The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad MRI

This is from my journal written on April 28.

Today, I had an MRI done on my chest as part of the standard process to see if there are other abnormalities that could be cancer deeper toward my chest wall. A mammogram can see most, but not all of the breast and usually an MRI is ordered once cancer is found.

I’ve had MRIs before, but this one takes the cake.

Since it was being done on a Saturday, I went to a hospital in Matthews to have it done. When we got there, I went to check in where the woman behind the desk immediately demanded $1500 for my “portion” of it, which I was happy to pay since it meant I would hit my deductible. And not only would I hit my deductible, I would also hit my out-of-pocket maximum as well: The Holy Grail of Medical Financial Status. (#AmIRite?!)

Anyway, when they finally called me back for my actual appointment, I was instructed to change into a lovely oversized hospital ensemble consisting of a faded blue scrub top and pants.

I was then taken into the MRI room where the nurse inserted an IV for the contrast agent that would detect any of those abnormalities they were looking for. This would be injected about halfway through my MRI.

The nurse then led me to the bed I was to lie on in front of the enormous tube and things got real, real quick. I found myself looking at two pillows sitting directly above a headrest that looked like the nightmare version of the really comfortable ones you see attached to massage beds (and no hole that allows you to see the floor, the only thing beneath the hole in this pillow was just more table). Below that was the pad with holes where my breasts were supposed to go. It looked like one of those medieval devices used for punishment where they locked your hands and head between two boards on hinges (I think it’s called a pillory). Goody.

The nurse then had me lift up my shirt so she could tape a capsule of fish oil over the spot where the current mass is. Fish oil shows up bright white on an MRI and I guess this is necessary because they didn’t really need to see that one since they already knew what it looked like?? I don’t remember what the nurse told me about why she was doing it. I really wasn’t retaining much info at this point (I’m not even sure she was technically a nurse).

Feeling quite a bit more nervous, I put in my ear plugs while the nurse tied back my hair with that sticky stuff they wrap around your arm when you have blood drawn. And then I got on the bed. I was instructed to lay my arms on the pillows above the head rest and I immediately felt my heart rate climb. I knew that eventually my shoulders would fall asleep (one or both), and I would have to move them. But I did what she told me and tried to get comfortable as she attached my IV to the injection machine used for the contrast agent.

Once I was situated, she hit the magic button that sent the bed, and me, into the tube. This is when the panic started to set in. But I closed my eyes and put my head down anyway and tried not to let my arms touch the inside of the tube. That immediately proved very tough to do since it was so small, which only increased my anxiety. However, I found that if I only let my left elbow touch and kept my right elbow away from the wall, I was able to trick my brain into thinking I had more space than I did. This kept the panic at bay, so I felt a little better about being in there with the Pacman soundtrack on full blast in the background on a vibrating bed––all while having to be absolutely still for 40 minutes.

About halfway in, my left shoulder went numb. I tried a few slight movements and muscle contractions to get some blood flow back in there and, after what felt like forever but was probably only about 5 minutes, I was finally able to get it feeling better again. However, shortly after that, the right shoulder started showing signs of numbness. I wasn’t able to move that one quite as much as the other, though, without touching the wall and sending my anxiety and heart rate into overdrive. But luckily, by the time it really started getting uncomfortable, the MRI was over. Thank God!

It seemed to take forever for the nurse to turn off the machine and come release me from my prison cell in hell, but she finally arrived and I was able to old-lady-shuffle my way off the bed and to a chair to have my IV removed.

Lesson learned: If I ever have to have another MRI like that, I am taking that damn anxiety pill that not one but two doctors offered me for claustrophobia!

When you get diagnosed with cancer (or anything serious), you don’t have to be “tough” all the time. And when anxiety meds are offered, do not turn them down!


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