How to Survive 20 MRIs

Last month, if my count is correct, I had my 20th MRI. And in those 20 MRIs, I’ve learned some valuable lessons that I feel I absolutely must share—lessons that will comfort you on your next tube adventure. Or lessons that will rattle you to the very core and make you shudder in anticipation of your next trip inside The Tunnel of Doom. You never imagine something is going to go wrong. Until it does. Oh, Geez.

Now I know what you are probably thinking: Dave is going to tell a story about how he once accidentally forgot to remove his barbell-style tongue stud and for 45 minutes his tongue, literally, was glued to the sidewall of the 3-Tesla machine (featuring a powerful open-bore magnet) rendering him speechless for the first time in his 47 years. And how it took three medical techs to extricate Mr. Bexfield’s tongue from said magnet by using a plastic knife and a pair of sporks from someone’s well-timed Burger King takeout. Ah, you’d be wrong. But close.

As an MRI aficionado—and one can call oneself an aficionado after shooting the tube nearly two dozen times—I’ve amassed an impressive MRI resume. I’ve experienced short MRIs (20 minutes) and long MRIs (1.5 hours). I’ve been in open MRIs and closed MRIs, weak MRIs and strong MRIs, and portable MRIs and permanent MRIs. I’ve gotten MRIs with contrast and MRIs without contrast. I’ve had spine MRIs and brain MRIs. But nothing prepared me for one fateful afternoon with Dido Florian Cloud de Bounevialle O'Malley Armstrong.

Now, there has always been one reliable constant during every imaging session: that telltale MRI siren call, a racket akin to a cross between whales mating, a symphony of jackhammers, and a pig stuck in a well. Chk, chk, chk, EEE, EEE, EEE, UHH, UHH, UHH, D’OH, D’OH, D’OH. Fortunately, some MRI facilities offer entertainment to keep your mind off all the incessant whale/jackhammer/pig clattering, usually in the form of music (I’ve even watched several feature-length films, how trick is that?!, but that’s not typical).

For one of my MRIs, I made the decision to select a Dido CD, Life for Rent. It seemed like a genius choice at the time—soothing, but not too soothing, with enough defiance to resonate with someone who has multiple sclerosis. The first track: White Flag, a song about not surrendering, not giving up. Perfect… until 30 seconds in, when disaster struck, my own personal tongue-stud catastrophe. Yup. The CD started to skip.

I had a choice between two terrible options. I could squeeze the “emergency” bulb to signal the MRI tech that there was a problem, potentially triggering an urgent rush to aid a patient in distress, shutting down the MRI, and delaying every poor individual after me—all over a skipping CD. Or I could suck it up for 20 minutes. You don’t all need to call me a hero, but I wasn’t going to raise that white flag. Oh, hell no. I bravely took one for the team.

After my harrowing experience, I was presented with the Dido CD. It hasn’t skipped since.
Now if you are reading this post because you really wanted practical MRI advice for someone with MS, I actually do have a few good tips. Pee first (but not too early, wait until you’ve been called back), make sure you are hydrated (enough) if you need to get poked for contrast, don’t wear anything metal (rings, earrings, glasses, tongue studs), be as still as possible (well, duh), close your eyes (unless you can watch a movie), mentally chillax if you are claustrophobic (there may be some pharma solutions), and smile when you think of this post. Oh, and be thankful Dido isn’t starting the same song over 1,832 times.