Saturday, October 1, 2011

Prometheus Unbound: Part II: MRI? No, MRU.

So, why would anyone be afraid to get an MRI? You go into a machine get some pictures taken and then you go home. No big whoop. Unless, you know, you don't like to be confined to tight spaces and/or you are familiar with the story of the boy who was killed in an MRI machine when, following his successful battle with a brain cancer, someone left an oxygen tank in the room which was violently sucked into the cavity of the machine when the magnet was activated.

I may have focused on that last part more than necessary given the odds but the overall message I was working with was: MRI's are scary and dangerous. And sometimes they take pictures of your cancer.

Speaking of cancer, what were the odds of me having liver cancer? Well, the average person has about a .6% chance of developing liver cancer in their lifetime. With INRTAT my chances are about 20x that. So, the odds of me not having liver cancer were in my favor. But, if you're the average person, I like your odds better. And given the low risk of ending up with INRTAT to begin with, once you've been told you've beaten the odds of NOT having it, you start to understand that the numbers don't always matter that much. Once you've drawn the short straw you never look at straws the same way again.

It's hard for me to convey how deeply committed I was to my fear and anxiety during these weeks. It was hard to get out of bed. I lost weight because I couldn't eat. I'm not going to say that there weren't moments when I was kind of digging the weight loss but as soon as I'd start to enjoy it I would remind myself that it was probably the cancer causing the weight loss. And then I'd think, "At least I'll be super skinny when I die." Then I'd cry.

Thor took me to the MRI but he spared met he humiliation of coming into the MRI room. I tried not to let on to the staff how afraid I was as they handed me the gown and directed me to a changing area. I'm not sure what I said but it was probably something like, "Nervous? Why would I be nervous? It's just an MRI, right? No one dies in there or anything. Do they?" Followed by 10 minutes of nervous snort-laughing and some mild vomiting.

Going up to the machine I tried not to make eye contact with it or stare into its gaping maw. I looked down at the dolly they would use to slide me into the tube and noticed...

"Wait, are those straps?"

"Oh, those? Yeah."


"We gently secure you to the table."

"Is there a chance of me falling out? I'm pretty good at laying down. Practice as much as possible. Majored in it in college. Haha."

"It's just better this way."

Well, not exactly like that but something like that. And then there I was. Strapped to the board. Marveling at the absurdity of it all. Then they threw a heavy white sheet over me. I imagined it was just an efficiency measure for when I died in the machine. I begrudgingly approved because I admire efficiency. Then they stuck me with an IV.

"I hope that's not iodine this time. Haha."


Then the tech vanished behind a wall and a disembodied voice spoke to me.

"We're going to slide you into the machine now. If you have any problems just tell us. We can hear everything and can stop at any time. We will have some instructions for you while you're in there. Ready?"

Uh. No?

But it had come to this, me, strapped to a table under a heavy sheet with a needle in my arm and sliding effortlessly into a tunnel that could cut me into a jillion slices without breaking the skin. I found myself wishing I'd read more sci fi because nothing in my many repeated readings of the works of the Bronte sisters had prepared me for this. My guiding philosophy of asking, "What Would Jane (Eyre) Do?", was of no use to me now.

My mother, not having raised any fools, made her presence felt when I followed my instinct to keep my eyes squeezed absolutely shut. I was relieved to feel a cool breeze on my face and I imagined that I was outside. It was quiet. Really quiet. Quiet in a way that I don't experience a lot as a mother of (at that time) three young children. For half a second, I was really enjoying this. Then, to my dismay, my hand and my arm and then my mouth got really hot and weird.

"Okay, we're about to start..."

"My mouth feels funny."

"Like what?"

"Hot and kind of tingly and dry. And my tongue might be swelling. You know I'm allergic to iodine right?" I started to panic.

"Oh, that's the IV. I meant to tell you that might happen. It's normal."

"Yeah, I'm not sure that's the word you're looking for."

"Okay, then. I'm going to take some pictures now. Sometimes I will need you to hold your breath. I'll tell you when to let it out. If you can't hold it as long as I need you to that's okay. Go ahead and breathe."

"Breathe as needed. Got it."

"Okay. For the first pictures just breathe normally. Here we go."

I settled back onto the board and waited to hear the click of the first picture being taken.

Here's another thing they neglected to mention. The MRI. It is loud. Really. Really. Crazy. Loud. So loud that I thought something had gone horribly wrong. My next thought was, "Great. We're being attacked by the Death Star and I'm strapped to this stupid board with my light saber back in the changing room." Then I laughed. Because, really there was nothing else to be done.

If you haven't had an MRI, go here, scroll down to the clip called MRI sounds 4. That's what I heard.

I was in that machine a good long time. About 30 minutes. Thirty minutes of breath holding and exhaling slowly and squeezing my eyes shut and monitoring my body for any more signs of allergic reaction and trying to remember anything my brother might have said about how to behave if I was ever taken hostage by the Empire. When it was over, the tech praised me for my accelerated breath holding techniques. I had gotten an A in MRI. I smiled happily for a second until I realized that I was being an idiot. But, you know, once you've been conditioned to salivate when you hear the bell it can be hard to shake that instinct.

I stepped out of the hospital and demanded to be taken to the nearest Starbucks. I felt light and free as a bird. My ears were ringing like crazy but I didn't care. The MRI was over. All I had to do was go home and wait for the results.

Oh, yeah. I had almost forgotten. I got into the car.

"You did it!" Thor said happily.

"Easy for you to say. You don't have cancer," I snapped.

"YOU don't have cancer."

"You don't know that."

"I don't but we do know that it is very likely not cancer. Right?" Thor said gently.

"You know what I'll miss most when I die from this cancer? Not being able to see the look on your face when you realize that I was right and you were wrong. God, I hate cancer!"

Thor is very patient with me.

Next: The Results Are In


  1. Can't wait to read the happy ending!

  2. I feel your pain, Z. You, although you may not feel so, ARE brave. It took me 3 attempts, complete with increasingly potent rounds of anti-anxiety drugs before I could even lay down on the "board" to be "gently restrained". I'm bringing you in should I ever need another one. Since you got an "A" and all...