Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Human Guinea Pig: Part 4 - Pituitary MRI Scan

This is the fourth part of the story about my overnight stay in the hospital's research department, having lots of tests to look at the effect my pituitary tumour is having on my body and metabolism. You can read the first part here, the second part here and the third part here.

Pituitary MRI Scan

After my Actiheart was fitted, they had to take it right off again as I went straight down to have my pituitary MRI, another scan where no metal is allowed. I was strangely comforted by the fact that the MRI receptionist was fairly rude to Dr Olive when she asked to speak to the technicians - not because I dislike Dr Olive, who is lovely, but just because it's nice to know it's not only patients that bear the brunt of receptionists' bad days. I have a theory that in every hospital the receptionist recruitment protocol calls for exactly 50% completely lovely, can't-do-enough-to-help-you staff, and 50% short-tempered and angry people. That or they slip some kind of Jekyll-and-Hyde potion into their coffees.

"Have you come from Norway today?" the technician asked me.
I think she was quite disappointed that I had not, though I've no idea why.

I was still dressed in the giant scrubs and they keep scanning rooms pretty cool, as the equipment needs low temperatures. Fortunately the technician was both lovely and observant, and she gave me a blanket to keep me warm in the scanner. The usual ritual of ear plugs and glasses removal was observed, and packing was duly stuffed into the strange helmet thing you have to put your head in. Then I was drawn backwards into the machine.

I didn't get a photo, so here's a cheesy stock image of some people smiling through an MRI scanner
MRIs can be quite claustrophobic, even if you're not normally bothered by confined spaces. I guess it is partly down to the fact that you don't have any control over it, partly down to the fact that your head is in a box and you're not allowed to move, and partly down to the weird and incredibly loud noises exploding into existence around you. However, if you do suffer from claustrophobia and you need to have an MRI, I can strongly recommend asking for a blanket. It makes the whole experience seem much more cosy. You can almost believe you're lying in bed on fireworks night. With your head in a box.

Then came the contrast injection, at which point I was given my panic button - usually they give you one at the start of the scan, but I was so happy under my blanket I hadn't even noticed I didn't have it - in case you have a reaction to the contrast dye (unlikely unless you have undiagnosed kidney failure, but still). Then another set of scans - each set took about ten minutes, I would guess - and then freedom! Easy as pre-packaged pie.

The strangest part of the scan actually happened after it was all over. There was another patient with the same condition as me who was having the tests at the same time - this meant we could both have our PET scans on the same day, as the hospital prefers doing two of the same type at once to save money. We'll call him Bob. I hadn't met him at that point, but he was having his pituitary MRI immediately after me, and so I stayed in the waiting room with a very sweet Filipino nurse waiting for his scan to be finished so we could all go back to the research department together.

I was, as I have mentioned before, still wearing scrubs. I was however wearing a pair of exclusive "I'M A PATIENT" bracelets detailing my name, age, hospital no. etc. and my allergies (trimethoprim = brings me out in an attractive full-body rash). The waiting room was pretty full, so I was sitting off to one side, flipping through an elderly magazine,* when a woman came up to me and asked me how much longer the current scan would take.

Well initially, I admit, I gave her a "woman, you crazy!" look, until I suddenly realised that in my current garb I probably looked like a member of staff.
"Sorry, I'm not a doctor, I'm a patient," I said.
"So how long will it take?" she asked.
I got out my "woman, you crazy!" face again. "Er, I don't know…"
"Well, I think it's really bad that we're not being given any information," she told me. "How long do you think it will take?"
"It probably depends on the type of scan?" I suggested.
And with that, she stamped off, muttering angrily to herself.

On the way back to the research department, I got to meet Bob! He is the first ever person I have met who also has a TSHoma, which is not surprising as there's only about 20 of us across the whole of the UK, Ireland and, apparently, Norway (this may explain the MRI technician's cryptic question). Bob was a bit of a legend and had sensibly rejected the scrubs they had suggested he wear, in favour of pyjamas with Animal from the Muppets on; obviously the preferable sartorial choice.

You might think that, on finally meeting someone else with the same incredibly rare pituitary tumour, we would discuss symptoms, or treatment. But no! People with TSH secreting pituitary adenomas are nothing if not polite, and of course we would not want the lovely Filipino nurse feeling left out of the conversation. So, as she most likely had no brain tumours of any sort, we instead discussed the best way to travel to Cardiff by public transport.

And a very educational conversation it was too.

My pituitary MRI scan experience:

Hassle: 2/5
Fun: 2/5 (extra point for meeting Bob!)
Weirdness: 3/5
Results: 2/5
Total Score: 9/20

I fear I've just had too many MRIs to find them exciting any more!

*The magazine was old... it wasn't a magazine for old people.


  1. Did you ever see this? It's what happens if you forget about metal vs MRI scanners.


    1. Oh my god, that's ridiculous! Whoa. I'm going to think of that next time I'm in a scanner xD