patient and efficient, and I was really impressed. They’re the only place around here that has a 3 Tesla scanner, which Dave was very excited about. If you live in Illinois and need to have an MRI done, I can highly recommend them: 3T Imaging