That donut hole is impossibly small.
Recently I was ordered to have an MRI make images of my brain and the surrounding area. Not long ago I had a CT scan of my torso and hips. Thinking it might be similar in what is necessary for me to do – to lie there still as can be – I was not worried, except for the part about contrast dye.
Liquid gadolinium coursing through my veins. Excuse me while I shiver a bit.
When I called the MRI scheduling department I was asked 157 or so questions about possible allergies and are there metal plates in my head or metal screws holding me together. When I entered the imaging department waiting room I filled out a form asking me the same information.
Ordered to strip down to nothing save my socks, I hoped the MRI procedure would be far easier than trying to tie up the maze-like atrocity that are hospital gowns and while no patient is afforded much modesty I learned I can wear two layers of socks, one of which is hospital issued with rubber nubs on the feet, you know, to prevent slips and falls.
The super nice nurses going through prep told me there’s nothing to worry about, it’s nothing like a CT scan, the contrast dye won’t feel the same cause that CT dye is just awful and just hold still as the machine bangs and clangs.
After the gown, after the nubbly footed socks, after more prep talk, the technicians operating the imaging machine escorted me out of prep and for the 18th time in 22 minutes I recited my name and birthdate while I was wanded with a corded wand that would make any TSA officer squishy with envy, just to make sure I wasn’t lying about a metal plate in my head.
NO, this wand CANNOT and WILL NOT enter the MRI room, in bold letters on a sign above the wand.
No metal/magnetic stuff inside the MRI room. Metal/magnets = bad!
There is a space-shipey air-lockey type contraption surrounded by a thick copper doorway which leads into the MRI room. The machine resembles a giant white plastic thick donut and the room is filled with funky pebbly electronic music which may or may not have been made by the infamous Yellow Magic Orchestra.
My fat head and shoulders were about be rammed into that impossibly small donut hole; no wonder I’ve head stories of people freaking the fuck out due to claustrophobia. It was then that I was glad I took a Lorazepam tablet and saved one in reserve.
Better living through chemistry!
There is a choice I need to make: do I want ear plugs or to listen to music through comically large headphones, both of which will mask the sound of the machine while invisible magnetic waves image my brain tissue.
I wonder if the inventors of this sound deadening technology thought about bone conduction of sound. Will my own cranium and bone structure amplify the concert of magnetic waves coursing around through my brain?
Probably not, but I can’t wait for a beer.
Told to lye down on a sled, my head in a cradle, the impossibly large head phones were fit over my head which then made my noggin very tight in the cradle.
The technicians placed in my hands a rubber bulb attached to a hose to squeeze if I had an emergency. I wanted to test the system but was told not too; I’ll know when/if I need to squeeze the emergency bulb.
Last, a white plastic cage was lowered onto my face, attaching to the cradle that restricted any head movement.
I am, or at least I thought, immobile.
A far off voice in the marshmallowy large headphones told me to get ready for donut insertion and to be exceptionally still when the machine came to life. A number of scans would be made without dye and the same number with dye.
I picked music to deaden the machine sounds and like an idiot I picked “jazz” which was actually awful elevator “smooth” jazz of the likes of Kenny G, David Sanborn and company. This drek flooded my ear canals while the sled slowly rammed me into the big whiteout of the magnetic machine.
The audio experience could have been almost tolerable but these ridiculously large headphones sounded tinny and tiny. Well that makes sense, right? Sound of any sort relies upon the movement of air meeting your ear drums and those sound waves created by speakers are produced by a cone/membrane which is driven by some sort of magnet or electrical current.
Again, magnets in the MRI room = bad, very bad!!!
I will mention my loathing of the winter season. Aside from the useless cold and the irritating snow, I become intensely claustrophobic with layering layer over layer of thermal layering layers. Entering the donut is like entering a sensory deprivation tank, except I have Yanni wannabes in my ears for company however I didn’t experience much of any claustrophobia.
Miss Lorazepam, is that you?
Taking stock of my situation in the relative silence of those few seconds, I thought that I could sleep through this or close my eyes and meditate and ignore the WNUA-type “smoooooooth jazz” that I came to regret choosing.
Sonic Youth, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, please, my kingdom for some Pixies!
Then a far off voice interrupted WNUA to tell me the first scan was about to commence. I concluded The Clash would have been more soothing and far less irritating at that time.
