Today I had my first MRI. As I type this, I still have the heart-monitor leads attached to my chest. I went to the Cardiac Center* at The University of Chicago Hospitals expecting to be crammed unceremoniously into a tube for an indeterminate amount of time, but that would have been too easy.
I got there early: around 10:15, not knowing how the pseudo-blizzard would affect The El. They decided to take me early, so through the magical portal of doom did I travel. After disrobing down to my skivvies, donning a fashionable hospital "robe" and meandering tentatively into a waiting room, I filled out a questionnaire informing them that I did indeed lack significant amounts of metal distributed throughout my body. Then the nurse kindly informed me she’d be putting in an IV. I haven’t had an IV since they knocked me out before removing my wisdom teeth, and at least that procedure included painkillers. I certainly wasn’t looking forward to having a steel barb penetrating my precious skin for several hours, but I really didn’t have a choice.
Onward toward the foreboding radiology department I strode! Eventually I was welcomed into the MRI room, and was greeted by the giant doughnut which would be my tormentor until just after 12:30pm. The technician gave me the usual explanations: try not to move, I’ll be giving you breathing instructions periodically, we’ll put in the IV fluid toward the end for some contrast activity, there’s nothing to look at so keep your eyes closed, and it’s awfully loud in there. That said, they started attaching various devices, wires, and restraints to various parts of my anatomy to monitor my breathing and heart activity. Then I was bolted to the pad by some figure-eight shaped cushion, and a pair of headphones completed my transformation from mere human to sensory-deprived mummy-creature. I felt like an H.R. Geiger sculpture; a figure draped in bulky umbilicals, wires, and hoses. I then became the machine’s most recent anal-probe as the electronic bed slid smoothly into fun zone. By then, the still empty IV was starting to ache, and it was not yet 11:00am.
“Ok, take a deep breath. Blow it all out, and hold it… hold it. Ok, breathe.”
This phrase will likely be etched into my brain for the rest of eternity after hearing it approximately eleventy billion times before my escape. Apparently voiding my lungs of air positions my heart in a stable location for best imaging. This would have been fine, if not for the IV slowly driving an ache up my arm, which was tightly pressed against my body to accommodate the strict confines of the agony-tube. When my brain had finally turned to regurgitated applesauce from sheer boredom, they pulled me out to finally attach something to the IV. After being warned of a “slight chill,” some mysterious fluid was introduced into my bloodstream to test the connection, and back into the machine I went.
Another round of stringently controlled breathing commenced, only this time I had to keep my breaths shallow because the scan would take a minute and a half each time, and holding my breath for such a duration was not suggested. I estimate I was in the machine for another half hour, and thankfully the lack of oxygen sent me into a strange euphoria where I no longer felt the sting of the IV, and hallucinated while fulfilling my solemn duty to remain immobile and utilize my lungs only when prompted. A few millennia later I was informed only six breathing exercises remained. If only that were true. Sadly, either the doctor overseeing the process requested more video, or my technician was a filthy liar.
But obviously my turmoil did eventually end. The machine vomited the platform and myself from its sterile confines and a nurse busied herself removing every tube, sensor, wire, buckle, blanket, and electrode restricting my mobility. Aside from some missing hair thanks to overzealous glue, and a rather abused vein, my ordeal was over. I ran to the train platform to avoid the snow, and thus ended my innocence at thinking an MRI would be a painless alternative to an Echocardiogram. That said, I got to watch some really cool videos of my heart! Now they have no excuse about having bad pictures, because if I actually had any medical knowledge, I could probably point out every single organ. Watching my own heart beat was awfully surreal!