On Wednesday evening I received a phone call from the doctor. She called to ask if I would come in to get an MRI done on my shoulder the next day. Don’t worry – this was not prompted by a medical condition on my part. As far as I know, I’m healthy as a horse. The doctor is my aunt. I remember when she was putting herself through medical school. We once visited her in Chicago. There were points in time that she lived almost like a vagabond to realize her dream of being a doctor. Now, she is an accomplished radiologist. After working with several hospitals in the area, she got burned out on the politics and decided she needed her own place. So recently, she has built her own imaging clinic. She’s trying to get equipment calibrated and employees familiar with the machines, so she’s been asking friends and family to come in for various scans to that end. Here in Central Oklahoma, we have some pretty cutting-edge medicine, and the clinic is basically next door to the biggest hospital in the state. So, when she tooled up, she went with the most advanced stuff she could get her hands on. She needed to give the local medical community every possible excuse to send their business to her. Therefore, this MRI scanner was not the little 1.5T magnet that is most commonly used, but the beefy 3.0T.
Yesterday morning, I arrived at the clinic just before eleven. I knew that I would have to shed metal, so I preemptively shed my guns, knives, tape measure, scissors, house keys, can opener, pen, screwdrivers, and flashlight and locked all of it in the trunk along with my belt. Yes, I really do carry all of that. There was a crew doing some finishing construction to the facility that scurried about inside and around the building. I had to fill out some paperwork and retrieve my wallet from the car for I.D. and insurance. I confirmed that I don’t have any body piercings or a pacemaker, or a steel plate in my skull or anything like that. The nurse who would be doing the scan took me to a small changing room and asked me to remove my earrings, wedding band, watch, boots, and to change out of my jeans and into a pair of scrubs. She also asked me all the questions I had just answered on paper. I suppose they want to make extra double sure nobody takes anything stupid in with them. I should once again note that I went so far as to leave my guns and knives in the car.
They put my right shoulder in a restraint and strapped me to a bed. They put shims under me to support my body for maximum comfort and placed insulation pads between my legs and between my arms and my torso. They instructed me to not cross my feet because that could cause an electric shock. Yikes! They put a squeeze bulb in my left hand and explained that if I needed out for some reason, to squeeze that. They crammed some ear plugs into my ears that piped in the local easy rock radio station. Not my favorite music, but I figured it would help me to not lose track of the passage of time. These stations usually milk out each song to five or six minutes on average, including commercials. I figured I could count ten songs an hour to determine how long they had me in the tube. When they first injected me into the machine, my claustrophobia kicked in hard. At first, I felt very anxious and thought I couldn’t handle it. Then, I took a deep breath and noted that I could still see out the opening at my knees. I closed my eyes for a moment and then I was fine. I mused that I’m glad that I’m thin, as the experience would be more uncomfortable by orders of magnitude to someone girthier.
When the magnet kicked on, the weirdness began. The first thing to note was the sound. “Click… click… click… Chuggachuggachuggachugga ROWGROWGROWGROW!!!” The ear plugs that they had administered to me were quite effective, but the noise was all around me and all through me. The clicks and growls and everything were odd for sure. But, when Kenny Loggins came over the radio singing Danger Zone, there was some kind of sympathetic harmonic in the C or D range that howled along with the music. It was ghostly and bizarre and came back periodically when the radio songs achieved certain note ranges. I didn’t notice this when the clicking and chugging wasn’t going on.
They were apparently doing different types of scans, as the mechanical sounds would change from one session to another. When Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music” came on, I was noticing some odd things. Although I was doing my best to remain still, muscle fibers all over my body would twitch involuntarily and seemingly at random. My arms and legs felt tingly, as though they were going to sleep, although they weren’t. My fingers felt fat. If felt like they were touching where they weren’t and like they weren’t where they actually were touching. As I stared at the top of the tube, sometimes I couldn’t focus on it. Other times, I could, but I would see my cornea in addition to the plastic ceiling only inches from my face. I was reminded of dreams I’ve had in which I was falling off of something and woke up, thinking I was falling out of bed, even when I wasn’t. Several times, the magnet gave me the same sensation. Indeed, the sensory deprivation through sensory overload induced a nearly dreamlike state.
They warned me that I may feel hot. It makes sense that bombarding the body with that much electromagnetic radiation would turn you into a human heating filament. We all put up electrical resistance, after all, to varying degrees. I only felt mild warmth once in my right forearm for a few minutes in the entire experience. But, I personally actually put up less electrical resistance than the average person, as I’ve mentioned here before. Periodically, the nurse would pipe into my headphones to ask if I was doing alright. I’m not sure where she was. She was either in the room, out of the line of sight of the tube, or outside the room, looking in through a window. Either way, she could hear me when I answered.
When Sheryl Crow’s “All I Wanna Do” came on for the second time, I knew that I’d been in there for a while. By now, my entire body was tingly. Again, the nurse came over the ear plugs to check my status and ask me to remain still. She said they wanted to do one more scan and asked if I could make it for another five minutes or so. I confirmed that I could and omitted the fact that it felt like I was in a boat on choppy waters. Then I asked if she could retrieve my camera from the changing room and shoot a picture of me in the beast. She chided that she would do that ‘for a small fee.’ There was another few minutes of the bizarre sounds which I had grown accustomed to by this point, and then silence beyond the radio station. I listened to car dealership commercials and DJ banter for a few minutes and finally felt the bed lurch.
When I was out, they started unstrapping me and helped me to my feet. I’d been in for about an hour, and that’s probably the most still I’ve remained in my entire life. When my left hand was free, I pulled out the ear plugs which had long since worn out their welcome. I sat up and stretched. I hopped to my feet and cracked my back. The nurse asked if I was okay.
“Yeah,” I confirmed, “Just kind of waking up.”
“Did you get a nap in there?” She asked.
“No,” I thought about the wording, “Just being still for that long.”
I went back to the changing room and put on my jeans and personal effects. When I made it back to the waiting room, the front desk lady asked if I was okay.
“Yes, I’m just feeling a little… …disoriented,” I explained.
I sat down for a moment, trying to clear my head. I felt groggy from the sensory deprivation and a little dizzy from the magnet. After what couldn’t have been even a full minute, the nurse popped into the waiting room and explained that disorientation was not normal. Dizziness was, but that should clear up quickly. I assured her that I was rapidly feeling better. So, that was odd. To all of you who expressed concern on Twitter or FaceBook, I didn’t mean to alarm you, and I am fine. Here’s the pic of me in the machine:
And, here’s a delightful cover of “All I Wanna Do” for your entertainment: