I Hate MRIs

With age we are subjected to more intrusive medical testing that can sometimes be quite disconcerting. Among the worst for me is Magnetic Resonance Imaging, aka MRI.

An MRI is no big deal unless you’re claustrophobic, which is a fear of closed-in spaces. Little did I know ten or fifteen years ago that I would be so creeped-out by being stuffed into an MRI tube for 15 to 30 minutes.

MRIs are prescribed for many medical issues. The obvious ones are bone and tendon injuries. But they are also used to examine other “soft” parts of you body such as your heart and even your prostate. In most cases docs are able to obtain clear images of impaired body parts and then decide the best treatment.

Men and women are individually subjected to examinations that are horrible. We all know what they are. But an MRI is not biased. It’s a major event for members of both sexes who don’t relish being slid into a tube that is reminiscent of a coffin. I never knew I had this affliction until my first MRI.

Different MRI imaging requires that the patient be deeper or less deep into the tube. For some leg injuries your head may be at the end of the tube so the experience is not so confining. For others, like for your head and organs in your torso, you need to be further into the machine.

It’s unclear about how many people are claustrophobic. One source I found indicated that 5-7% of the world’s population is frightened of tight places. This number probably includes only those that are terrified. I’ll bet the number is much higher for people like me who are moderately terrified.

You may be asking yourself why I’m making a big deal about my fear of MRIs. The reason is that they are becoming more prevalent. Without disclosing private medical information, I have been MRI-ed for no less four different parts of my body. Two of them are repetitive (I have them every year). So it was incumbent on me to find a way to survive the MRI experience.

For those of you who have never had an MRI, the machine is massive. Yet the space in the tube is sparse for anyone with any extra bulk, large individuals and athletes. Most MRI’s require you to lie down (usually face up, but sometimes down) on a slab that enables you to be slid into the MRI tube.

An MRI tube is 70 cm, or 27.5 inches, in diameter. The average head of a person is 18cm, or 7 inches, in diameter. So when you’re in the tube there is 20.5 inches between your eyes and the tube. That may seem like a lot, but it’s tight to me.

Depending on the type of scan, you may be required to stay in the MRI for 15 to 30 minutes. You must lie perfectly still or you are penalized with more minutes. Staying still and looking straight up at the tube only a few inches away is difficult. During my first MRI, my head was at the edge of the tube, so I could see out. I barely managed to stay in the machine for just over 30 minutes by counting the seconds.

After my first MRI I swore I would never do another without assistance. I was unsure about what that might entail. Sure enough I injured my shoulder. I figured that I would need an MRI and that it would require me to be deep in the tube. I was having nightmares about this prospect.

The orthopedic doctor who saw me is a good friend. He was attending to several people in the hallway with a large entourage of residents. Before I could say anything he told me to go and have an MRI done immediately in the bowels of the hospital. I told him I was unable to do MRIs. He said I had to have an MRI. This went on for a few minutes, and after a few insults directed at me, and a lot of laughing directed at me among his minions, I agreed to try.

I went to the MRI area, which was in a dungeon-like area in an underground space. I suspect the hospital administrators kept all of their torture equipment in this place. I slid into the machine and immediately freaked out. I trundled back up to see the doc with my tail between my legs.

The doctor made some derogatory remarks about my manhood, which made his minions go hysterical. In the meantime I stood there in pain. He said he must have an MRI to do the surgery. I thought about it and proposed a compromise. I would do the MRI under three conditions. The doc rolled his eyes and the sycophants were waiting anxiously.

One, I wanted general anesthesia, not a sedative. I wanted to be unconscious. The doc rolled his eyes again and said OK.

Two, I didn’t want to see the MRI because it frightened me. So I was to be knocked out before I went into the MRI room. More eye rolling, but he said OK.

What else the doc asked. I said I didn’t want to see the MRI after I was done. Everybody but me was getting a kick out of my stand-up performance. He agreed.

Everything went smoothly. I was treated like a surgical patient, sedated and had the MRI. Of course it cost three times as much because an anesthesiologist was needed.

What I should also tell you is that the MRI is really noisy further adding to the terror of the experience. It bangs and shakes. It’s not a quiet and smooth-running piece of equipment. The other thing is the technician asks you if you want to listen to music. I always say yes but it doesn’t help.

My journey was not over. I figured I needed to do something drastic to find a way to get through an MRI without having a nervous breakdown. More of my doctors wanted me to have them every year.

I was told to have my torso MRI-ed by another doctor. I figured it would put me deeper into the tube once again. I was frantic. The doc sent me to an imaging place, which much to my surprise didn’t have an anesthesiologist on staff. This meant that I could not receive general anesthesia. I told them I couldn’t do it. But the technicians were persistent in their efforts to get me to saddle up.

To make a long story short they told me one of their associates had invented eyeglasses with a prism that would enable me to see out of the tube while I was laying on my back. Bingo. It worked. I immediately offered to buy the makeshift glasses, but was turned down.

Eventually I found a pair online, but most of the MRI places now have them. I still dread climbing into the machines but at least I have a plan to get myself through the ordeal.