Friday, 11 July 2014

#5 The MRI...What they don't tell you.

When I was in the early stages of my disease diagnosis was more difficult, as it was based on neurological signs rather than an MRI.

MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging. It creates a clear picture of internal body structures and has been in use since the 1980s.

In the mid 1990s there were still a limited number of scanners available and the waiting list for non-emergency testing was lengthy. I remember the doctor telling me I might have to wait months, and I was living in the city; imagine what the situation was for patients in out lying areas.

I didn’t want to wait. I felt I had already lived with the uncertainty for a number of years…so I took myself off to Buffalo. There were a larger number of MRI machines in the United States, and their scanners were available in private clinics, not just the hospitals.

It cost me, but as I had some U.S. dollars saved in a vacation fund, I considered it money well spent. That test was so easy. It was over and done with no ill effects and my daughter and I spent the rest of the day shopping. Not so with the Canadian machines.

My sister has recently had a series of MRIs and she couldn’t understand why I found the procedure so stressful, and I know it’s because of the difference in the scanners.

In Buffalo the machine was open; you could see the room, see the technician. Music played in the background and the tech constantly talked to me, letting me know what was happening.

When you go to have your test, you will be asked to complete a screening form, and if you’re going to have an enhanced test by being injected with a contrast agent, a consent form.

You cannot wear anything with metal, so no jewelry, no snaps and no zippers. The screening form lists any number of previous medical procedures or lifestyle situations that might have left metal in the body, just in case you forgot that navel piercing or pin and plate from an old injury.

They have you lie down on a padded table, and will glide it into the scanning machine, which is like a large tube. They give you ear plugs because there can be some loud bangs, and they tell you to relax and lie still.

Then, just before they shove you in, they ask if you’re claustrophobic. Unless you’ve been confined in a closed space, you’ll probably say no, like most people. I said no, and apparently I lied. I should have been warned when they put a rubber thing in my hand and said squeeze if I found myself in trouble.

Okay, honest moment here, the test is tough. If you’re having one of the brain, as all MS patients do, they have to stabilize your head so you don’t move. Once you are in position they will put pads at the side of your head and a strap across your forehead.

Here’s my word of warning about positioning. In one of my tests the technician asked me to move my shoulders a bit to the right. I complied, but didn’t reposition my head and once in the machine I realized my neck was at an uncomfortable angle and the pad was digging into the back of my head.

When you can’t move to relieve the pain it gets worse and worse, mind over matter I know, but that was the longest 20 minutes I ever spent. I was so close to squeezing that ball so I could get out. Then I had to have the contrast injected and go back in for another 15 minutes. If I had adjusted my position we would have had to start over, as the positioning before and after contrast must be the same.

So, make sure you’re comfortable before you start. And if you make a last minute adjustment, take the time to be sure you’re comfortable, don’t let them rush you.

The scanners I’ve had for my last 6 MRI’s have been closed and tight, so the question about closed in spaces is legit. Because I usually have a book I’m in the process of writing, I use that time for reviewing plots, or planning my next scene. It kills the time. If that doesn’t work I may go over my to-do list, or think about what I need at the store. Whatever gets you through it.

The machine has a sort of rhythm with its bangs and swishes, and you need to be careful you don’t somehow match your breathing to the machine’s noise. I would sometimes feel my breathing quicken, forerunner to hyperventilating, and need to slow it down.

When I feel that edge of panic, I breathe in through my nose, and out through my mouth. I say it in my mind, concentrate on nothing but breathing, in and out, slow and steady. It’s the only thing that helps me get through the test.

Be reassured, the brain MRI is the worst. As you move down the body, for scans of your spine, you’re more out of the machine, and you’re not strapped down. So easy peasy. Yeah, right.

I follow a blog on Ask About…about MS. I’ve included the link here for more information on MRI scans.

Hope this has been helpful. What is that saying about being fore warned and fore armed?

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