[cancer] White tube blues

Ever had an MRI? Me neither, until last Thursday. Let me tell you…

As previously discussed, the MRI is part of the ongoing diagnostic process of the new mass in my liver which is probably a metastasis of last year’s colon cancer. This hasn’t been confirmed yet, but there are no good (or even bad) alternate theories about it. We’re trying to nail down the diagnosis before pulling the trigger on surgery and chemo. Having previously subjected my internal organs to a CT scan and a PET scan, my medical team determined that it was time for me to go for the trifecta and complete the set with an MRI scan.

I’ve for years been generally aware of what an MRI is and does, but I’d never had occasion to experience one for myself. My first clue was the fact that I was asked at least five times by four people if I was claustrophobic. My answer was, “Not clinically so, no.” My answer should have been, “Not yet.”

Last Thursday morning at oh:God:30, and I toddled over to OHSU to sign in for my MRI. met us there. I was checked in via the usual manner, though the disclosure form was kind of bizarre. A lot of really weird questions, all aimed at answering this life-affirming query:

“Do you have metal anywhere in or on your body that will be ripped out of your still-warm flesh by our giant magnet like a zombie going for your brains, you goofy sack of shit?”

To which I dutifully replied, “Um, no.” I didn’t mention the CIA mind control implant, either.

I was then permitted the delight of another IV, which led to a delightful conversation about the virtues of teflon needles versus steel needles. (I am the kind of patient who asks a lot of questions.) After that I was escorted into the Giant Magnet Room.

An MRI a biiiig white tube, about three inches wider in interior diameter than the width of my hips, as it happens. I was strapped down to a motorized pallet, much like the ones used for CT and PET scanning. Except this time, I was really strapped down. Bracket device against my back and against my abdomen. Sensor lead across my chest. Leg straps. Waist straps. Arm straps. Chest straps. Headphones. Panic button in my left hand.

This is not so bad, until you consider the fact that I am a born fidgeter. Anyone who’s been around me for more than five minutes knows I’m constitutionally incapable of sitting still. Ok, I can suck up it. Cancer isn’t going to win just because I can’t hold onto my shit for a little while.

Then the MRI tech ran me into the little tube.

I felt like one of those 1950’s movie cutaway shots where the train speeds into the tunnel, then the waves explode in white spume, to stand in for the sex scene. I mean, talk about loading the torpedo tubes. The curve of the top of the tube was two or three inches above my nose. My head was strapped in, so if I rolled my eyes way back, I could see a fingernail sliver of room light and open space somewhere behind me. If I rolled my eyes forward, I saw more tube. All the while, a little voice in my ears kept telling me not to breathe, while a small army of dwarves played the anvil chorus rescored for magnets and medical equipment.

For forty-five freaking minutes.

Whenever it got bad inside the tube, or I started seeing red flashes behind my eyes, I would resume the silent mantra, “Fuck cancer, fuck cancer, fuck cancer.”

If I were into being a bound sub, I might have paid good money for this experience. (Actually, I did pay good money for this experience, or at least my insurance company did.) As an ordinarily ambulatory human being of strong mind, fidgety body and toppish tendencies, this did not sit so well.

Every now and then the table would move a few inches. I would pray for daylight. The hammering would begin anew. I would be told when to breathe, when not to breathe, admonished to hold still. What, I have a choice? Closing my eyes most of the time did help a little, and for a while, I actually managed to meditate.

Finally, when I emerged exhausted and sated from being thrust deep inside the tube, I knew how a lone sperm feels after swimming upstream to spawn and failing.

When I got out, I asked the tech if they had to drug some people to get them inside the machine. She laughed ruefully and said there were folks who simply couldn’t get in the MRI, even under sedation.

No results yet, but as will attest, I wasn’t right for most of the day. As annoying as the PET scan was in some ways [ LiveJournal ], the MRI was a lot more overwhelming. Big science, annoying your hindbrain up close and personal. Necessary, not evil, but overwhelming.

6 thoughts on “[cancer] White tube blues

  1. Amanda says:

    MRI’s suck. That’s just the simple truth, but when you’ve had as many as I have you do begin to become immune the white tube of torture.

    First rule is, keep your eyes closed. Second rule, let your mind wander to other places, even other worlds. 🙂

    My most recent MRI had me imagining that the clicks, hums and bangs were like an alien language. Yes, I’m far from normal but perfectly sane–I promise!

    Whatever the results, you have friends and “followers” on your side.

    ~Amanda (@imakeart)

  2. Kai Jones says:

    I had an MRI some years ago to diagnose vertigo (well, to rule out a brain tumor really). I started with the tube but couldn’t take it even with Valium; they sent me to the “open MRI” office, which helped. While I still had to wear the hockey mask, since it was a brain MRI, my body didn’t have to be in a tube.

    I hope your MRI results are definitive in some way.

  3. tetar says:

    The Frankenstein celebrators at Walter Reed decided, for no known or good reason, that I needed a full body MRI — it’s called metrics gathering — and I actually went to the extent of showing up in charming ass-revealing gown, as coerced by my father. Well, turned out I’m one of those who can’t get one. I simply would not fit. They kept adjusting me and trying to slide me in, and could not get my shoulders to go. Even when I hunched them; can you imagine having to do that for 45 minutes with hunched shoulders? So they finally admitted defeat, after literally discussing greasing me up at one point, and tried to send me to an open MRI. Instead, I drove to Philly and my eye cancer specialist, who wanted to know WTF they were doing. He even called to find out. They declined to answer and he was furious. C’est la medicine.

  4. Janessa says:

    Hey Mr. Lake. Just started reading your book Mainspring and liking it as well :). Sorry to hear about your cancer. If you ever find your faith wavering in western medical science, visit a place in Vancouver, Wa called Accunatural Healthcare. Acunatural.com is the website. I’m from Vancouver and was pleasantly surprised to learn you are from Portland. Good luck to you!

  5. TrinSF (Leigh Ann) says:

    Mm, MRI’s. I both have problems with tight spaces *and* I’ve actually volunteered for research studies that involved repeated MRI experiences. They paid me about $100 to be in one of those tubes for well over an hour. I’m a little bigger than you are (well, a lot) and at the close end of fitting at all, so it was…well, let’s just say that it helped me hone my self-calming strategies. That was especially useful given that as a test subject, I had to listen to sad music, think sad thoughts, get really unhappy, and then do quizzes and answer questions, all while in the Machine, with my head strapped down to be completely immobile.

    Thankfully, I guess, my “June Is Cancer Uncertainty Month” experiences this year have involved no MRI testing, just ultrasonic probing with The Nozzle (okay, The Wand, but close) and a biopsy that involved sticking something up my cervix and wiggling it around until I made unladylike noises and saw stars. Evidently July is “Wait For Results Month”. I don’t have to tell you how very UGH the whole experience is.

    1. Jay says:

      I hope the stars you saw were Brad Pitt and George Clooney. (Or appropriate analogs for your preferred orientation and demographic.) Good luck. Yes, I know from the UGH.

Comments are closed.