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Jay Lake
Date: 2009-06-29 04:55
Subject: [cancer] White tube blues
Security: Public
Tags:calendula, cancer, funny, health, science
Ever had an MRI? Me neither, until last Thursday. Let me tell you...

As previously discussed, the MRI is part of the ongoing diagnostic process of the new mass in my liver which is probably a metastasis of last year's colon cancer. This hasn't been confirmed yet, but there are no good (or even bad) alternate theories about it. We're trying to nail down the diagnosis before pulling the trigger on surgery and chemo. Having previously subjected my internal organs to a CT scan and a PET scan, my medical team determined that it was time for me to go for the trifecta and complete the set with an MRI scan.

I've for years been generally aware of what an MRI is and does, but I'd never had occasion to experience one for myself. My first clue was the fact that I was asked at least five times by four people if I was claustrophobic. My answer was, "Not clinically so, no." My answer should have been, "Not yet."

Last Thursday morning at oh:God:30, calendula_witch and I toddled over to OHSU to sign in for my MRI. tillyjane met us there. I was checked in via the usual manner, though the disclosure form was kind of bizarre. A lot of really weird questions, all aimed at answering this life-affirming query:
"Do you have metal anywhere in or on your body that will be ripped out of your still-warm flesh by our giant magnet like a zombie going for your brains, you goofy sack of shit?"

To which I dutifully replied, "Um, no." I didn't mention the CIA mind control implant, either.

I was then permitted the delight of another IV, which led to a delightful conversation about the virtues of teflon needles versus steel needles. (I am the kind of patient who asks a lot of questions.) After that I was escorted into the Giant Magnet Room.

An MRI a biiiig white tube, about three inches wider in interior diameter than the width of my hips, as it happens. I was strapped down to a motorized pallet, much like the ones used for CT and PET scanning. Except this time, I was really strapped down. Bracket device against my back and against my abdomen. Sensor lead across my chest. Leg straps. Waist straps. Arm straps. Chest straps. Headphones. Panic button in my left hand.

This is not so bad, until you consider the fact that I am a born fidgeter. Anyone who's been around me for more than five minutes knows I'm constitutionally incapable of sitting still. Ok, I can suck up it. Cancer isn't going to win just because I can't hold onto my shit for a little while.

Then the MRI tech ran me into the little tube.

I felt like one of those 1950's movie cutaway shots where the train speeds into the tunnel, then the waves explode in white spume, to stand in for the sex scene. I mean, talk about loading the torpedo tubes. The curve of the top of the tube was two or three inches above my nose. My head was strapped in, so if I rolled my eyes way back, I could see a fingernail sliver of room light and open space somewhere behind me. If I rolled my eyes forward, I saw more tube. All the while, a little voice in my ears kept telling me not to breathe, while a small army of dwarves played the anvil chorus rescored for magnets and medical equipment.

For forty-five freaking minutes.

Whenever it got bad inside the tube, or I started seeing red flashes behind my eyes, I would resume the silent mantra, "Fuck cancer, fuck cancer, fuck cancer."

If I were into being a bound sub, I might have paid good money for this experience. (Actually, I did pay good money for this experience, or at least my insurance company did.) As an ordinarily ambulatory human being of strong mind, fidgety body and toppish tendencies, this did not sit so well.

Every now and then the table would move a few inches. I would pray for daylight. The hammering would begin anew. I would be told when to breathe, when not to breathe, admonished to hold still. What, I have a choice? Closing my eyes most of the time did help a little, and for a while, I actually managed to meditate.

Finally, when I emerged exhausted and sated from being thrust deep inside the tube, I knew how a lone sperm feels after swimming upstream to spawn and failing.

When I got out, I asked the tech if they had to drug some people to get them inside the machine. She laughed ruefully and said there were folks who simply couldn't get in the MRI, even under sedation.

No results yet, but as calendula_witch will attest, I wasn't right for most of the day. As annoying as the PET scan was in some ways [ LiveJournal ], the MRI was a lot more overwhelming. Big science, annoying your hindbrain up close and personal. Necessary, not evil, but overwhelming.

Originally published at jlake.com.

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User: scarlettina
Date: 2009-06-29 13:29 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I've had...1 MRI, and then some test that required I drink a nasty, nasty metallic substance before I was loaded into the machine, each time to figure out either soft tissue damage/weirdness (it turns out that my left kidney is Not Normal; rather than being kidney shaped, it is fortune-cookie shaped) or broken stuff.

