Struggling Through an MRI

I had to get another MRI yesterday, which unfortunately, is a relatively routine procedure for me. Unless trapped in a particularly hot, crowded, smelly subway car that has broken down or stalled for an unknown period of time, I rarely experience claustrophobia (finally, one problem I don’t have!), which is the primary reason most patients cite for detesting MRIs. They are also quite loud, and you have to hold very still for the duration of the imaging so as not to compromise the images captured. Even though I am highly sensory defensive when it comes to auditory input (meaning my tolerance for noise is pitifully low), I find the rhythmic banging of the MRI machine to be oddly soothing. In fact, in the dozens of MRIs I’ve had since 2014, the noise has only been upsetting once or twice. They usually give me earplugs or music as well, so that dampens the amplitude of the noise anyway. Oddly enough, despite engaging in a daily morning meditation practice for the past two years, the closest I’ve come to a true meditative state has always occurred inside that tube listening to the pervasive banging. It has to be one of the odder places to find one’s Zen, but with my wacky body and mind, I’d expect nothing else!

The MRI yesterday wasn’t as relaxing as usual. I had to drive myself there in horrible conditions, so that already catapulted me into a very tense state upon arrival after a long, hairy trip. The waiting room was unbearably hot. I’m habitually colder than most people and dress in many layers. I had to strip down to my undershirt and little shorts because I was soaking through my clothes within minutes. The receptionist failed to tell me that they were over an hour behind schedule, and long waits escalate my anxiety, especially when I don’t have a companion to pass the time with. The stifling waiting room was also crowded and stuffy with other irritable and bored patients, who, like patients in all waiting rooms, seemed to think it was an opportune time to douse themselves in synthetic and chemical-smelling perfumes. Within less than ten minutes, the headache that began while nervously driving when I couldn’t see out of my windows compounded into a migraine, thundering through my neck and shoulders as well. I became dizzy and nauseous. I worked on centering myself and taking slow breaths while listening to a podcast on my phone, but a combative, irate patient who was screaming at the receptionist worked to unravel any composure I had mustered. It makes me uneasy and angered when people are rude or condescending toward others. This is disgustingly common to see in customer service situations, where disgruntled customers speak to the customer service employees, who likely have no direct connection to the person’s complaint, in a unnecessarily disrespectful manner. Raised voices and rude confrontations make my internal calm evaporate with such rapidity that I become ill. It physically sickens me to listen to combative interactions in any context, even if I’m involved in the argument or getting justifiably yelled at. This phenomenon has followed me since childhood; it must be part and parcel of my “highly sensitive” nature.

This particular rude woman yesterday appeared to find it appropriate to speak insolently to the receptionist, who barring the courtesy of divulging the lengthy delay, was perfectly pleasant and not at fault for the content of the woman’s tirade. Had I been as confident and righteous as I would like to be, I would have risen from my seat, inserted myself in the altercation, and defended the receptionist. Although this type of behavior is an ultimate goal, it took all of my mental fortitude to stave off flipping out about the unannounced 75-minute delay, the heat, the smells, and the sensory discomforts of the waiting room.

The next gripe was the “isolation room.” After the tech called me back, I changed into the gown and locked up all my possessions, as requested. This included my book and phone. She then ushered me to a tiny holding room, the size of a small closet, where the only items where a single metal chair, an end table, and a single sheet of paper, upon which the Sirius XM radio stations were listed. I was quarantined in this room for the duration of the MRI scan for the patient ahead of me. This turned out to be 45 minutes, plus an additional five minutes for the staff to prepare the machine for my use. There was no clock, so the only way I knew this was because I eventually, I cracked and completely went berserk. I ran out of the room inquiring if I was in some sort of human nature torture experiment to see how long someone can endure solitude with no distractions, sense of time, or windows. She laughed at my question and then admitted that it had been 40 minutes, but the current patient would be done in five minutes. I pacified my boiling temper ripe with impatience and informed her that in the future, they should allow patients to keep their phones or reading material until they enter the machine itself, or they should at least provide complimentary magazines like most medical facilities. Surprisingly, this seemed like a novel suggestion, though another tech said they normally have a few magazines but patients have walked out with them. While that’s understandably a reason to no longer supply reading material (it’s such a shame when the actions of a select few punish or penalize the experience of the rule-obliging masses), it shouldn’t affect the allowance for patients to hold on to their own personal entertainment belongings until scan time. I reiterated this simple suggestion on my post-appointment survey.

The actual scan was fine. If I hadn’t been so physically and emotional heated and depleted by the time it started, I would have enjoyed the machine’s soothing effects. By this point though, my blood sugar was low, I was tired, my migraine had spread to involve my entire back and stomach, and I felt emotionally run ragged. It was difficult enough to just lay still and quiet in the machine when I wanted to be home in bed recuperating. Things often feel worse in the moment and insurmountable, but of course, I was fine and made it home after another stressful drive.

What little remained in the day before bedtime was spent in silence. I felt unable to engage in anything productive or interactive. Thankfully, despite the usual sleep disruption brought on by so much car time, I was able to piece together enough sleep that I’m functional today. I am not restored to baseline in terms of physical or mental energy, but the migraine has faded into a standard headache and I’m feeling rejuvenated enough to re-commit to having a fruitful and enjoyable day, focused on feeling, acting, and thinking my best and appreciating the gifts of the days and my own power to control my experiences therein.



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