Meditating During an MRI

I’m so itchy today. I’m like one ball of allergies. There’s little reason for it, as I wasn’t outside any more than usual yesterday, or exposed to any particularly potent allergens, but I did take a bit less allergy medicine than I usually do. That mild reduction really seems to have made the difference in my resistance against excessive histamines. I’m pretty miserable right now, aggressively and relentlessly scratching my skin and my ears. I’m having problems with my allergy medicine, but it looks like I’ll need to find a substitute instead of just cutting back. This is one of those cases where I’ve lost sight of how effective the medicine is because I take it every single day. Now that I’ve had one day on fewer milligrams, it’s evident how much I actually need it!

We went to the MRI appointment yesterday, which consumed most of the afternoon. I won’t receive the results until from my doctor Tuesday or Wednesday, so until then, it’s the typical waiting game. The one aspect of the scan that went better than normal is that I advocated for my needs right off the bat and the tech respected my requests. Despite the loud, rhythmic banging noise of the machine, I find MRI scans to be relaxing (the scanning part, not the waiting or receiving results part; that, in contrast, is the epitome of stress in my opinion). Something about the lying on the table strapped down and weighted under sandbags is soothing to my body and I zone out and actually meditate while in the tube. The techs provide the patient with headphones to muffle the clanging noise. Patients can also listen to music and hear communication from the techs through the headphones. The patient is also given a “panic bulb,” which is like the squeeze bulb on a blood pressure cuff. When compressed, it illuminates a light, alerting the techs that the patient is in distress. I’ve never needed to squeeze the bulb, but I take it and hold on to it nonetheless.

Normally, between each 3-4 minutes of image-collection time, a tech taps into the headphones and alerts the patient that the next series of images is about to start. It’s critical to stay absolutely still during these bouts of imaging, so the purpose of communicating is to remind the patient and inform them on the length of the upcoming image-capturing time, so they can anticipate how long the period of banging sounds will last.

I’ve had dozens of MRIs, probably close to 60 in total. I know to stay statuesque the entire time and I know what to expect. I find the reminders every few minutes to be annoying and disrupt me from my deep relaxation. It’s so rare that I’m actually able to calm myself while lying still. I’m one of those people that is pacified by movement and even so, rarely can calm my body and mind. For example, it’s truly impossible for me to take a nap during the day. My brain is entirely too active to be stilled enough to sleep.

During an MRI, I’m able to tune out much of the mind noise and the physical straps tethering me to the table and the leaden weight of the sandbags conforming to my limbs and wrapping them in a swaddling comfort encourage my muscles to relax. When the voice of the tech jumps into my headphones every few minutes, my cocoon of quiet peace is shattered; I’m brought back to the here and now, shaken from the elusive meditative space. The alerts to stay still and the indicators of how much time has elapsed are counterproductive, as they remind me that I have a physical body that wants to move and has areas of discomfort that necessitate a rearrangement of my body positioning. When I’m told the next series of images is “just over three minutes,” the time suddenly seems to drag, like each second has been stretched to last 15. Regions of my skin start to burn and my brain goads me to shift my leg or search my heel, or I suddenly become aware of all of my vertebrae digging into the table. The scan immediately becomes an uncomfortable exercise in my will to silence my discomforts and distract my mind, whereas just moments before, it was nearly the closest thing to earthly nirvana that I experience.

Yesterday, while getting strapped to the table before the scan began, I politely informed the tech that unfortunately for me, I’m a seasoned pro at getting MRIs. Accordingly, I know the drill in terms of the vital importance to keeping absolutely still and what to expect in terms of the bashing noises and length of the exam. I requested that she not check in with me between picture series and assured her I’d squeeze my bulb should any concerns arise. I was worried she’d take poorly to this request because I tried it during my last MRI a few months ago and the tech continued to check in as usual. Even as I continually reminded her that I preferred to be left alone, she reliably patched in to my headphones before every single series began. It’s as if we were speaking entirely different languages and she had no idea what I was requesting, though I tried phrasing it in alternative ways when it was clear she was not doing as I asked. It wasn’t even like she said, “oh sorry. I understand you don’t want me to check in between scans, but I need to for safety reasons (or policy, etc.).” She just said, “sure!” and then continued to carry on like usual.

Given this unsuccessful experience, I had no confidence that I’d get an uninterrupted, non-communicative scan yesterday. I was pleasantly surprised that she understood my request and happily complied, noting that it was actually desirable because it meant she could eat her sandwich! Better than verbalizing her compliance, she followed through and did not speak to me or retrieve me until the scan was over. This made the experience much more relaxing and enjoyable for me, and although the forty minutes on the table still lasted forty minutes, it didn’t feel as epic as many other scans have felt, namely my last one!

As I itch and scratch my way through today, I hope to still get a fair amount done around the house and for my job. As always on a weekend, it’ll be nice to have time with Ben and Comet. I pray that tomorrow I’ll be less itchy!

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