Monday, December 3, 2007


The MRI was done at Wesley Woods Medical Center, which is a unit of Emory designed for the retiree population. MRIs are apparently in high demand and to squeeze me in, they put me at a retirement home center.

A couple of years ago, I had an MRI on my ankle. It was a breeze because the only thing being scanned was my ankle. The rest of my body remained outside the MRI tube, so I never had a true experience of being contained in the tube.
The technician asked me if I was claustrophobic. I said "no". To the best of my knowledge, my only experience with claustrophobia would be putting myself in a dark closet and shutting the door. It never bothered me, so why would laying in a tube in a room bother me? It never entered my mind.
The technician also asked me to take off my personal items. This was the first time that I had had a full MRI, so I took off my belt, my glasses, my wallet and other items and then I asked "did you mean take off my clothes?". The technician, a women in her early 30's said "no, not that type of personal items. You can leave your clothes on!". This was surprising. I was going to be in an MRI unit with pictures being taken of my neck, and I would have a fully-collared shirt around my neck. I did not have any metal on my body, but I had a zipper. I had always heard you could have no metal items on you. I know realize this is exaggerated. The room had a metal trash can, metal chairs, and other items in it, and none were locked to the ground.
The procedure entailed me laying down on a small conveyor/bed face up, with my head inside of basically a square football-like helmet containing foam, so that my head would not move. The conveyor part would move me back inside the tube. The technician told me to insert ear plugs in my ears because the noise would be loud.
I would have two scans. The first would be 20 minutes, then they would remove me, inject a dye and then do the procedure again. I had just moved into the tube when I realized--"what a dummy--I still have on my watch and my ring". I screamed "Hey guys--I forgot my ring and watch". Within a few seconds, they pulled me out and started me over again.
I thought I would be very calm and would possibly even try to take a nap. Slowly the conveyor started to move back inside the tube. My impression was that they would stop the conveyor when my head was just inside the tube. I was wrong. It keep moving me back. I never really saw how deep the tube was--it felt like I was being inserted at least 20 feet, although I knew this was impossible. Claustrophobia hit. Panic ensued. The tube was just over my eyes. The only thing I could think about was being trapped inside a coffin. Yes, this is what it would feel like. No room to move my hands and arms. My head restrained. The tube was no more than 4 inches from my eyes. I could not look up down or around. I wanted out. Now.
I wanted to scream. My heart start racing. I could tell my blood pressure was soaring. I was gritting me teeth. I wanted to break out, run and say the hell with it. Just skip the MRI. Tell the surgeon to wing-it, like they did before the MRI. Tough life for him. Get over it. I was breathing heavily. All the while, I was wondering what would happen if I did scream or ask for help. I can imagine that they would have to reschedule, call my physician, and have him sedate me for another visit. Worse, they may tell me they have no other appointments and they would have to reschedule my surgery. What could I do? I started thinking--"how do I get my mind off of thinking I am in a coffin?" Do math--that's it. I started adding up the salaries of people in my company. I started to say, "how much more would a 5% raise be". I don't like math, but desperate times require desperate actions. Next, I started thinking of movie stars--who starred in what films? It worked. Slowly. I started to relax somewhat. Believe me, the whole time, I was uncomfortable, and 20 minutes seems like hours when you are literally counting the seconds hoping they clock would wind down. I knew that they would have to inject the dye in me, and that would give me a break to walk around, and I could fully recover.
The noise from the MRI was incredibly loud. Bang bang band. Ching ching. Brap. Brap. Brap. Over and over for 20 minutes. My left earplug was falling out. Nothing I can do about that--my hands are down near my side. If I halt this now, I am sure they have to start over again. Then, I thought--I am swallowing in here. They are taking photos of my thyroid, which moves every time I swallow. Stop swallowing. I did--for a minute of two. But try it for 20 minutes. Your mouth fills up with saliva. It is hard to do. You have to swallow and so did I.
Then, suddenly--quiet. Relief. I started to move out of the tube. A break for the dye!
As soon as I was completely out, the technician said "now, don't move. I will inject you where you are". My relief was short-lived. I did not even get to sit up. Restrained, she injected me, and within 30 seconds I was back on my way in the tube. To do it all over again. More math. More movie stars.
It was finally over. They pulled me out. I gathered my things and they told me the images had been already electronically be sent to the radiologist to review.
In a few days, I should expect a call from Dr. Grist with the results.