Being inside those tubes is not fun. I'm not claustrophobic, but those things produced whatever latent claustrophobia I had. The most recent incident, for examining my rotator cuff, had me strapped down and given a lavendar bag to put over my eyes. They were closed the whole time. I listened to music and focused on my breathing. It was the only way to get through it for me.

So, yeah, I totally sympathize. ::hugs::
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Amy Sisson
User: amysisson
Date: 2009-06-29 14:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I take it an open MRI wasn't an option? They practically advertise open and/or stand-up MRIs on a billboard every 100 yards in Houston.
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User: manmela
Date: 2009-06-29 13:33 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Heck, just reading that makes me feeling claustrophobic
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User: martyn44
Date: 2009-06-29 14:02 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Never had an MRI - you've been to hell for me and returned - but when I had my transverse mielitis I was given a spinal tap (no, not St Hubbins) strapped to an X-ray table and turned over, under, sideways and down until I was wheeled back to the ward at about 2 am thinking that death was the soft option.

If anyone asks, YES!!!! I am claustrophobic.

Best wishes.
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User: mcjulie
Date: 2009-06-29 14:04 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Wow, much sympathy, and thank you for that excellently vivid and detailed account of what it's like to have an MRI.

I now know that if I ever require one, I should ask up front to be sedated.

(Start humming Ramones now... bah-bah-bah-bah, buh-bah-bah-bah-bah)
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User: ozarque
Date: 2009-06-29 14:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Oh, lord .... I am so very sorry to hear about this. More cancer and surgery and chemo... you don't need any of that.

I didn't know what an MRI was like before I read your post. Now that I know, I know they couldn't get me to do one even with a gun at my head. It's not that I'm claustrophobic; I'm not. [If you're claustrophobic, you don't live in an underground house.] But any kind of restraint mechanism sends me into total freakout panic. I couldn't do it for forty-five seconds, much less forty-five minutes; it's totally awesome that you were able to handle it. Go, you.

Sending positive thoughts and heartfelt prayers your way...
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User: nolly
Date: 2009-06-29 18:09 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I have also had a series of MRIs (brain and spine, with and without contrast -- all in one appointment, but four times in the machine), and significantly less restraint was involved. It may depend on what area they want to image -- that area needs to be motionless -- or it may just depend on the facility/technician.

I can't recall if I had it for all four, or only for the brain imaging, but one of the cradles/braces used had an angled mirror which let me see the room while in the tube. With the earplugs in, the noise of the machine was very much like the effects from a 50s scfi movie, and I was able to zone out to it.
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Richard Parks
User: ogre_san
Date: 2009-06-29 14:23 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I think LJ ate my first post. Anyways, you're a braver man than I am. No way I'd get into one of those things unless I was unconscious.
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Danny Adams
User: madwriter
Date: 2009-06-29 14:31 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
>>"Fuck cancer, fuck cancer, fuck cancer."<<

I still think you have the perfect attitude needed to beat this.
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User: yourbob
Date: 2009-06-29 14:33 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I like your mantra.
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User: fledgist
Date: 2009-06-29 14:52 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Oof! That's all I can say. I've been in the machine (an open one) and survived.

I also have met the widow of the man who came up with the idea for the MRI.
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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2009-06-29 15:05 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Wow. I think you own the definition of "cool"...
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Willis Couvillier
User: will_couvillier
Date: 2009-06-29 15:12 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I've had to had an MRI once, about 20 year back now. Being a big fellow, it was a snug fit - and an experience that demonstrated exactly how clastrophobic I am. They knocked me out with morphine for the test, and I was a happy, pain-free lad for a couple days afterward. It just doesn't bug you when you are totally somewhere else in snoozeland.
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Kenneth Mark Hoover
User: kmarkhoover
Date: 2009-06-29 15:26 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I had an MRI for my kidney once, a long time ago, but I didn't have to spend that much time in there. :(
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User: torreybird
Date: 2009-06-29 15:41 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
For my last hospital adventure, podforge made a fidget kit - things for my fingertips to play with. As a secret weapon, he also brought ideas I hadn't thought of a la "nerd sniping", that he knew would be distracting enough for me to sit there thinking about. It's almost as good as physical fidgets, in many ways.

Similar problems involve working out how one would construct ideas three dimensionally: i.e., we all can use "story arc" to diagram a plot, but how would you represent a plot in three dimensions? with what media? Could it be knit, woven, sewn, sculpted, welded, molded, batiked?
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The NewroticGirl
User: newroticgirl
Date: 2009-06-29 16:08 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Wow. Thanks (as always) for sharing the experience with no holds barred.
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