What to expect when having an MRI and how to avoid freaking out

If you’re a regular around these parts you will know that I am a card carrying member of the MS club (Multiple Sclerosis), I call it a club but to be honest its not all that popular and people kinda resist joining. 

Simply put, I have MS… but im assuming you have picked up on that by now.

You will also know that so far I have had a pretty cruzy run with it. (touch wood, cross fingers, cross toes, wish upon all the stars)

In fact most days I don’t even think about it, I take a tablet at 8pm each night and go on about my days relatively unaffected. Truthfully some days I start to question if I even have it, that’s why when people ask me how I am going I honestly shrug it off, I don’t feel like I have a right to complain or get upset because of the easy run I have. So many other fellow MS club members have it much worse than I do, I feel its almost insulting if I were to sit here and feel sorry for myself.

It may not always be this cruzy but so far so good… I am more than aware of the possibilities but I have decided that these symptoms/ relapses sound a little bit shit so im not having any. Simple.

That’s the way the world works right?

Thought so.

The biggest reminder of my illness is when I have to go to my neurologist appointments and/or have tests done. Again during these appointments I feel like a giant MS faker, they ask me if I have any problems, ask me how I am going physically/ mentally/ emotionally and my answer is always the same, because I am always the same. “Im fine thanks, lets get this over with.”

My MS nurse fairly much thinks im in denial, I guess she sees a varied range of reactions and here I am giving away nada, its not that I don’t have the same worries everyone else does, I just don’t see the point of banging on about it. Not yet anyway.

You know that look that people give you when they expect you to cry or be upset? She gives me that, and I give her my resting bitch face. Ok maybe not bitch face because she’s actually quite lovely and extremely helpful but I don’t give the emotions that are clearly expected.

She calls me her swimming duck, all calm and majestic above the water but underneath the surface my feet are probably working overtime to stay afloat.

Pfft no they’re not im clearly an extremely calm person.

Moving on…

Currently my least favourite part of these MS shenanigans would be having annual MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) Scans, Im getting used to them now which is a good thing because unless they can come up with a better system, im stuck with them for life.

Each time I have my spine and skull scanned, a process which takes roughly 1- 1.5 hours.

That’s 1-1.5 hours crammed into a tiny space and the worst part? You’re not allowed to move. You need to be completely still in order to get clear images.

I had a cold once and kept coughing and sneezing and they had to keep retaking the images, took double the time we had and the staff were getting quite pissed at me….not fun for anyone involved.

The other brilliant part of the MRI process is having to wear the antenna, not everyone needs this but lucky for me it’s put on every time. It’s basically a cage you wear on the area being scanned, which in my case is my brain. The antenna sits over your head about 1-2cm away from your effing face. It honestly feels like you are Hannibal Lector wearing that face mask so you don’t bite people.

I highly recommend closing your eyes before it goes on and keeping them shut the whole time, I opened them once…. Never again.

I’m not claustrophobic thank god, I imagine it would be a rough 90 minutes for those poor people. Regardless I wouldn’t describe the experience as an overly pleasant one, I look at it like I do a pap smear. Unpleasant but necessary.

I had to have mine for 2016 last Monday night, I arrived early as I quite enjoy people watching and like reading the 2 year old Take 5 magazines in the waiting room.

As I sat and read I saw another girl go in before me who was not at all happy with what was about to happen. Firstly she needed contrast (a dye injected into your veins) I think the whole needle/injection was the main concern for her there. Then she realised that she couldn’t take her mum into the scan with her…. Let’s just say she was pissed.

Poor love, she was clearly a first timer, I tried to give her a reassuring nod from a seasoned expert such as myself but she wasn’t having a bar of it. I get it, it’s scary your first time, it’s like nothing you have ever done before and it’s totally normal to be a little on edge.

In case there are others out there having to pop their MRI cherry I thought I would share with you my words of wisdom to help you get through it relatively easily and not feel like you are trapped in a loud, vibrating, moving coffin.

