MRI Experience – A Patients Perspective
I decided to write this blog post to share my experience of my recent MRI and so help anyone else who may be worried about having one.
We all receive the official blurb from the hospital telling us the basics of what to expect and how to prepare but there is nothing like hearing it from someone who has actually gone through it. Not the doctors technical perspective but the patients subjective perspective.
When I arrived for my MRI I was pleasantly surprised to learn that instead of putting on one of the horrible hospital gowns you must wear for an x-ray, I could actually stay in my own clothes. Luckily I had seen on the letter that I should avoid anything with a zip so I made sure that I was in leggings and a plain jumper. The only thing I had to remove was my bra as the hook was metal.
I was taken into the scanning room and told to lie down on a hard bed with my head on a pillow. I was given some ear plugs to put in and some headphones to put on which would play the local radio station to me whilst I was in the machine. The bed that I was lying on then slid forward into the MRI machine itself.
The first thing that struck me was how claustrophobic it was. I had expected that but it was even smaller than I had imagined. I remember instantly feeling hot and clammy as I got used to my unnatural surroundings. My head was very close to the top and there seemed to be very little room to the sides as well. I remember lying there puzzling as to how someone larger than my small frame would fit in there without getting stuck. It was only later that I realised that the bed that I was lying on was adjustable to accommodate different sizes!
I was told that the machine would be very noisy but I didn’t know what kind of noise to expect. The first noise was like a very loud electric guitar being strummed over and over again in an aggressive way. The headphones were designed to distract me from the noise but they were so quiet it was a pretty poor effort. However, luckily for me, the choice of songs by my local radio station couldn’t have been more perfect. Quiet as they were, it was better than nothing. The first song that started to play was ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams. It made me smile, firstly as to how ironic it was as ‘happy’ was definitely not something I was feeling right then and secondly, how usually when that song came on I would start dancing and clapping my hands. I’m not too sure that would have gone down to well with the staff trying to do my MRI though! The fourth or fifth song they played was just uncanny. There I was lying in an MRI machine because I had a problem with my back that was affecting my whole leg and Ed Sheeran started singing the lyrics ‘when your legs don’t work like they used to before’ from his fantastic ‘Thinking Out Loud’ song. It’s lucky I have a good sense of humour, I can tell you! Then to top it all off the final song of my experience was Abba belting out Mamma Mia. It took every bit of my strength to keep my mouth shut and resist the urge to do a bit of karaoke whilst lying there!
Anyway, back to the noisy machine….. After getting used to the electric guitar type sound, I had a period of quiet rudely interrupted by what sounded like a pneumatic drill. This caused quite a few vibrations to be felt through my body which took me a little by surprise as I hadn’t expected to feel anything. Another period of quiet followed this and then the next noise made me get images of the storm troopers from star wars in my head as I heard the sound of a laser machine gun over and over again. My half hour experience consisted of various episodes of all three of these unsettling sounds and every time I thought we had finished, because it had been quiet for a few minutes, another one would start again.
I got through my half hour ordeal by closing my eyes and picturing all my chakra colours. Luckily I find it very easy to mentally relax myself and this helped me immensely in this situation.
(Even if you aren’t in tune with your holistic side you too can manage your nerves by very simply focusing on the colours – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple and white. Picturing these colours will help to give you a focus and hopefully relax you.)
Every so often the music in my headphones would stop and I would hear a muffled voice trying to tell me something. The voice was so quiet and the machine so noisy that I could not make out what they were saying so I just guessed that they were giving me an indication for how much longer it would take. I estimated that every time I heard a voice it meant I was a step closer to getting out of the machine. I should also say at this point that the bed would slide slightly backwards and forwards in the machine every now and then. At first I thought that it meant I was coming out but it very quickly went forward again every time as they adjusted my position.
Just before I went into the machine I was given a little panic button to hold which was like the squidgy bit doctors pump on blood pressure machines. You are meant to press it if you start to feel panicky or unwell. I was determined not to press it as knew that if we had to stop the process it may affect the results and I may have to go through it all over again. However, just before the end, both of my hands and fingers went all tingly and had pins and needles that got worse and worse by the second. I suddenly realised that I was still wearing all my rings and knew that metal could affect the machine. I suddenly had visions of my hands setting on fire and squeezed the alarm bell in a panic. Luckily for me, we were almost done and they told me to hang in there for two seconds whilst they finished up. I worriedly showed the radiologist my hands and told him they hadn’t told me to take my rings off which were metal. He quickly reassured me that rings were actually fine to wear in the machine, my hands weren’t about to explode and it was probably my back problem causing the problem as opposed to the machine.
So, to conclude, my experience in the MRI machine certainly wasn’t a pleasant one. It was claustrophobic, it was noisy and it was pretty scary. However, I felt able to manage it by detaching myself from what was going on and working on my tried and tested relaxation techniques. I think that if you know what to expect, you can mentally prepare yourself and develop a coping strategy.
If you are having an MRI, I hope that this personal account has helped you know what to expect and I wish you all the best with it.
(Disclaimer – the views expressed here are from my own personal experience. If you want a medical opinion, please seek expert medical advice.)