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What I Think About During an MRI

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

By Alissa Butterfass

Last month, I had an MRI. It wasn’t my first, though I can’t remember if it was my second, third or fourth (ugh, aren’t I too young for a “senior moment?”). For those of you who have never had this test before, I’d describe it as “definitely not pleasant but definitely not as bad as you think it’s going to be.”

The most common question I’ve gotten about taking an MRI is, “Did you get claustrophobic?” Not really. Here’s my trick. I closed my eyes before going into the machine and did not open them—not even for a second—until after I was out of it. Between the movement of rolling into the MRI and the change from light to darkness that I could sense even with eyes shut tight, I knew exactly when I was in the machine. But I did not realize that the tube was just inches away from my face (or so I’ve been told) and did not get the panicked “get me outta here” feeling. Phew.

The second most common question is, “Can you just sleep through it?” That would be nice, but sadly not an option. Even with the grating, incredibly loud buzz of the MRI, it normally would be easy for me to fall asleep—after all, I’m a mom who gets way too little sleep and the idea of being forced to lay down with my eyes closed for an hour is actually heavenly. The issue is that this test required action on my part. Every minute or so, the technician’s voice came over the speaker instructing me to “Breathe in. Breathe out. Stop breathing.” Over and over and over. So, if I wasn’t suffering from claustrophobia and I wasn’t not sleeping, what did I think about during the MRI?

First, I thought about whether there is actually anything on my person that could be affected by the MRI. I must have asked each doctor, nurse and tech whether it was OK to wear my contact lenses in the machine and even though they all said yes, I still pictured my eyes being pulled out of their sockets by the MRI magnets. Thankfully, that didn’t happen and after the machine was on for a few minutes, I finally believed I was safe.

Then I tried to take my mind off the fact that I was sandwiched into a large tube for an hour or so. I had just finished the third book of a romance trilogy by my favorite guilty pleasure author (not 50 Shades… really!), so I ran over the three different stories in my mind, recalling each of the three featured couples’ courtships. Mindless and distracting.

But not distracting enough, because as much I tried to focus on anything but the MRI, every 1-2 minutes I’d get my instructions again: “Breathe in. Breathe out. Stop breathing.”—at which point all I could do was count how long it was that I was not breathing and wonder if I could make it the required time until the tech said “OK, you can breathe.” The 16-second ones were fine but every few minutes he’d have me “stop breathing” for about 25 seconds and each time I thought I’d blow it (literally). My only motivation was the horrific thought that if I didn’t follow the directions properly, I’d have to start all over again. No way!

So I was relieved when the tech’s voice came over the speaker after about an hour and told me we were done… until he continued “with this part. Now we’re going to inject the dye and begin the next part of the test.” WHAT?!?!?


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