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Terror and the MRI

(Crossposted from Jennifer Brozek)

Today I had an MRI for my back. I have always have back problems and am used to walking around in a minor bit of pain. About two weeks ago, things changed. The pain increased to the point of distraction. I have leg numbness or shooting pains down my right leg while I drive. After a lot of walking, my toes go numb. So, it was MRI time. I’m hoping it’s just a pinched nerve that can be fixed with physical therapy/massage instead of something that need surgery.

The place itself was nice. However, the MRI machine, not so much. I never realized I would be claustrophobia in tight, confined spaces. They started to put me in and my Lizard Brain when “Whoa, WTF?!” When I expressed discomfort, they gave me something to cover my eyes. I have a great imagination. What could go wrong?


I am a large woman. The MRI machine is a small tube. As they put me in, I was okay until we got to my elbows. As soon as my elbows were squished against me and it was clear I was helpless to get myself out of the machine, the Lizard Brain turned on again and what it said was “No.” Over and over like a mantra. I went from rational thinking brain to get-me-the-heck-out-of-this-thing-must-escape Lizard Brain.

The technician, to her credit, believed me as soon as the first “No.” erupted from my mouth. I didn’t even know I was speaking until the tray was in reverse. Really, all higher function got shunted asside in that terror I didn’t know I’d feel until I was out of the tube. I apologized and admitted I wasn’t sure if I could do it.

The tech told me not to worry. We’d just put me in feet first. That would leave my head mostly out of the machine. In the end, it was my head, shoulders, and arms out of the tube. I was much more comfortable. The MRI started. It was 7 periods of 1-3.5 minutes long when they would take pictures and need me to keep still. While this happened, my Writer Brain and Lizard Brain had an argument.

Writer Brain: Wow. I didn’t know you were claustrophobic.

Lizard Brain: I’m not. I’m just afraid of being trapped and helpless and feeling like I’m being buried alive. As soon as my elbows got pinned to my sides, I realized how much danger I was in.

Writer Brain: Wuss. But what a feeling. Now you know what real terror feels like.

Lizard Brain: Fuck you.

Writer Brain: No, seriously. It’s harmless. There’s nothing to actually hurt you in the tube. No moving parts. I can so use these sensations in writing horror. There’s lots of things I can extrapolate out of this.

Lizard Brain: Goodie for you.

Writer Brain: We should ask, after the test is done, to go back in, head first. You know, to really get a sense of that confinement and fear.

Lizard Brain: Fuck you and the pen you rode in on. I’m not going back in there for nothing.

Writer Brain: But…

Lizard Brain: I will kill you while you sleep. You’re already going to have nightmares about this new terror you didn’t know existed. So, just stop. Seriously. No.

This whole argument happened while I was listening to gorgeous classical music. In retrospect, I realized I was so much more comfortable in the second position because my arms were out of the tube, I could see light, and if needed, I could pull myself out of the tube. Head first, I wouldn’t have been able to do ANYTHING if something went wrong. It’s a control freak thing.

And I don’t even get into the noisiness of the machine.

However, Writer Brain is correct. I really can use this new, unexpected terror in my writing. The sudden discovery of being afraid of something intellectually I know I shouldn’t be afraid of. The sensation of being buried alive. The sensation of my arms pressed to my sides with no way to move or control my body. It is great writing fodder.

But dammed if I’ll willing go back into the MRI tube head first. I’ll think about it real hard if I need to have another MRI for my back. And only if I can go in feet first.


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 19th, 2012 01:00 am (UTC)
Lemme tell you, if that technician hadn't been as quick as she was, there might have been damage. We danced around the idea of the open MRI and she asked me to try the feet first approach. Then suggested the arms over the head when it looked like it would be a tight fit. I got a comment card and said all kinds of nice things about her and the radiologist.
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 19th, 2012 03:19 am (UTC)
I might have to borrow the phrase "Fuck you and the pen you rode in on." someday.

But, srsly, I'm glad you had an understanding radiologist and that you were able to complete the procedure. Fingers crossed!
Sep. 19th, 2012 03:32 am (UTC)
You may do so.

Me too. It could have been so much worse.
Sep. 19th, 2012 04:08 am (UTC)
*hugs and whatnot*
Sep. 19th, 2012 01:11 pm (UTC)
Eesh, I wish I had known you were going in, I would have warned you. I disagree with you about this being something you shouldn't be afraid of: It is completely logical to be afraid of being helpless and unable to escape from ANY situation, no matter how benign or supposedly helpful. Writer Brain needs to shut up and let Lizard Brain run the show more often.

As long as you have sufficient advance notice, there's no reason not to use the open MRI. I'm not sure why the open models aren't more common than they are; I've had a friend that had to be transported between hospitals because the only open MRI at the first hospital was down for maintenance and no way was he going to fit in a regular model.

I think the open model is much easier to use. I say 'think' because I've only used it once, and was blasted completely out of my mind on morphine and endorphins at the time (appendicitis) I sort of remember it being much less of a hassle than a regular MRI - 'sort of' because the memory is about five seconds long.

I hope they're able to eliminate the back pain. Let me know if I can help.
Sep. 19th, 2012 07:24 pm (UTC)
I will let you know as soon as I know.
Sep. 19th, 2012 03:39 pm (UTC)
I am about to have my fourth MRI this Friday. Today I pick up my happy pills, the ones I wish they had told me were an option for my first MRI. My brain didn't have lucid conversations and I didn't try to physically escape; I fugued, just went somewhere else, became someone else, until it was over. Very intense and I never want to lose my sense of self like that ever again.

I hope you get the better diagnosis. *hugs*
Sep. 19th, 2012 07:25 pm (UTC)
They told me about the valium after I was there. Maybe next time. If there is a next time.
Sep. 19th, 2012 08:25 pm (UTC)
Good luck with your back and any further MRIs.

However, I recommend you try the valium 1st - to make sure it works as advertized.

[ Now my metabolism is weird and I have paradoxical reactions to drugs, but I expected valium to work on me when given for dental surgery. Instead it amped me up - like a shot of adrenaline and I -vibrated- in the chair as the dentist worked on me. It was not a comfortable time for either of us.]
Sep. 22nd, 2012 07:43 pm (UTC)
I read that exchange to my girlfriend. We giggled.

Not that your pain/fear is funny, it was just well-written.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )