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Close Encounters with Science: Picks

The MRI by Shannon Falconer

It’s 4:30 a.m. when my alarm clock goes off. I reach towards the noise on my bedside table and struggle to recall what day of the week it is. Sunday. I roll over, slipping back into sleep when it suddenly hits me: oh right, I have to be at the hospital in 45 minutes. I have an MRI appointment.

MRI. The acronym stands for magnetic resonance imaging. Whereas the ultrasound might be the Chevy of medical imaging instruments, the MRI is the Lamborghini. And when technology is coupled with demands from the malady-prone body, the sum is a machine that operates continuously, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

I arrive at the hospital medical imaging department and am prepped for the procedure by a technician who asks a litany of questions:

Do you have any metal in your body?
Do you wear a pacemaker?
You’ll need to remove that nose ring. Do you have any other piercings?
Et cetera.

I’m escorted into a whitely, brightly lit room with a futuristic horizontal cylindrical object. A disconcertingly small entrance to the MRI faces me, and a sinister laughter echoes in my brain. I knew the space would be tight, but I wasn’t prepared for this. My mouth goes dry and I fight back the gag reflex. Before there’s any opportunity to leak the word “claustrophobic” I’m told to lie down and remain still. The technician places a bulb in my hand. 

If you need to stop then squeeze this.

I feel the platform on which I’m laying begin to move. My body inches its way into the multi-million dollar cave where I have no more than five inches of breathing room between my face and the ceiling above. A jackhammer starts to pound; the imaging has begun. I squeeze my eyes tight and try to imagine myself in the middle of a desert, with nothing but wide-open space between myself and the horizon. But I’m no fool, this is not a desert - I’m in a glorified coffin! I squeeze the bulb. The conveyer moves out and the technician, who seems to be gifted with clairvoyance asks:

Claustrophobic? You’ll have to go back to your doctor, explain that you need a sedative and then make another appointment.

Tears fill up in my eyes. I may be an anxious bundle of nerves but I’m also a stubborn woman who has been in pain for the past six months waiting for this MRI and I’m not about to go back in queue. I make a plea:

Please, can we try again? Maybe I can reach my arm over my head and out of the tunnel…I know this is a ridiculous request, but if you would just sit and hold my free hand then I might be able to do this. 

I’m in luck. The clairvoyant technician seems to be a woman of compassion. She agrees. We try the procedure again and this time I make it through.

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