You don’t want to be the patient whose X-rays trigger the response of “Wow! Look at that!” from your medical team. Trust me. This is not a good thing. That’s how I was sent for an MRI of my pitiful, deformed back. An MRI is a painless procedure where you lie perfectly still inside a claustrophobic machine while it makes all kinds of scary noises as it blasts your body with ominous radioactive waves. (Okay, intellectually I know MRI machines don’t use radiation, but emotionally, I still picture evil, molecular-altering rays bombarding my body.)
Fortunately, I am not claustrophobic, and the very nice technician tucked me in comfortably with blankets, pillows, and earplugs before sliding me inside the small tube and stepping out of harm’s way. Of course, knowing that I couldn’t move for the better part of an hour made every part of my body itch. “Don’t think about itching,” I told myself, as the irritating sensation immediately erupted on the side of my nose.
Since I had to lie in the machine for the better part of an hour, I had to do something to pass the time, since I couldn’t think about scratching itches. If one blocks out the notion that your body is being assaulted with all kinds of malevolent electromagnetic energy which may fry your insides, having an MRI is not really such a bad experience. So, in order to pass the time, I tried to amuse myself by characterizing the various sounds the machine emitted. It’s actually quite amazing how many different noises there are in the course of an MRI exam, and again, if you try not to think about which ones are discharging which mythical lethal rays, it’s rather fun to try to describe them.
The first sound was what I labeled “the jackhammer.” This sounds exactly like what you would imagine. Conjure up the image of a muscle man in a hard hat busting up concrete, and this is how it sounds—a continuous rat-a-tat noise. The jackhammer was probably the loudest. Next there were individual knocking sounds, like someone was actually banging on a door, or a very large, expensive medical device. With this noise, I wondered if something was wrong with the machine and someone was actually hitting or kicking it to make it work, as I’ve been known to do to recalcitrant equipment.
After the knocking came a continuous hum which sounded like someone playing the same low note on a bass guitar. It bugged me that I couldn’t identify the note on the musical scale. Having perfect pitch, I’m probably one of a very few people who would fret over this. A few minutes into the hum, the base guitar added another note exactly one octave higher. This escalated to include a physical vibration along with the hum, reminiscent of the jolt you receive when the guy in the car next to you has his stereo blasting with his windows open. All you hear is the “thump thump” of the loud bass while the atoms of your insides are being rearranged. When that series was finished, there was a new sound I called backup beepers, like the “beep, beep, beep” of heavy equipment. This was followed by what I described as the “spin cycle of the washing machine.” Then the noises started over again, not necessarily in the same sequence. Between the various sounds were intervals of relative quiet with an underlying “swooshing” noise like a doppler.
I may have accidentally missed some sounds, as somewhere along the line I fell asleep. Go figure. My husband’s snoring runs me out of the bedroom, but I can sleep through an MRI. Anyway, I came through the procedure rested and refreshed after my required hour of lying still. Come to think of it, that’s the last time I can remember actually lying still for an hour in the middle of the day. The technician said I did great, although I didn’t actually “do” anything, so I felt a little guilty being praised for taking a nap. Still, I didn’t freak out and make her chase me down the hall, either, so I guess maybe some praise was warranted.
Hopefully, should you find yourself facing an MRI, I’ve given you some ideas of ways to pass the time—besides dwelling on the fact that you are encased in a small, confined tube with barely enough room for your chest to rise during normal respirations, and itching everywhere. No need to thank me. The warm electromagnetic glow in my body is thanks enough.