Saturday, 17 December 2011

My MRI Experience: Stuck In A Moment. And Also A Tube.

Today I thought I'd continue my story of diagnosis and treatment, admittedly with a slight gap in continuity from my last post, by talking about the first MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan I had. Brain MRI scans are pretty cool; it seems very weird to be able to look at a picture of the internal apparatus with which you are looking at the picture of the internal apparatus that you're using to - well, you know what I mean. Brain MRIs get recursive fast!

Around this time last year, having had my introduction to my local endocrinology department, blood tests had decreed that I did not suffer from Resistance to Thyroid Hormone and therefore the doctors knew that I almost certainly had a pituitary adenoma producing Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH-oma).

Endocrinologists tend to leave off MRI scanning of the pituitary gland when diagnosing these conditions until they've ruled out all other options. This isn't a Daily Mail-worthy example of NHS cutbacks; it's because small, harmless pituitary tumours are quite common. Finding one on an MRI scan might lead doctors to wrongly diagnose a pituitary condition like TSH-oma or Cushing's disease, when in fact the tumor is not what's causing the problem.*

I knew that things must be reasonably serious when my endocrinologists allowed me to jump the queue for MRIs at the hospital. In fact, I jumped it so completely that the NHS paid for me to have my MRI done immediately at a nearby private hospital, because there were no scanners available at the NHS hospital for a few weeks. It was slightly disconcerting, not just for the speed at which it all happened, but also because I had to travel to the mystery hospital on my own, by bus, to the middle of the countryside. The bus driver dropped me off with another girl who was fortunately also headed for the private hospital, and we were left in a random village with no signposts or map. Eventually we got there, and I heartily thanked the paranoia which had led me to leave home an hour earlier than I needed to.

Before my MRI, I didn't know much about them, apart from the fact that, as the scans work through big old magnets - hence "magnetic resonance imaging" - you have to remove all metal from your body or risk it moving around in the magnetic field; consequently, no pacemakers allowed. I wanted to know what to expect, so I scoured the NHS website and interrogated family members who had already had one. They said: you take off your watch, you lie in a tube, it's loud, you have to stay still, the technician shouts "stay still, damn you!", you leave.


An account such as the one above leaves out some crucial information for folk like me. For one thing, I didn't realise that, as it was my general cranial area being scanned, they would trap my head in a box stuffed with cushions to prevent it from wiggling. Then, head duly caged, you slowly roll backwards into the MRI scanner. Anyone who is claustrophobic would not be a fan, although they gave me a panic button which I could beep if I needed rescuing.

In fairness, the staff know that this is a freaky experience and repeatedly asked "Are you ok?". Towards the end of the scan, I also realised that the machine had a reassuring mirror placed just above my eyes, which means that patients can see the MRI technicians at work through a window at the back of the room. Or at least, patients who aren't stupidly and entirely blind without their glasses, like me. I am wildly shortsighted and consequently, even once I had realised that it was a mirror, and even though it was really pretty close to my face, all I could see was pinkish blurs.

The radiography folk gave me some sexy earplugs to wear, to block out the noise of the MRI scanner going mental with magnets. Unfortunately, these kept falling out and, because my head was wedged in with cushions, there was no way of putting them back in. MRI scanners really are incredibly loud, and it's not just the loudness that's the issue - the noises they make are weird and erratic, much like a young Kate Bush. When it all goes quiet, you find yourself tensing in anticipation of the next staccato burst of noise, and when it suddenly starts shrieking in your ears it's pretty tricky not to jump out of your skin, especially if you're pumped up with thyroid hormone and thus pretty jumpy anyway.

The technicians do not like this.

Partway through (the MRI took about 40 minutes, I think) I was pulled out of the machine. My heart leapt - time goes a bit screwy when you're in a weird screaming machine - perhaps it was finished? But no, they just wanted to inject contrast dye into my arm and bung me back in.

I whiled away the time by trying to remember and recite poems in my head. I did "The Jabberwocky" a couple of times, the prologue to Romeo and Juliet, my favourite speech from Macbeth, a couple of poems and odd verses from Siegfried Sassoon, and pretty much anything else I could remember. I was very bored. Pro-tip: learn some new poetry before having an MRI and then take advantage of the time to test your memory.

Anyhow, I realise I may have made my MRI scan sound like a horrific experience** but actually it was totally fine, and I much preferred it to having endless blood tests at the hospital. I admit I was irrationally afraid that there would be a previously unknown bit of metal embedded somewhere in my body that would rip out in a bloody mess.

Fortunately, this did not occur.

*Such tumours are known as "incidentalomas".

**Or I may have just made myself sound like a massive whinger...

1 comment:

  1. There’s really nothing to fear from an MRI scan. It’s just a machine that scans a part of your body to see if there is something wrong or not. I think I can handle being inside a tube better than having a blood test!

    -Julio Loose