When your doctor prescribes you an MRI, your immediate question is what to expect when you get an MRI. What you actually want to know is, how to prepare, how long it takes, whether it is painful, etc. Read what was the procedure when I received a brain MRI, and learn what was scary, and how to overcame it.
- What’s an MRI?
- How does a Brain MRI Look Like?
- How Much Time Does a MRI Procedure Take?
- Go to the Restroom before You Prep for the MRI
- Is an MRI Painful?
- Calming Down by Listening to Music
- The Noise Is Loud
- How Can You Overcome Panic when Being in the Donut Scares You
- The Second Part of the Procedure Differs from the First
- What I Wore to the Walk-in MRI
- The Outcome of the MRI
- Differences to a Chest MRI
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Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor. Therefore, ask your doctor for medical advice. This post is just a report from my own brain MRI that I share as answers to questions I had myself prior to the MRI.
What’s an MRI?
When you ask a scientist this question, they immediately answer “Multi Research Instrumentation.” Well, that’s a program at the National Science Foundation for applying for a grant to buy an instrument that more than one scientist can use for their research.
Obviously, this program is not the correct answer for what your question. Actually, the abbreviation MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. The instrument applies magnetism and radio waves to scan bones or organs. A receiver measures the return signal of the magnetic and radio waves. The data are then processed on a computer to create an image that the radiologist will interpret.
In other words, it’s a quite different method than a colonoscopy that needs preparation.
How Does a Brain MRI Looks Like?
Think of a huge donut, a bigger than the wheel of a huge trans-continental American truck of the sort that can have two hitches. If you have ever been in Alaska and have seen the DOT snow-pows with the plow between the front and back wheels in winter or these same plows used to straighten the surface of unpaved roads, think of their wheel size to have an idea of the dimension.
This giant “donut” contains (among other things) a circular magnet. In the whole of the “donut”, there is an about 20 inches (50.8 cm) wide flatbed with a form that fits your head plus old-fashioned (ear-protecting) headphones. They look similar to those worn by the employees loading and unloading the baggage at the airport. The bed can move into and out of that “donut.”
How Much Time Does the MRI Procedure Take?
I had to take off all my clothes and jewelry and get into one of the incredibly ugly hospital gowns with pants and slip-stop socks. I was asked to lay down on the flatbed, and they explained the procedure. It consists of two parts. The first one is about 20 minutes long. It is performed without contrast agent (a clear liquid that helps to increase the accuracy of the imaging). Then the nurse will come back into the imaging room, and add the contrast agent into your vein prior to the second round of imaging. This second part lasts another 15 minutes.
Go to the Restroom before You Prep for the MRI
The MRI room was chilly to an uncomfortable degree and looked like a lab with the MRI standing in the middle. “That’s about 40 minutes that you are not allowed to move. Otherwise we can’t interpret the images” I heard her saying. My first thought after hearing this information that was “I gonna have to pee in the meantime laying in this cold storage.” Therefore, I apologized several times, and asked whether I can go to the restroom before we start. Thereafter, I laid back down, and she offered me with a second heated blanket, which I gladly accepted.
Is an MRI Painful?
Then she took some blood. Well, you know the pain of that, right? Since it was shortly after 7 am, I couldn’t help but asking whether she needs the blood to feed the vampire breakfast. She had no humor. Instead of saying “yes of course, and he has family and guests”, she told me that they will analyze the blood for my kidney function because the contrast fluid will leave the body via the kidneys. “Drink a lot of water today to remove the contrast from your body.”
Calming Down by Listening to Music
She now told me that the machine would make a terrible noise and that the headphones will serve for her to communicate with me. Moreover, they will play some music. “I hope not the one they are playing now in this room” I said. That music sounded like a heart beat played with a metal drum. “What music do you want” she asked. “Some Argentine Tango would be nice. Do you have that?” “It’s played from the internet. I’m sure I can find that.” “Thanks that would be great.”
