MRI Redux

When most people go to a doctor, the things they’re most concerned with are either being given a bad prognosis or being subjected to an invasive procedure. I’m not one of those people. Rather, I dread being told that I need yet another MRI.

And so, I decided to expose my fear of going in the tube for a half an hour of terror, hoping that writing about my phobia would help me deal with it more effectively. In two posts, I told my story. Little did anyone know that I was due to have another torture chamber moment at an imaging facility.

By way of background, I have let it be known to every person I know that MRIs frightened me to no end. I never knew I was claustrophobic. When skiing, I experienced some fear of heights. It was easy to deal with, as I never stood at the top of a trails and looked down steep slopes and huge moguls. I just jumped in. It worked like a charm.

An MRI, I hate to say, reminds me of a coffin. The noise it makes is ridiculously loud (unlike a coffin). The operators can’t believe that a tough guy like me acts like a hysterical sissy when I see the behemoth machine. I once was in an MRI and begged to be released, much to the chagrin of the operator.

I detected something different this time. The forms you must fill out before the procedure now ask specifically if you are claustrophobic. Thankfully, the medical profession is recognizing that more than a few patients are afraid of closed spaces. I checked yes, very. The day before the test, one of the assistants actually called me to ask me if I was taking a sedative before the procedure. I told her I was not.

In my last post, I indicated that my fears begin weeks before the procedure. I think about being stuffed into the tube, which is not really wide enough for me. I lose sleep, have anxiety attacks and so on. I decided I had to do something in an attempt to alleviate my fears.

So, I devised a three part plan. I practiced for the ordeal, kind of like getting ready for the big game. I stayed perfectly still on the floor with my eyes closed for 10, 20, 30 minutes, which is what I would be doing in a few days when I was tested. The second thing I did was meditate and try to convince myself that I could relax for an extended period of time without moving. My yoga instructor helped me greatly (thanks C.). And finally, I ensured that the imaging facility had prism glasses that would enable me to see backwards out of the MRI tube. This gadget is heaven-sent.

When I arrived, I was pleasantly surprised that the procedure would only be 15 minutes, if I did everything I was told and behaved myself. The bad news was that it was a “participating MRI,” as opposed to a procedure where you lay still like a corpse.

I had to repeatedly exhale and hold my breath. I prefer to lay still and think of nothing except when I would exit the tube. Every time I held my breath, it felt like two or three minutes passed, when in reality, it was 10-20 seconds. I goofed one time and was ordered to do it again (my only transgression).

Well, guess what? I performed without a hitch. I was totally cool and courageous, if I do say so myself. No hysterics on my part, and I got MRIed like a big boy. I bumped elbows with the MRI operator, and he said I did a good job and would see me next year. He probably thought I was a pathetic wimp. All my preparation was well worth the time and effort. Even more importantly, my test was perfect.

If anyone is going to take an MRI and has fears, you may contact me, and I will give you a pep talk. It only took me 20 years to finally overcome my fear of the MRI bogeyman.

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