We have all heard of the machine that goes “PING!”
Today I met the medical machine that makes such a racket that you need earplugs AND earmuffs. The Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine. Even wearing both, it is still very noisy. (This one seems quieter than the one I had today!)
The noise is not the worst part, however. I did not think I was claustrophobic, having spent a lot of time as a young man crawling through underwater caves and crevices so tight that I often had to take my SCUBA tank off and push it in front of me, or go backwards pulling it along. On the other hand, now I come to think of it, I do get panicky when I am zipped up with my arms inside a tight sleeping bag. I actually had to buy an outsize sleeping bag at twice the price of the first one I bought over here, simply because I could not sleep in it with my arms zipped up inside.
It is a little like that inside the MRI. The close featureless cream coloured tunnel I was in did not bother me at all, but having my arms immobilised at my side did, just a bit. Being immobile is ok, but there is that sickening what if I can’t get out? feeling.
I could imagine some Triffid-like catastrophic event just as I was in there. Me the only survivor inside my shielded magnetic cocoon, but unable to exit.
The confinement turned out not to be the worst part after all. In fact after a few minutes it was fine.
The worst was that once inside, I was not permitted to move so much as a millimeter. The position I was placed in meant that I had to hold my arm up using my own strength. It was not actually supported, only positioned. Though it could not move sideways because of the constriction of the tunnel and a bolster, it could still slip down. I had to strain to prevent that happening while the images were taken.
The imaging process takes around half an hour. If you have ever had to hold perfectly still for that long, you will know how difficult it is. Now try holding even a fairly light weight at arm’s length for that period without moving. My problem was that the muscle that should do most of that work is the one that is no longer connected. I was trying to keep the arm up using the lesser muscles that are left. The arm itself was the dead weight I was trying to support.
There is another effect of MRI that I had not known until today, The vast amount of energy being pumped through one actually has an effect on the body. Though most of it is collected by the antennae coiled around me and converted in some magical way to an image, some of it is converted to heat. I began to warm up. I got an inkling of what it must be like to be a piece of KFC. The heat never became more uncomfortable than a hot flush, however.
After 15 minutes the strain of keeping my arm in position became excruciating. After twenty I was really beginning to feel that I was in Purgatory. I kept telling myself, as I have often before, “Just hang in there and it will all be over soon enough”. When the Technician spoke through the earphones to say there were only two more images to take – about another six minutes or so – I was really in agony. I started counting slowly. I figured at a count every three seconds it should all be over at 120.
“I can do this”. The penultimate image took a count of 75. I continued to hold still as the noise started again for the last time. I began counting once more. At 125 it was over at last. By then I was grimacing with the effort and squeezing out tears, drawing on all the resilience I had. I guess my counts had not been at 3 second intervals.
Total time for the MRI was just over thirty minutes. It seemed much longer. I am now quite sure that time is stretched in magnetic fields. As I emerged, flushed and grimacing, the tech said that I had been the perfect subject. I had indeed not moved a millimeter. She seemed really pleased, almost impressed, and told me I can come back any time. Gratifying – I guess. I wiped the tears from my eyes with my good hand and admitted to her that I had drawn on all my ninja skills to keep still that long. I hoped I would not need to come back again.
I drove home through Fremantle and went to visit my mother’s rose garden. It took me a while to find, as I was coming in from an unfamilar direction, and the position was recorded in my other GPS. It has been a while since I visited. So in the end I did not get home until 6.15, about eleven and a half hours after I left. A long day, mostly driving.
Now for a light meal, a shower and sleep. Tomorrow I drive again. This time to Bunbury to see surgeon number three. She has inherited me from Dr Openshaw who, I only recently learned, sadly died on New Year’s Eve of a brain aneurism. He was only 49. Sad.
So it goes.