spent last night getting a brain and cervical spine MRI done at HUP. i had first gone to drop some materials off for work at our classroom site at penn and had some time to kill so i went to a used book store and purchased the following:
_illness as metaphor_ susan sontag
_the moviegoer_ walker percy (when dave passed through town last week he highly recommended this. it was $2. i couldn't pass it up)
_encyclopedia brown, book 1_
totally. encyclopedia brown. for $1.50. perhaps the cheapest good present for stean i've ever purchased.
so, got to the radiology dept at 9:00 for my 10:00 MRI time. read some of the sontag book and waited. and started to get nervous, so i took an ativan, which kicked in too soon and i wanted to fall asleep. then i got nervous that it would wear off before i actually needed it to keep me from being nervous.
i was the only person in the reception area waiting room. i suppose everyone else had cooler things to do with their friday night. finally my name was called and i was led down a hallway that was approximately 1/2 a mile in length to the area of the hospital where the MRI machines, or "magnets", as the nurse called them, were located. i had to do the usual--change into a gown, remove all metal, put my stuff in a locker, blah blah blah. the weird thing was that they made me wait in a waiting area in which two men were sitting. this shouldn't be a big deal, but i've only ever seen single sex waiting areas after the whole strip-to-your-skivs-and-don-this-gown step takes place. i guess i was just longing for the privacy of sisterhood, rather than hang out in a small waiting area where two fully clothed men were watching a baseball game as i'm sitting there in a knee-length hospital gown wearing nothing underneath but my skivs and my grey calf-high socks with the blue stripes and my sneakers. humility, thy name is emily.
as it turned out, the two fully clothed and unhumiliated men were waiting for their wives/girlfriends/womenpals, which prompted fight-the-power thoughts in my head about how the hospital should have a stricter policy protecting patients' privacy when wearing hospital gowns and that if stean had been there with me i wouldn't have needed him to wait with me DIRECTLY OUTSIDE OF THE MRI. geez, he could have waited in the main reception area.
mostly, i felt self-conscious because i hadn't shaved my legs. i always forget to do that before these things. mental note--don't forget next time.
and then the MRI... it was longer than usual, about the length of that research study MRI. it was a brain and cervical spine scan, dr p wanting to have more of the central nervous system checked for MS plaques. she also wanted me to have a thoracic scan, but my dipshit insurance company wouldn't cover it. she (dr p) said that if the cervical scan finds anything, she'll do what it takes to convince my insurance company to cover the thoracic, too.
maybe it was the ativan, or the pure oxygen that was being pumped through the MRI chamber, or the way the whole process is starting to feel routine, or some combination of all of the above, but the experience was much less scary, and almost enjoyable this time. i felt safe, whereas every other time i've felt like i was being buried alive.
the MRI process is loud, and the radiology tech gives you earplugs before you lie down on the table. the MRI sounds like a knocking or a buzzing or a chirping, depending on the scan. but there's a rhythm to each scan, sometimes steady, sometimes increasing in sound/intensity. the scans last from 45 seconds to four minutes per cycle, and each cycle has a unique noise. it doesn't sound nice, particularly when you think about how the noise means that a giant magnet is making pictures of your brain.
i spent my time in the MRI chamber thinking about two things. first, about how the process basically renders my skull and my skin and my hair and my blood vessels completely invisible. the MRI sees the brain ventricles and the grey matter and the sinuses and the eyeballs, but not the stuff that contains them. that is unbelievable. and it does so as a magnet! i'm a smart girl, but i have no idea how a magnet can see my brain, and in such detail that i can look at the films and see the weird mushy, wormy looking texture and follow my optic nerve from eyeball to occipital lobe. weirder still is that the magnet can see through my neck and shoulders to the cervical spine! and if i were having the thoracic spine scanned, too, the magnet would see past my ribs and lungs and heart to my spinal cord!
all of these mechanical miracles, and yet i have an incurable disease...
the other thing i was thinking about, and this is definitely a result of the ativan and the oxygen, was what words the scans sounded like. in a way, it was like being inside a kraftwerk song--robotic, evenly paced, nerdy, even a little scary. my sister used to do this thing, before she got too teenagery, where she would say the word "girl" over and over into her fist, so that her lips were covered entirely. the result was this weird see-and-say-esque noise that sounded like "doy". i think this was some kind of bizarro thing that girls do at camp late at night in the cabins, high on junk food and independence. but the MRI noises sounded a bit like that. sometimes they sounded bleepy, like an old-school hand-held video game. sometimes they sounded like someone was knocking from inside the machine.
but the words i was imagining, and at times i swear they were actually being spoken to me by the MRI (again, folks, i was under unusual chemical influence) were real words. the MRI was talking to me. now, in my normal and sober state, all i remember is that i was being spoken to. i can only remember one series of words that were said--"this is it this is it this is it". i figured this was what the machine was saying to me as it scanned the part of my brain that is swollen with my MS lesion.
am i losing my mind? the answer could be yes--both literally and figuratively. see earlier post--i don't feel much like myself. and this was 10:something on a friday night and i'm going through this magnetized ridiculousness as, now, a matter of course, a part of my life, this thing that i do.
i got my contrast injection, had about fifteen more minutes of scans, and that was that. i was awakened from my drug-induced near-euphoric slumber by a nurse telling me i did a great job (did a great job? i didn't _do_ anything). it was the equivalent to the house lights coming up after a concert performance--eyes readjusting to the light, stiffness from being still for so long--my philip glassian radiological procedure.
but that's not all, oh no. that's not all. i went to the dressing area to regain my pride and my clothing. and then...
...i swiped a hospital gown. yes, i know--this is wrong. it's stealing and whatnot. i'm not going to try to justify my actions. i stole a hospital gown. but i really liked the print on the material, it gave me some ideas for sewing projects. i mean, i've spent enough time in that hospital already and taking a gown off their hands isn't going to set them back too much. they have about a million of them. besides, i was high from breathing straight oxygen for 45 minutes. it seemed like the best thing to do at the time. your honor, i am guilty. take it up with my insurance company.
not only was i high enough to stuff a gown in my bag, but also i decided that the best way to get home at 11:00 at night would be to walk. i walked the 22 blocks, staggering like a drunk, talking on my cell phone. but i made it home safely, was greeted by the dog and cats. had some oreos for dinner. fell right asleep.