My left shoulder finally got to the point where the pain was occasionally unbearable, and my PA at the orthopedist’s office said it was time for an MRI (magnetic resonance image) to see what was going on. So at 9:00 sharp I showed up at the radiologist’s. It first had to be determined if any of the metal bits in my knee, abdomen and neck might somehow interfere with the MRI. I was thinking of their red hot heating and internal combustion, but they assured me this wouldn’t happen. I was asked if I was claustrophobic, which I’m not. Then I had to get rid of any clothing with more metal bits, and finally I was ready.
The MRI machine looks like a lunar landing module with a white tube inside, and to start, I was asked to stand on a platform (the better to take off from, I guessed) and turn sideways. Then my left arm was placed in a padded tube and the wall I was leaning against rotated so that I was lying on my left side. I was handed a rubber bulb to squeeze if something went wrong (so something could go wrong?), then the bed I was lying on glided slowly into the white tube. The technician put a blanket on me because it was like Antarctica in there, and I was told not to move for the next 25-30 minutes. This may sound like a minor request, but have you ever been completely still for that length of time – not a wiggle, not a shift? It would have been easier if I had been comfortable, but my neck was bent at a contortionist’s angle and I felt like a pretzel.
Things soon became painful and I had to figure out how not to move for 30 minutes and block out the discomfort and the noise. Yes, MRIs are noisy, emitting a variety of clicks, grinds, buzzes, and whirrs, which to the uninitiated might sound like a meat processing machine. I practiced slow breathing for a minute or so, which really calmed me, and then focused on a place where I’d been truly happy: sitting high on some rocks overlooking the ocean in Acadia National Park in Maine. Visualizing the panoramic view of the ocean, Otter cliff, the waves crashing on the shore, the distant islands, and sailboats gliding by kept me occupied for about 15 minutes. When I could no longer focus on the view, I decided to create dinner menus and had at least three when I was informed that I only needed to hold still for three more 3 minutes bursts. What to do now? I decided to concentrate on scenes and characters for the book I am writing, and that kept me pretty busy for two of the three minute sessions. By the third, I was sure my head would soon explode, so I just did a mental countdown: one thousand, two thousand…
Finally the noise stopped, and bed slid out of the tube and I was returned to an upright position, sort of like an airplane seat. I realized I had had my eyes closed for the entire time and opening them took me from the life of the mind to the lights of the MRI room, so it was a minute or so before I could descend from my inner trip.
My advice if you have to have an MRI: have a mental list of things to think about! And oh, yes, bring ear plugs, but not metal ones.