Getting an MRI (brain and cervical spine).

If you read no further, take this to heart: MRIs are nothing to worry about, even if you are a panicky person. Feel free to jump to the MRI tips below (in blue) if you are interested in my feedback. Now, to the details of my visit:

I’ve had an MRI before ~ a few years ago for my neck before I was sick. It never occurred to me at the time to research what the scan was like or prepare in any way. They asked me if I was claustrophobic and I said no, but, when they put me in that tube, I opened my eyes, saw how close it was and freaked out. I didn’t freak out outwardly, I just started to get that hammering heart and flush of fear and thought, Oh, maybe I am claustrophobic. It was so close to my face that my breath ricocheted back at me and made it feel like I was in a coffin, buried alive. The test didn’t take long and I talked myself down the same way I do when I get on a plane: Are you going to get off the plane now that they’ve closed the doors? No? Well, then there is absolutely no point in being scared. It’s out of your hands. That’s exactly what I did: Are you going to NOT have the MRI? No? Then deal with the closeness of the tube.

This time around, however, I’ve been sick for a year and I’m a much more anxious person than I used to be, so I thought it would be a more horrible experience. It turns out the machines at the hospital versus the clinic I went to the first time are roomy. And I’d learned my lesson and brought an eye mask.

So, my husband drove me to the hospital and, for the first time in my life, I had to be pushed in a wheelchair to the radiology clinic, which was 100 miles from the parking garage. “Park your pride at home”, says Dr. Bested, so I did. Wheelchairs are good for me. Our MRI tech, Kevin, was amazing. All techs are not created equal. He answered my questions about the contrast (which I opted not to get because, as my husband said, if it can go wrong, it will go wrong with me), he offered me the old scanner with music or the new scanner without music, but with the tube much further from your face (I chose the latter after looking at it ~ it was bright and spacious). Kevin assured me that people make the techs stop the scan all the time, so not to be embarrassed if that happened. He put a blanket over my feet, a towel under my neck, offered to loosen my headphones (which I SHOULD have taken him up on ~ do whatever you can to be comfortable). He talked to me in between every scan and allowed me to move and adjust. The scan itself was no problem. The worst part was how hot it got under my back and, because I have fever episodes as part of my illness, it started to freak me out that I was having a reaction or a meltdown or a fever or whatever. Kevin said, “Pretend it is a heating pad on a massage table and you are getting a wonderful massage.” Perfect. But turn that heating pad down, for god’s sake!

Turns out the new fancy machine was having some problems, giving “error” messages (my husband said to Kevin, I told you: if it can go wrong, it will with her! I said to Kevin, That magnet just couldn’t handle my big brain ~ the activity threw it off its game :-)), so I had to be moved to the old machine after all. I had to wait another hour in between scans and Kevin gave me a juice and a blanket. Angel! The second round was rough. Kevin was gone and the new tech didn’t communicate clearly at all. I like to know when there is a pause between the scans and how long the next one is going to be and be warned when a particularly loud part is coming. None of those things happened with the new tech. It also turns out cervical spine scans are worse than brain scans. They put you in a different head cradle which isn’t wide enough for the thick, noise-cancelling headphones (or my head isn’t big enough to clear the top of it), so I was given flimsy airplane-ish headphones instead. These didn’t let me hear the music, didn’t block out the sirens and hammering and, to make matters worse, one of my ear plugs was falling out. The noise was BY FAR the worst aspect of this scan. It was like the day I tried to go to the cinema and had to leave because the sound system caused my brain to melt and I burst into tears. So I meditated on blocking my ear canals and taking myself out of the situation. I actually fell asleep, believe it or not. Just for a moment or two. Enough to jerk myself awake and probably mess up the picture quality a little.

4.5 hours later, I was able to leave and went home to bed. I’m happy it’s done because I am not doing well the last few days. I’m in a whole lot of pain. If I could get rid of my headache and neck/back pain, I would be a different person. My eyes are sunken from not sleeping and my mouth is pinched from grimacing. I look so much older. I look like an older, tortured version of myself.

Once again, family, I am so sorry to those of you that I am not emailing back because I’m writing the blog instead, but this keeps everyone up to date and I can only manage one computer task a day. The phone is a mountain I try to avoid climbing for the most part, so I apologise to those of you I haven’t called back, also. Tomorrow, I’m back to the hospital for my sleep study results. Joy.