Then she handed me an oval ball on a cord, and said I should press it when I’m in panic or need help. Help for what? But this time I didn’t ask. Instead I said “like the button for the stewardess on a plane” and just thought I won’t need that. She looked irritated. “Just kidding.” She turned her face into a tortured smile.
Then she pulled a sort of visor down towards my face. It closed the form in which my head was resting. My view now was like looking thru an ice hockey helmet. My thought was “why had she made such a drama about whether I am claustrophobic?”
The Noise Is Loud
She repeated her instructions of what to do and not to do. Then she announced to leave the room. A little later, I heard Argentine tango music. I imagined dancing with my hubby. A loud noise disrupted my romantic fantasy. It sounded like a working crew is cutting a tree. “Is the music loud enough with the noise?” “Yes, it’s fine.”
How Can You Overcome Panic when Being in the Donut Scares You?
Then the bed moved into the donut. The edge of the donut’s whole was just 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.5 cm) above my head. “When I’m out of here, I have to tell my hubby that when I die before him he should make sure I have a coffin with high clearance” was my immediate thought. Next was “I will run out of oxygen and can’t breath.” Then I calmed myself thinking “if one could suffocate in this instrument, the FDA wouldn’t have approved it and my health insurance wouldn’t have approved the procedure. Close your eyes and you won’t see it.” These tricks did the trick. Thank you ostrich, great rolemode. The tactic of not seeing it works – at least sometimes.
In my head, I started again dancing with hubby to the music. With a sudden a terrible noise occurred sounding like a construction-crew man compressing soil. I couldn’t hear the music anymore. It came worse. The noise of a driller at the dentist – at least that how it sounded to me.
There were several rounds of different noises with periods of silence except for the music. They seemed to be about 30 seconds long according to my counting. Once in a while the bed moved a bit. The start of a new scan. Towards the end of the first part, the bed started to skake like in a 4 point earthquake. Wondering whether it’s the MRI or a real earthquake I decided to give the fault to the MRI. I was like if it were an earthquake she would move me out or she would think it’s safer in here; and if it were an earthquake, who cares, it’s just a 4 pointer. No reason to panic. Alaska public building code requires to withstand an 8.5. As if the 2002 Alaska 7.9 earthquake at the Denali Fault weren’t enough.
The Second Part of the Procedure Differs from the First
After the last scan of the first part, the nurse announced that she would come in to give me the contrast. “Don’t move” she insisted. A bit later I heard her opening the door. “I will give you the contrast now” she said. Obviously, the liquid was cooled. I could feel it moving up my arm when she added the contrast. I was curious about the color. Since I wasn’t allowed to move, I asked. “Clear” she said. She first gave some saline solution. I could taste it on my tongue. Then the agent, and then cleaned with a saline solution.
Once she left the room, the screening continued. This time, the noises seemed different than during the first round. Furthermore, there was no “shaking” like a quake. However, the bed moved several times for different “slices.”
When I came back to the waiting room, my husband asked me “How was it?” My answer: “Loud!”
What I Wore to the Walk-in MRI
My eye-doctor had told me that I would get a helmet for the MRI. Therefore, a graphic T-shirt and pants seemed a good choice. My choice was to give the paper-bag pants a repeat that I wore at Easter brunch earlier this year. Since it’s (finally) summer, adding some color to the all neutral outfit seemed to be fun. The multi-color gladiator heels and the green bag do exact that. The green and blue together make for a great easy analogous color look. The sandals pick up the green of the bag and blue of the pants even though in a different hue.
Like the outfit? If so, please feel free to pin them to your own Pinterest board.
You don’t want to let the right outfit be a random thing. When in doubt, it’s easy to create the right look for the situation by looking up what to wear when in How to Dress for Success in Midlife. Buy my book now when you haven’t done it so far.
The Outcome of the MRI
Everything is ok.
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Differences to a Chest MRI
Recently, I received a MRI of the chest. It also was a two step-procedure with and without contrast. However, the noise and “shaking” was more bearable. Probably, that’s why they didn’t play music.
Photos of me: G. Kramm
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