2022 – Tim Dowling: It’s my first MRI. Can I not hit the panic button? | health

eAlthough they sent me a map of the hospital with an arrow indicating where to land, nothing seemed to fit where I was going. I wandered through the back of the entire building, past the parked cars, to a part of the complex that seemed deserted. There are no sidewalks. There aren’t any people there either, but it’s early, not 7:30 yet.

Eventually, I found a little sign that says Community MRI Hub, pointing to two doors. When the bell next to the first door rings, nothing happens, so I enter the second door, where I find a receptionist at a small table.

“This is the other door,” she says. I’m sure this isn’t her only role.

I hope they know I’m coming because I don’t quite understand why I’m here. The audiologist I saw a week ago requested an MRI of my inner ear canal, but I haven’t checked what it is and don’t know what he hopes or fears to find in it.

The technician in charge is primarily concerned with whether I have metal in my body that can be torn apart by the powerful magnets of the machine.

“Which bullets or shrapnel?” you ask.

I say “no”.

“Do you feel claustrophobic?”

At this point I realized my heart was beating. I had never been inside an MRI machine and suddenly realized I hadn’t thought about the view on purpose to make myself look.

I say “I”. Nothing else comes out for a while. The technician is waiting.

Finally I say “a little worried”. I think: Wow, my heart really beats.

“Well, the machines inside are a little bigger than they used to be,” she says. “And a little faster. We should get you out in 20 minutes.”

“Well,” I say, thinking: 20 minutes in a magnetic coffin seems like a long time.

“But it’s important to remain very still and not swallow when the machine is running.”

I get earphones and headphones to wear over them. I was given a flashlight to press if I should panic – panic button. I also wear some kind of hat with an angled mirror so I can see forward while lying down, iron lung style. After saying something I couldn’t hear, they pushed me inside.

I’m trying to calm my heart palpitations because I can feel my head moving, but it’s no use. I’ve spent quite a bit of time training myself to handle tight spaces to see what works and what doesn’t. Bad eyesight. It’s also bad when I imagine that I’m imagining myself somewhere other than where I am. Convincing myself that my fear isn’t entirely necessary – you won’t get hurt, it’s just a little jarring here – is proving very counterproductive.

The device is quite loud even with the ear defenders on, and the beating becomes increasingly multi-tempo, like more than one person fixing the device while I’m at it. I’ll listen to this for a while and relax a little. Then I’m like, Oh my God, did you just swallow it?

After all, because they focus on my head, I’ve never fully closed – my elbow stays out of the machine. But I don’t know that beforehand. Every time the conveyor belt pushes me another inch, I think: Oh no.

When it’s all over, I get my things from the little locker they’ve assigned me to. Somehow, I feel forever weak.

“Are you back already?” My wife said when she saw me sitting in the kitchen. “how it was?”

I say “this is not a trip I would do again”. “But hey, it was free.”

She says, “Did you panic?”

“Sure,” I say, “but it turns out I can panic and follow orders at the same time.”

“I think I might panic,” she says.

I say “hard to say”. “I know people who immediately pressed the button and people who found it reassuring.”

“But is everything all right?”

I say “I have no idea”. This is the first time I’ve thought this morning of the possibility that they might have found something wrong deep in my head.

“What did you say?” asks my wife. I have to think about it for a moment – my memories of the whole episode are incoherent and incoherent.

“They said you can go.”

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