On Saturday I got an MRI.
I’ve had a lump on my shoulder for a really long time and recently it started discomforting me at night. I went to get it checked out a week or so ago, and my Doctor advised an MRI. Now that I’ve experienced it, I figured I’d share my knowledge so if any of you find yourselves someday strapped down and rolled into the mouth of the Magnetic beast, you will be fully prepared.
MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging
How does it work? The MRI uses colossal magnets to align all the polar stuff in your body. Then radio frequency pulses are fired through perpendicular to the newly aligned stuff. The frequency pushes the polar stuff out of alignment. When the radio is turned off, the now misaligned stuff spins back into alignment releasing energy. The energy is recorded. Different tissues release energy differently so the techs are able to “see” what’s inside. Basically it’s Magic.
What’s it like?
MRIs are big ticket machines so the scheduling, at least at our local facility, was pretty specific. I showed up at 3:40, filled out paperwork for 10 minutes and was promptly taken into the lab. Most of the paperwork was intended to confirm that I didn’t have any metal in my body (like pins, staples, or shrapnel). Since MRIs use seriously gargantuan magnets I can only imagine that having metal on/in your person would unanimously qualify as a bad day.
After my interview, the tech let me lock up my personal items and reviewed my clothing.
“you can keep your shirt and your sandals. Underwear is fine, but you’ll have to remove your belt and shorts.” He handed me a pair of light shorts with a fabric belt to wear instead. “And you can keep your ring on.”
I got changed and met the techs at the entrance of the MRI.
An MRI looks like a immense doughnut with a stretcher in the middle. I was invited to lay down on the stretcher. Since my shoulder was the point of interest, I put my shoulder into a form that looked like a medieval shoulder guard (fun fact: this type of armor is called a pauldron). I accepted an offer for an additional head pillow as the technician raised my legs atop a comfortable wedge.
Before the machine turned on, the technician presented me with some basic info:
- The machine is loud
- I was not allowed to move and would be strapped down to aid in this measure*
- The experience would last 30-40 minutes
- I can listen to music!
*throughout the event the techs would be taking pictures with the MRI. Since the pictures would be compared with one another they need to be as positionally similar as possible: the less the patient moves the better
“We have Pandora, what station would you like?”
“ooh, I’ll take Jazz please.”
lesson learned: never request general music genres. For some reason it seems that everyone else who thinks they have a jazz station actually have a smooth jazz station. This is a deep travesty. My 40 minutes was mostly Kenny G. For those unfamiliar with Jazz, this is like asking for Rock expecting Metallica and getting 40 minutes of Credence Clearwater Revival.
As the technicians left the room, the stretcher rolled inside the MRI tube making me feel like I was in a science fiction movie. It’s hard to describe the size of the inside. I’ve never been inside a tanning booth, but the MRI space seemed to be about that size*. I had maybe 4-5 inches from my nose to the inner diameter of the machine.
*Fun business idea: Tanning booth MRIs for people who are concerned about cancer but MORE concerned about looking hella sweet at the beach this Tuesday for Marcia’s annual beach volleyball meet-up.
My headset came alive with the tech’s voice
“We’re going to begin. Please remain still. The first picture will take 20 seconds.”
The music began and I winced with realization that this horrible synth intro would continue for 40 minutes.
And then they turned on the machine with a subtle whirring. The first three pictures (20 seconds, 2 minutes, and 3.5 minutes) all sounded like single tones at various pitches. It was loud, but not insanely so. No louder than if you were inside your car holding down your car horn. The remainder of the pictures were taking with bangs and bams in fast repetition. Kind of like a really loud sprinkler on it’s return, or a muffled jackhammer. Other pictures made a sound like what I imagine would arise if you threw a baseball inside a red six quart kitchen aid mixer equipped with a paddle and set to speed 8.
After 15 minutes, I was taken out and injected with some sort of dye that would create contrast in the blood. This was done so that if by some unfortunate circumstance my lump was a tumor, it would stand out. Tumors get blood. Fatty cysts, do not.*
*or so I was told by the tech
The process repeated for another 15-20 minutes after which I was pulled out and we were done!
Overall, the most uncomfortable part of the process was the smooth jazz. Occasionally parts of my arm felt tingly but this may have been the vibrations from the noise as much as the magnetic alignment and realignment of my tissues. I applaud the team at Shoreline Medical Center in Westbrook for their professionalism and attention to my comfort.
I should find out my results this week!