So, here are my tips/warnings to make an MRI easy:

1. Wear clothes with no metal! Otherwise you have to take off everything and wear a hospital gown and freeze for the majority of the time.

2. If you are cold/heat sensitive, dress appropriately. It is cold in the hospital, but can get hot in the tube.

3. Don’t be hungry or thirsty going in to the appointment because my 2 hour visit turned into 4.5 hours.

4. Suck on a lozenge before you go in to the MRI so you don’t have any sort of tickle in your throat that will cause you to cough or move.

5. Make sure the ear plugs are in properly. One of mine was falling out when they started my cervical spine scan and I think I have hearing damage on that side, swear to god.

6. Make sure the headphones are on your ears properly for the same reason as the ear plugs. Nevermind the music, that’s not the concern~ they are very important for protection from the noise.

7. If you have a painful back/neck or fibromyalgia, make sure the blankets underneath you don’t have ridges and bumps. You have to lie still on those for a long time and they can start to feel like torture. Also, make sure your neck, back and head are in the best position possible to not cause pain and seizing up before the scan starts. Some techs don’t give you a chance to adjust in between pictures.

8. Put the eye mask on before they put the coil helmet thing over your face. Put the eye mask on and, after that, DO NOT move your head or open your eyes. This isn’t like peaking through your fingers at a scary movie where you’re not looking but you actually are ~ do not look, it’s as simple as that. You do not want to know how close the face mask is to your face, it will only cause anxiety and claustrophobia. Close your eyes: You are meditating in some nice place with your eye shade on, that’s all you know. If you open your eyes, it breaks the spell and, if you adjust your head or arch your neck, your nose will touch the thing over your face and you’ll realise how close it is and it will break the spell!

9. Meditate in your head, drown out the noise. I found that if I pretended that the noise was the machine curing my disease, I started to love the MRI. I pretended I was in the futuristic pod from Aliens/Hunger Games/Prometheus ~ one of those movies ~ and the robotic arms were fixing me, which made me be happy for the noise. Fix me, tube!

10. Don’t fall asleep if you’re a twitcher or a gasper-of-breath because it causes you to move and might affect the pictures.

11. If the tube under you gets very hot (and it does ~ it can make you freak out a little), pretend it is a warm pad on a massage table and you are relaxed and safe.

12. Know that if you panic and have to make them stop, it is okay ~ it happens ALL THE TIME.

13. If you are cold, ask for a blanket.

14. If you are in pain and can take a pain killer to make lying on a hard surface easier, do it. If you are able to take a Xanax or something, do it.

15. If you are noise-sensitive, don’t get an MRI if you have the choice.

16. Remind yourself that people have MRIs done constantly. No big deal.

I am grateful for my brain. I am actually hoping that they find something wrong in the brain MRI ~ I would be happy to have any other diagnosis but the one I have ~ but, if they don’t (and they won’t), I am grateful for my healthy, over-active, analytic, curious, obsessive, controlling, detail-oriented, micro-managing brain. Even if all your neurotransmitters are fucked up and you NEVER STOP HURTING, I still love you, Brain. Thank you for keeping me alive.


5 thoughts on “Getting an MRI (brain and cervical spine).

  1. Nicole says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I remember having my MRI and they didn’t really talk to me at all, but luckily I don’t remember pain being as big an issue then as it is now. I hope you’re recovering well from the experience xx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Curiosity says:

    I had my first MRI in a tube with some fancy mirrors in front of my face so that it looked like I was looking out of the tube. Not so bad. The second one, I assumed it would be similar and opened my eyes. Reaction much like yours. 🙂 No, I’m not claustrophobic at all. In fact, I’m totally fine with enclosed HOLY CRAP THAT THING IS RIGHT IN FRONT OF MY FACE! I second all your tips.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. akaemilo says:

    EXACTLY, Curiosity! Thanks for the support, ladies!


  4. […] ones: the ER nurse who took care of me the first time I went into anaphylactic shock in 2001 and Kevin, the patient, nonjudgmental MRI tech last year, who looked about 17. This is a research facility […]


  5. […] a small suite and it’s always been just me and the tech every time I’ve been there. Last time I had an MRI at the big UW Medical Center, there were dozens of people teeming around and I had to wait for over two hours because of a […]


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