Herald and Journal Herald & Journal, April 6, 1998

Adventures of the MRI tube

By MYRON HEUER

Chances are, someday you'll meet the MRI.

It's one of the greatest advances of medicine in this century. I never heard of it until I had my stroke almost three years ago.

The initials stand for magnetic resonance imaging. The machine is making the old fashioned dangerous X-rays obsolete. MRI is non-intrusive and harmless to the body; needless to say, the machine itself and operation of it is expensive. It's state-of-the-art medicine.

My first visit to the MRI was while I was still a patient at the Veterans Hospital in Minneapolis. The orderly wheeled me in a wheelchair down into the bowels of the building, away from everything and everyone. I was told to take off all my clothes except my underwear and to put on the famous hospital gown they handed me.

Then they wheeled me into the room where the MRI was located (after giving me a sedative). There was a long tube that looked like it was made for a basketball player. The attendant explained the machine to me. The container had a strong magnetic field.

Oh, by the way, you had to remove all metal you may have, like keys, coins and wrist watches. Also, if you wore them, your dental plates. Radio waves are directed at your body. The waves bounce differently on each part of an area of your body and a computer in another room makes a composite picture. The part of my body they were concerned with was my head . . . my brain.

My neurologist explained it to me in simpler terms. He said my head would be "sliced" like a salami for the pictures. It didn't make me feel any better. The attendant told me to get up on the table and lie down. After they positioned my head and placed my arms as close to my body as possible, they told me to lie very still, don't cough, and if I get too claustrophobic to say so and they'd roll me out for awhile.

"Oh, by the way, it will get noisy while we take the pictures. Here's some ear plugs."

So they roll me inside the tube, which is very coffin-like. There's a little light in there. I think to myself, I bet you don't get that in a coffin. Then a voice comes over the speaker, "Five minutes."

Then the racket starts for five solid minutes; sounds like I have a machine gun nest in there with me. A few minutes after that burst, "Seven minutes." another gun battle. This goes on for a half-hour or 45 minutes. Finally they roll me out.

The MRI shows that everything is alright. But the neurologist wants me to come back for another session in six months. And I do. More claustrophobia, more ear plugs, more machine guns. I hear they have an MRI with a side opening, but the technicians I have say it's not as good as the 50-caliber machine I have.

Eventually, we move to Wisconsin. I transfer my medical records to the VA in Madison. About a month or so ago, I had my first MRI at the Madison facility. Surprising changes ­ I kept my clothes on. I had wondered before, why take your clothes off when they were concerned only with my head?

I still took a sedative and asked for ear plugs. They said they didn't use them; they played music instead.

The attendant said, "Rock, country, big band."

I said I'd take big band.

"Would you like Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey or Benny Goodman?"

I said, "All of the above."

So, they put these big ear phones on my head, checked the volume.

"Little bit louder," I said. "I don't want to hear the machine gun."

They rolled me in as "String of Pearls" was blasting in my ears. The little light was there. I could barely ear the machine gun. I was having a good time listening to "Opus One" by Dorsey and "Don't Be That Way" by Goodman, and all those good old big band tunes.

Next thing I knew, I was being rolled out.

"You're done. But next time don't tap your foot so hard. It might ruin the picture."

I told them I like their set-up better than Minneapolis. But it still feels like being in a coffin. Being in such a machine, great as it is, makes you consider cremation when the time comes.

Seriously, the process is expensive because they can handle only about a dozen patients a day. I'm told the MRI machine itself costs a couple million and, of course, the technicians and doctors who read the pictures have to be paid.

If you ever have to have an MRI, ask for music. It soothes the savage beast, you know.

 

I've always wondered . . . isn't it a bit unnerving that doctors and lawyers refer to what they do as "practice?"


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