I arrived at the hospital at 11:20am, ten minutes early. The automatic doors parted and I stepped inside. My husband followed and we both went directly to the hand sanitizer station, which in actual fact does more harm than good, but we are sheep.
We then proceeded to the Reception area, where my husband simply stated, “MRI”. The Receptionist looked busy, her station was covered in loose-leaf binder paper and lipstick stained Starbucks cups. She pointed to the left and went back to typing. My steps slowed as we veered left. I was nervous. I felt tears forming in the corners of my eye.
When my Neurologist told me that I would need an M.R.I. or Magnetic Resonance Image of my brain three weeks ago I didn’t expect it to happen so fast. I was told the waiting list was nine months long. Nine months was something I could work with. I didn’t have to think about it for at least 270 days. I could carry on with my life. Then the Neurologist called me a few days ago and said she had it bumped up. I’m still not sure why.
I asked around to see if anyone else had ever had an MRI, and could tell me what to expect. A few people had it confused with a CT scan, or CAT scan. “It’s no big deal.” Until I told them that it was “the one where you have to lie in the tube”. No one had a story for that. A friend said he’s been waiting for months to get an MRI on his leg, and that I was “lucky” to be getting it so quickly. I certainly didn’t feel lucky.
When the receptionist from the MRI clinic called me to confirm my appointment she asked me some questions: Have you ever had metal in your eye? No. Do you have a pacemaker? No. Do you have any metal in your body? No. Are you claustrophobic? I said yes, and only then did I realize I actually was. Do I have an actual diagnosis? No. Do I feel clammy and faint when I think about being in a confined space? Yes. She told me that I would be in a 34-inch diameter tube for one and a half hours.
The days leading up to my appointment I tried to push it from my mind, but that seemed impossible. I would get upset with my husband if he brought it up, or used any sort of initials in reference to any sort of object that reminded me of the initials: M.R.I.
The morning of the appointment was difficult. My mind played out the scenario, as my blood pressure rose. I decided I would drive to the appointment, so I could concentrate on the drive, instead of worrying about being in the 34-inch tube for one and a half hours.
We see the M.R.I. department in front of us. The Receptionist sat behind a glass window. I waved. She opened the window a crack. “Name?’
“I’m Kim Manky. I’m claustrophobic.” The Receptionist cracked a smile and pointed to a clipboard on the wall behind me. “You don’t have to stay still the whole time, do you?” The nurse shakes her head no. Apparently, when the machine stops making noise you have a few seconds to scratch your head, swallow, or adjust, but if you’re not quick, the image will be ruined and they will have to start all over again. That’s a lot of pressure.
My husband and I made our way to the waiting room, the room solely designed for waiting, which happens to be my most hated pastime. I tapped the pen on my knee and filled out the form. I glanced over at my husband, absorbed in a magazine. I nudged him with my elbow and reminded him that he was there as my support, not to catch up on Sports Illustrated.
On the wall was a list of music available to listen to while in the machine. Beatles, Classical, Enya. I breathed a small sigh of relief thinking I would just relax, and listen to the music of the Beatles, and forget that I’m trapped in a 34-inch tube.
Then I thought about Baby Jessica, the toddler down in the Lower 48 who fell down a water well in 1987. Her mother played the “Winnie the Pooh” song for her over and over. The Nation watched and waited, and she was rescued from the water well three days later. Even today when I hear the Winnie the Pooh song I think of Baby Jessica and that horrific experience. I wondered if I would feel that way about the Beatles.
I looked at my husband, who looked a little weepy. I wagged my finger in his direction. “Don’t even”. I flipped though a trashy magazine, unable to focus. After a few minutes I negotiated eye contact with my husband and ordered him to stay strong. The Nurse came in and handed me a pair of pyjamas. They were bright yellow and ten sizes too big.
I went to the washroom to change into my yellow pyjamas. On the wall was a lovely picture of Lake Como, cut from a calendar. I thought to myself, “I will think about Lake Como while I’m in the 34-inch tube.” I pulled my pant legs up and noticed that they had brushed the bathroom floor and had a wet cuff. I prayed it was just water.
As I attempted to dry off my pant cuff, the Nurse called my name. She ordered me to lie down on the hospital bed and roll up my sleeve. I swallowed hard. I hate needles. In my grade school memory book, it says that in Kindergarten I wanted to be a nurse. In grade one I crossed it out and wrote that I will not be a nurse “because of the needles”.
As the nurse tightened the elastic around my arm I let out a muffled, little cry. Two seconds later I was in a full body dry heave. The nurse put her hands on her hips and rolled her eyes. Some people aren’t cut out for this, and both of us weren’t.
A few minutes later a different nurse came alongside me. She pushed my hair out of my eyes and offered me a tissue. She said she would bring my husband into the room, as long as he didn’t have a pacemaker.
She was a pro. She had him squeeze my hand, while she poked my arm for the IV. She had some difficulties: apparently my veins have too many blockers, preventing the IV from sitting nicely in my vein. My husband gave me a weak smile.
When the IV was firmly secured she sent my husband back to the waiting room, and she guided me down the hall. The room was bare, aside from the giant machine, which the nurse bragged, cost 2.9 million dollars. I stepped up to the plank-like bed. I wiggled up onto the platform and tried to get comfortable. One and a half hours.
“…And the headphones are broken so you can’t listen to music.” What? No music. What about I am the Walrus? What about Hey Jude? It is over seven minutes long. She passed me two small pieces of orange foam. I stuffed them in my ears.
I shuffled up to align my shoulders with the headgear. The nurse placed the headgear over my face, leaving two small eye openings. There was a small mirror on the headgear so that I could see the control room. I choked back my anxiety and told myself to be brave.
I had a million more questions, but there was no more time. People had to wait nine months for this. I should feel lucky. I should shut up and lie down and get ‘er done.
The nurse slowly pushed me into the tube. The room and the people disappeared and I stared straight ahead at the white plastic dome, which was way too close to my face. I panicked. “Can I just come out for one more minute?” I heard a voice, through the machine.
“Are you okay?”
“This first one will last three minutes. Stay completely still. Don’t move your eyes.” The noise began right away. The machine was clicking, humming, purring at unreasonable decibels. This is what I imagine German Industrial music sounds like.
I was worried I was moving my eyes. I tried to stare at one spot in my eyelid but it kept moving. I began to tear up, worried I was ruining the image and my time in the tube would be prolonged. I swallowed a few tears in my throat and scolded myself. I should be stronger than this.
Over the next few minutes I became entranced, as the German Industrial ravers likely do. I tried to think about that calendar clipping of Lake Como, but I couldn’t think about anything else but the noise.
Then there was silence. The Technician spoke through the radio. “Another one. This one is 5 minutes. Hold still.”
One down, fifteen to go.
After one of the scans there was a few seconds of silence. I opened my eyes and looked at the mirror. I could see the people in the control room, sort of. I thought about my husband and how sweet he is, and how he can always make me feel better. I thought about how I will hug him as soon as this is all over.
The noise came and went 18 times in all. Apparently, I ruined three scans when I scratched my nose or swallowed my tears. They pulled me out of the tube and I smiled. “All done?”
Without a word the nurse ushered me back into the waiting room, where my dear, sweet husband had been waiting for over two hours. His eyes met mine and with a weak smile he said, “hi”.