  • Firstly you lay down on a bench that looks similar to a massage table, don’t get excited, its not. You will then be given cushions, blankets, head phones and put into the correct position for the area of your body being scanned. The table then slides into the centre hole of machine. Once you are in the MRI the table doesn’t really move that much, you may be slide back and forth a bit but you should be given warning before this happens. There are also certain scans that require the table to vibrate, again you should be told before this happens. Both ends are open and it is lit the entire time. Im not going to lie, the centre hole where the table fits is small, how small of course depends on your size. You are also in a room by yourself, the radiologist performing the scan will be in a separate room but visible to you behind some glass. They can also communicate with you and vice versa via the headphones and microphone. 
  • Ignorance is Bliss. I lay down and close my eyes straight away so I can’t see whats happening. The staff then put the antenna on, put me into position and away we go. Some people even bring an eye mask to wear so they don’t accidently open their eyes mid scan.  I also lay with my hands placed on my stomach instead of by my sides and keep them there. If they are by my side I can feel the tube around me and start to get a sense of just how restricted I am. If they are placed on your lap then you are really none the wiser and it’s a lot easier to get through.
  • Breathe. Once you’re in take 3 deep breaths inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth, try to get into a place of Zen. Meditation is a bit tricky as it’s pretty noisy in there but after a while you adjust. Remember to breath and know that you are safe.
  • Use this time to solve the world’s dilemmas. You have a lot of downtime during the scan, use it to think things over.
    I always prep and have an issue to solve or decide upon. It’s rare that you get this much consecutive time to yourself alone with just your thoughts so use it to your advantage. This time I started thinking of my birthday wish list, it’s not for a few months but hey, I like presents.
  • The MRI machine is loud and clunky, it beeps, bangs and if you’re really lucky you will need the pictures that require the table to shake and vibrate (I actually don’t mind these ones, it breaks it up a bit). These noises are the images being taken, if you must move or re-adjust wait until there is a break in noise. Each image can take from between 1-5 minutes to capture. I make a game of the noises by trying to associate them with a word, each scan has a different sound so I try to come up with what word it sounds similar to. Like c#nt for example…
  • The MRI is basically a giant magnet so you can’t wear anything with metal during the scan. Unless you like those backless hospital gowns I suggest choosing your clothing accordingly. I wear a sports bra with no underwire or hooks (this is the one I wear from Bella Bodies) and comfy slouchy clothes that have no buttons, zips or hooks that will need to be removed. It also means after the scan is done you can get the fuck outta there without having to go get changed. But if you like the hospital gown look and would like the complete MRI experience then by all means, wear nothing but metal.


Here’s what I wore, I removed my giant snow boots obviously. 13335919_510576832481188_7301236590324255035_n

  • Look for the silver lining- I try to look for a positive in any experience. Aside from the obvious of knowing what my brain is doing and if I have any new active lesions; I will also know if I have anything else that I am not supposed to. Things that could go unnoticed and undetected for years and years. At least this way, I would know and can get on with things. Ok I know to some that sounds like an average silver lining but I disagree, it’s kind of comforting.
  • Tell the staff if you are nervous. Chances are they will be able to see it all over your face but still, tell them. You will have filled out a questionnaire before your scan and it will have asked if you are nervous etc. Be honest, tell them if you are feeling uneasy. There are things the can do to make it more comfortable for you. Like play music, blankets, talk to you (although if they are doing your skull you can’t really talk back as you’re not allowed to move – Dr House lied to us all). Plus you have a panic buzzer the entire time so if you do start to freak out just push it and you are out in no time.
  • Remind yourself that it is what it is, it’s just a scan. You can’t really feel anything, I feel a slight warming on my back but it’s not at all painful or even close to being uncomfortable. Remember that this machine is helping you, it’s telling you things no-one else can and potentially saving your life. I should probably think about giving mine a hug next time. It may be unpleasant but the alternative is so much worse. Just close your eyes, remember your breathing techniques, dream of open wide spaces and you’ll be just fine.

 

In case you are wondering what the MRI machine looks like here is a picture courtesy of the American Imaging Centre. I wanted to take my own photo but it was 8.30pm by the time I was finished and the poor lady looked like she wanted to be home hours ago so I just googled. If you look closely you can see that delightful antenna I was talking about. For the type of scans I have I lay on my back and my head goes in first.

MRIright

 What about you have you ever had an MRI? Do you have any tips for getting through it to share with us?

 

As always these thoughts and recollections are just my own, each case of MS is different and is not comparable to another. We are each living our own story and this happens to be mine. I am also not a doctor or anyway affiliated with the medical profession, these are just my observations.

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