A severe leg pain and numbness or tingling on my back are some of the symptoms that terrify my doctors and me. MRI is the way to go, as it is an easy and accurate way of screening my bones and muscles. Or so they say. To tell you the truth it’s not painful or invasive in any way, but having to stay still for as long as it lasts is a nightmare. It may seem easy, but trust me, it’s not. Staying still for two hours at a time can be traumatizing, especially when you are lying inside a machine that looks like a narrow tube. Tying your arms and legs is sometimes inevitable in order to restrain you from moving them and ruining the accuracy of the images. Other times, you’re supposed to rest your head inside what looks like a big uncomfortable helmet, so that you don’t accidentally move it. All kinds of metals are prohibited. No earrings, no watches or jewelry of any kind, no zippers or pants with metallic buttons.
After I get rid of everything metallic, I have to fill out a form of puzzling and complex questions. “Do you have a spinal cord stimulator or internal electrodes or wires? Do you wear medication patches?” I guess I’m not and I check the “NO” boxes. The scan is about to start so I enter the room, after I lock the rest of my stuff in a locker.
For those of you who haven’t had an MRI, the machine looks like a big, but also narrow tube, inside which most people lie for about half an hour. In my case, half an hour is never enough, and I usually stay in there for more than one hour and a half. I lie down on the hard bed, the guy ties my legs so that they remain still, he gives me a pillow, a warm blanket, earplugs and earphones, so that I don’t go deaf from the extremely loud noises that the scanner usually makes. Everything to make me as comfortable as someone can be when trapped inside a large tube, unable to move. He also gives me a cord with a button on it, to press in case of emergency or if I feel claustrophobic.
This is when the fun begins. The scan has started. I look up and realize that the machine is closer to my face than I thought. I feel trapped. The sound is echoing and its tone is constantly changing. Even though music is playing through the earphones, it is very hard to detect which song is on, as the noise is too loud. I am extremely bored and it’s hard to tell if ten minutes or half an hour has passed. I close my eyes and try to fall asleep, but I find it rather difficult. I open my eyes and I am begin to breathe faster. My legs as well as my back are starting to feel numb. I am trying to bring to mind the meditation techniques that I learned at the yoga lesson I took last week and I am striving to imagine that I’m not trapped inside the MRI machine.
I envision myself lying on green fields next to blooming flowers, but I don’t like this image. I prefer the sea on a summer day. I see myself walking on the beach, staring at the sea. I can feel the warm sand on my toes and the cool summer breeze on my shoulders. This feeling reminds me of the summer in the Greek islands. Suddenly this thought is interrupted and I find myself wondering about where I am going to spend the summer. “Will I be away at some island with my friends? Or will I spend it getting several rounds of chemo in Athens or the United States? What if this pain means a new metastasis?, I wonder.
Once again, I open my eyes and realize I have been tearing up. My breathing has become very fast and I am unable to stay put for another moment. I feel like I am about to have a panic attack. Soon, tears are running down my cheeks, but I don’t want the technician to see me cry and think I’m weak. I decide to sit through these last minutes of the exam, because stopping would mean it will take forever. The breathing techniques I use come in handy. I breathe in on the count of four and exhale likewise. There’s nothing on my mind anymore, except my breathing. Nor the MRI machine, or the technician or even the result. My heartbeat finally calmed down and my tears dried.
Suddenly, the noise stops and the technician announces through the microphone that the scan is over. He comes in and asks me if I am okay. “I’m perfectly fine”, I reply in order to avoid conversation. I stand up and stretch out. I feel relieved that I can walk, move my legs and arms again. I step out of the hospital. In the outside world, life goes on in an unusual normal pace. I have no option but to do the same.
*Credit to my dad for taking this picture