Thursday, April 11, 2013

What it's like having an MRI.

I don't know why I had built this up as something to worry about. It was just a scan, I don't get the results for a few weeks so it seems silly now to have been quite so apprehensive.

Lots of people have asked what it's like, and I remember thinking the first one wasn't at all how I expected, so I thought it might be worth explaining how I find it.

The first time, I was already in hospital so I didn't really have to think about it - I was just wheeled down on my hospital bed, in my pyjamas. Luckily my pyjamas don't have any metal in them so I just had to wrestle with my toe ring (no mean feat after wearing it solid for 10 years, apparently my toe has grown in circumference), and the preparation was done.

This time, I had to plan my outfit as I didn't want to have to get changed into a hospital gown. No metal is actually quite difficult. No bra underwiring, no studs in jeans, no poppers, no shoes with eye holes. And obviously no jewelry. I wore leggings and a dress and some kind of sporty underwear (don't ask). It was worth thinking about as it meant I could just be in and out, no delays. They have lockers I think for you to leave things in, but I took my mum who held on to my toe ring for me. Which was beyond the call of duty really.

The staff, as always, were very friendly and approachable. They were quite busy yesterday but saw me quickly, and still made the effort to make me feel at ease. They really do make things so much easier.

Paperwork in the form of explaining whether I had metal implanted in me through a welding incident or a heart operation (neither, thankfully) gave me the all clear the first time, and in I went. I had a cannula in my arm already through which they injected some contrast half way through in order to see things better. This time, things were bit more complicated given the metal clips in my head and the fact I'm pregnant, but they just needed to know details in advance.

The machine is just a big plastic thing with a hole in the middle - like a massive polo mint - and a bed poking out of it. My scans have all been at the neuroscience department so maybe they only do head scans there. You put your head in a comfy bit at the end of the bed (nearest the machine) and they give you some ear plugs. They pack sponge type things against your ears too - I think this is to minimise movement as it is quite a snug fit after that.

Finally they put a kind of mask over your face. I wasn't expecting this and it was a bit of a shock the first time. I remember thinking it was a bit like the mask Hannibal Lecter wears in Silence of the lambs, but after yesterday's scan I realised that my imagination had run a bit wild in the time gap. It's just a frame really, and it's about an inch away from your face. A bit claustrophobic, but if you close your eyes then you can pretend it isn't there.

The you get an alarm button in your hand and the bed is pushed into the hole. Then the fun starts. Everyone leaves to go into a room with a glass screen but they can still talk to you through an intercom. You have to try not to move and inevitable get an itchy nose immediately. Then you need to swallow, and your eyes won't stay comfortably closed - they flicker and you twitch. It's hard to relax and in the middle you find your shoulders are tense but you can't relax them as that might make you move...

It's a series of tests of varying lengths. Starting with ten seconds, and my longest one was 4 and a half minutes. The noises vary, some are like a washing machine whirring - this was what I was kind of expecting - but most of them are different to that. I was surprised by the electronic musical nature of the noise. It was like a cross between a rhythmic bass line to an eighties song and an annoying person repeatedly pressing the same key on an electronic keyboard - at top volume. There is clicking in there too, but it's very regular sounding, not random noises, so I find myself kind of counting along with it. Counting makes it go faster.

I didn't have contrast this time due to being pregnant, which made the scan much shorter. It made me feel a bit strange the first time but not as bad as the contrast for the CT scan. I wonder if they're the same and that was just in my head. Ha, in my head. Anyway, it isn't particularly pleasant but it isn't that bad and the benefits are obviously huge.

And that's it. Then they come and pull you out, remove earplugs and off you go. I really am not sure what I was making such a fuss about. Next stop - results.

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