Padip, chirped the machine in a contra-alto tone of magnetic life. Padip. Padip. Padip then frantic padipadipadipadipadipadiping when entered a woeful tenor Derm. Derm. Derm on top of the frantic padipadipadipadip and now a step higher and frenzied dermdermdermdermdermdermdermderm and damn well remember to keep very BAM still while the machine BAM is making it’s noises BAM BAM BAM BAM on top of chirping padip and woeful unsynchronized dermdermdermderm.
If all that isn’t enough, out of some slumber the bass drummer decided he couldn’t be left out and BOOM the entire BOOM sled shook and my head found some space to BOOM rattle and BOOMpadipadipdermBOOMdermBAMBAMpadibdermpadipadipdermBAM bounce around in the cage and then I wished I’d have picked no music, just, because.
Have you ever listened to a tar boiler? I know you’ve heard one but have you taken the time to listen? Put that in your list of to-do’s before you croak.
Supposedly, the techs, in a much different room, at least I think they were, thought I was doing very well or at least I required the encouragement. I can be somewhat cynical and I suspected the techs were reading from a script, reciting the same encouragement to every passenger in their machine. The next scan would be shorter and wow someone dropped a drawer of silverware in the machine and that tom tom is far louder and emphatic.
I expected and received more wheezing, clanging, banging, drumming, tubthumping and dermdermderming like some Chitty Chitty Bang Bang of MRI machines. A cursory Google search reveals an average price of a Philips 1.5T (whatever the “T” means) MRI is between $295,000 and $900,000.
Was I riding in the jalopy of MRI machines?
All noises stopped except for Smoooooth G.Low (who the fuck?) in my ears. I’m told through the large headphones that I’ll be ejected from the machine so the contrast dye can be administered.
The only way I could sense any movement was through some very slight vibration of the sled pulling me out of the machine’s orifice. Maybe Philips needs to put some markers on the roof of their machine, like in a swimming pool, just to give the rider some sense of motion, a sense of clarity, a sense of comfort.
This is what I’ve been dreading, completely.
The CT scan I endured required some prep work on my part. I had to drink two barium shakes spaced out at required intervals before the scan. I can’t remember the flavors I chose, although I can feel that heavy metal coating my innards. When the IV port for the dye injection was placed, I was told by the nurses that when the dye is injected I might feel a little warmth, like I wet my pants. It’s perfectly normal it will pass.
Compared to the MRI, I found the CT procedure much easier. No headphones, no wheezing, no BAMMingTOMMingPADIPDERMPADIPing. I could hear and talk to the CT technicians in the other room from a speaker/microphone right above my head. As far as medical scans went, I found it comfortable.
“We’re now going to remotely inject that dye and you’ll feel a little warming.”
No big deal, I’ve got this thing made…
I didn’t feel a little warming. I didn’t feel like I wet my pants. I didn’t feel comfortable.
Every blood vessel in my body felt on fire. I knew my blood was boiling and the top of my head was about to explode. I’ve never experienced anything so uncomfortable and when I made this clear to the techs, all they could do was tell me it would soon pass. What was I expecting, what could the techs do, that infernal dye was already in my bloodstream creating an internal inferno.
I don’t know if that feeling lasted 10 seconds or 10 minutes, it was, however, interesting to experience just how fast the bloodstream moves within my body.
The MRI techs were telling me the dye was to be injected and the sled moved back into the white donuty machine and here we go with more scans.
I wanted to tell that wailing, woeful Kenny Yanni and the pan flute master to STFU and get out of my headphones and did I understand that dye had been injected and I didn’t feel a thing?
I did not feel a thing with this gadolinium substance used as dye injected into my humble self. Things were looking up!
More whirring/wheezing/DERMDERMDADIPADIPing along and then there was an intense small frequency vibration and I felt the tops of my shoulders and the top of my head getting very warm. No matter, this wasn’t nearly as bad as that CT contrast dye as long as my head didn’t explode.
I closed my eyes, felt my breath, listened to whichever lame musician on the WNUA like “music” in those white headphones – I wonder if the color white helps the machine do it’s job better – and the vibrating ceased, the whizbanging subsided and soon I was out in the real world with techs removing the face cage and the headphones and helping me off the sled.
That spongy Yellow Music Orchestra was still playing and I asked why I couldn’t have listened to that music. It wasn’t music, it was the cooling system for the MRI machine.
Next time you run across a tar boiler, take a minute to listen to the harmonics; that boiler has a built in symphony much like a MRI machine.
I’ve since received the results of these tests and I do have a brain and it’s functioning normally, it might be useful if I use it occasionally.
Next up: Otolaryngology.
What the huh?