Saturday, November 9, 2019

Getting through a lumbar spine MRI without freaking out

Having psoriatic arthritis for almost 30 years, I’ve gone through my fair share of medical and diagnostic procedures. Some of these are more uncomfortable than others. But nothing was quite as unnerving as the lumbar spine MRI I had yesterday.

This MRI is the biggest step toward my healing, so I knew that it must be done. It will tell us exactly what is causing such severe pain in my low back. We know that I’ve got extensive degeneration that is causing nerve pain into my right leg – and starting to affect the left side, as well. This MRI will provide more information to tell us the next steps in my treatment.
When I scheduled this appointment, the MRI scheduler asked if I was claustrophobic. “Maybe. I’m not sure.” I don’t typically find myself in small spaces to know if I am or not. She told me that, since I was scheduled for the mobile truck, the machine would be a little larger than normal and that should help with any feelings of claustrophobia.

Surprisingly, I was not nervous as I arrived at the office for this scan since I’ve done this before on my knee. However, I knew that this time I would be going in head first. Still, the scheduler told me that this unit was larger. With that in mind, I confidently walked (or hobbled) into the office to check in for my MRI. I completed a form, answering questions about my medical history. There were also questions about metal that might be in my body or on my person. I took off my jewelry and my hearing aids and checked my clothes to ensure that I hadn’t left any metal on. When the technician talked to me, I let her know that I have metal in my knee (from my replacement) and in my foot (a plate and screws from bunion surgery.) She let me know that was fine.

We walked over to the MRI truck and I saw the machine. Holy cow! It was small! Could this really be the bigger one? How much smaller do they get? Now I’m starting to panic! The technician was very reassuring and asked if she could put a washcloth over my eyes. She told me that would help me with this 30-minute scan. “Yes! Anything that will help is great.” In I go. The tech is standing with me as the machine slides me in, her hand on my leg for some reassurance. She tells me that I’m doing fine. I don’t completely feel fine. I want to sit up. But I try to control my breathing and get through it. I had a call button in my left hand, and I knew that if I really couldn’t handle it that I could just squeeze.

As the scan starts, I could feel slight movements in the table and heard so much noise. I felt very thankful for the earplugs in my ears. I wondered if the walls were closing in on me. I tried to squeeze my arms closer to my body. The last thing I would want is to feel the walls. I wanted to reach up to see how close it was to me, but I knew that would only freak me out. I paid attention to my breathing. I took a slow breath in through my nose, filling up my lungs before I exhaled just as slowly through my mouth. My eyes were closed. I told myself that this was just a tanning bed, but since I had my clothes on, I would still be pale when I got out. I didn’t believe myself. Knowing that my treatment depends on this MRI, I was determined to get through it. I kept my eyes closed and thought about things I enjoy – puppies, cute baby goats and the beautiful vineyard we went to a few weeks ago.

Finally, I heard the technicians voice through the speakers. “This is the last scan. 6 minutes. You’re doing great.” That means I’ve already been there for 24 minutes. 6 minutes is nothing. I’ve got this. It’s almost over. More clicking and buzzing and whirring and then it was over. I tuck in my arms a little more as I feel myself sliding out of this machine. I’m told to close my eyes as the washcloth is lifted from my face. “It’s very bright in here.”

With that, it’s all over. I had the opportunity to complete a survey. The technicians were amazing, so I was glad to give them 5 stars. I knew I could count on them to end the MRI if I needed to. What a relief that it didn’t come to that.

If I needed to do another MRI, I think I would be able to go without panic. It’s an awkward and vulnerable position to be in, but it will help me get the treatment I need for this relentless pain.

What are your tips to make an MRI easier?

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