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The Guys’ Guy’s Guide to MRI

Sometimes the human body is like an automobile. You take your car to the dealership for an oil change and before you know it, they’re telling you about potential issues in your transmission.

It’s the same with doctors.As a Guy’s Guy I do my very best to stay in shape and treat my body well. I give it good fuel and take it out for a long run a few times a week to blow off built up stress. But, I’ve also put some tough mileage on my tires. As a result over the past few months I had a bout with a small kidney stone. Thankfully, it has passed. I will be sure to do whatever I need to avoid experiencing that off-the charts discomfort again. During the process of sorting out my issue, I was asked to undergo a series of tests. This included a cat scan, an ultrasound and the dreaded MRI. Frankly, I have been so healthy that I invested very little psychic energy in these technologies. But that changed when I was asked to experience this gauntlet of standard tests.

A cat scan is painless. You are forced to drink a liter of creamy barium prior to the process on an empty stomach. Then you lay down and they take photos of your insides.  An ultrasound is easy peezy, too. It’s the same procedure given a pregnant woman. They rub some gel on you and work a stick across the area they want to look at.

An MRI is different and frankly until the day before my test I had no idea how it worked. I consider myself lucky to be so healthy and the experience gave me a lesson in empathy. As a result, I’d like to offer up my two cents on how to deal with this intrusive test. Here is my Guys’ Guy’s Guide to an MRI. Is this relevant to a blog about life, love and the pursuit of happiness? I think so. Let’s file it under “Life”. This is my take on my experience. If you need more official information, do online research and talk to your physician. Okay, that was a disclaimer.

What is MRI?

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a test that uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy to make pictures of organs and structures inside the body. So, it uses magnets and radio waves to get a very clear and crisp look inside your body. I read about professional athletes getting MRI’s on their arms or ankles, but that usually consists of slipping the area of interest into a magnetic sleeve for images. When dealing with your core, the process takes on a different flavor.

What Is the Process?

You lay on your back on a motorized sliding “bed” and are covered with a “blanket” of magnets. They may or may not strap you in to keep you still.  The machine has a long tube. Mine was about five feet long, although MRI machines vary in size and the size of the opening. But the one I was looking at was a tube.

You are slid inside of it head first or feet first depending on the location of the images needed. I went feet first and was thankfully not strapped down. I could move my arms approximately nine inches to the sides. The tricky part was the tube came fairly close to my face, and I was staring directly at it.

Collecting and processing the images is noisy. You hear lots of loud beeps, bongs and clanking. To diminish the noise, they provide earplugs, headphones and a choice of music. The technicians talk to you during the process, mostly asking you to hold your breath at various times. I assume this is so you keep still. I had to strain to hear them because of the earplugs. Frankly the headphone’s sound quality was not very good and I was not in the mood to listen to the Stones during the procedure.

How Long Does it Take?

Tests usually take anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour. The average is forty-five minutes. If you end up having a procedure following the test and need to return, the process is usually shorter. During my one-hour session, I spent forty minutes pushed all the way in. Then they slid me back out towards the edge of the tube for the second round of “photos” which took about twenty minutes.

How Do You Prepare?

Physically, you don’t need to do anything to prepare. You can eat that morning. All you do is change into a hospital gown with the ties facing front and remove your jewelry. Of course, due to all the ligations in the medical business these days, you need to fill out a pile of forms and repeatedly answer a series of the same questions. The one question you are constantly asked is for your name and date of birth. I assume that is so they don’t mistake you for someone else before removing your spleen or whatever. Basically, all you need to do physically is show up.

Psychologically, it’s another story. I did my online due diligence the night before and what I read and saw unnerved me. About fifteen years ago, after working late I found myself trapped in an elevator alone for an hour. Up until that day I had never had an issue with enclosed spaces. But getting stuck in an elevator with limited communication with the outside world can shift your perspective. After that incident I did not enjoy flying or riding the subway for about a year until I used my hypnosis training to get help reprogramming my mental perspective. Even so, being slid into a tube for an hour listening to loud clangs, beeps and bongs was not a desired leisure time activity. I read many articles about how to handle the enclosed space issue. Some suggested closing your eyes, others said, “no way”. The best advice came from my good friend, Rick. He suggested that I simply “go somewhere else”. He was right.

The Process

They give you the earplugs, headphones and music and then they slid you into the tube. Boom. The techs also hand you a rubber thingy filled with air that you squeeze if you are feeling uncomfortable. That prompts the tech to slide you out. Apparently no one likes the process.

Although I did inadvertently open my eyes a few times, I kept them closed throughout most of the process and I am glad I did. I did not know how close the proximity of the tube was, although there is some space and nothing to fear, psychologically, you could feel like you are in close quarters. Once we got started, the clanging and banging and noises seemed to go on and on. I lost track of time. I tested out a few meditations, but due to the noise, they felt garbled. I shifted my thoughts into St. Germaine’s Violet Flame chant, “I am a being of violet fire. I am the purity of God’s desire”. As I mentally repeated this waves of violet light washed over me. It was very comforting and I’m grateful this came to me at the perfect time.

After what seemed like an eternity of loud beeps there was a prolonged silence at what I figured afterwards was the forty-minute mark. I waited patiently for a few minutes and then asked the tech what was going on. No answer. I waited some more and asked again. No answer. By now I’m thinking – are they on break?  Finally I squeezed the rubber air hose. One of the techs came on the speaker and told me to hold on because they were waiting for some shots to develop. What could I do? So after another few minutes they slide me out and asked if I was okay. I said, “yeah” and the tech told me they were more than halfway. I nodded and he slid me back inside. Thankfully, for the last series of images my head was close to the outer edge of the tube. I was more “relaxed”.

And then it was over. After, exhaled and wondered how long it will be until the technology evolves into something less intrusive.

I’ve got a few things to tend to, but I’m fine. In the meantime, I have been reminded how precious life is and how easy it is to take our health for granted. Just like a top shelf automobile, every so often the human body requires a look under the hood and a tune up.

Are you familiar with MRI?

This week’s Guy’s Guy of the Week is Raymond Vahan Damadian, an Armenian-American who invented this breakthrough technology in 1969.