It’s hard enough to have questionable health issues, but to endure testing to find out the results is an added necessary burden. Have you ever had an MRI? You can have them for all different health problems. I have endured MRI’s for brain and breast scans, neither of which are fun. But then, no test is fun, there I said it. I feel for you. I’ve been there. I don’t know what’s harder, the test itself, the wait time for the answer or the dealing with whatever the result is.
But below are a few tips that may help you or a loved one in case you need an MRI, in no particular order:
You can’t have any metal on you when you are in the MRI machine. Watches must come off because they will be stopped by the machine. You can probably keep your gold jewelry on, but the technician may tell you to take it all off and put it in your locker where your clothes are because you’ve changed into that fashionable hospital gown. You know the one, right? Lucky for us, they will probably give you two like they gave me. First one opens in the front, second opens in the back so there’s no peek-a-boo affect! Oh-la-la!
Go to the bathroom right before you have the procedure. Remember how your Mom told to you to go pee-pee before you left the house? Well, you will be in the MRI machine, not able to move for a bit so better to try to go again before you get strapped down for at least 30 minutes. Because, it’s so uncomfortable to have to resist the urge to stop an MRI because you need to go. You know how it is, if you need to go and you are strapped into a loud cranky machine and aren’t allowed to move, your mind will fill up with thoughts of the bathroom and it will be hard to stay calm and not move. And you can’t just get up, run to the potty and finish the test. Nope, you have to stay there, from start to finish in the same position.
When they put you in the machine, you will be asked to NOT MOVE for the entire time. So make sure you are as comfortable as humanly possible before the professional leaves the room. I’ve had MRI’s where I had to be in a certain position that was very uncomfortable in order to have the test. Sometimes you just have to be in that position no matter what, but occasionally, you can have the position adjusted BEFORE the test begins. The key here is BEFORE because you can’t change position once it starts. It never hurts to ask.
Make sure they give you earplugs ~ the machine clanks LOUDLY and you are in a tube which makes the sound reverberate. Earplugs don’t seem to help, but it’s even worse when you don’t have them. Years ago, they didn’t give you earplugs and it felt deafening to be in the machine.
TELL the professional if you are a claustrophobic. THIS IS IMPORTANT! Some tests will allow a relaxing medicine (prescription from your doctor before you go to the MRI) to be taken 30 minutes prior to help with the phobia and there are cases in which you can request an OPEN MRI which would help immensely if you are indeed claustrophobic.
For the breast scans, I have gone by myself before and since I know what to expect, it’s not as bad. Ok, it’s not great either. Breast scans have the patient laying face down (like the photo above) so you can see nothing except the sheet that covers the platform on which you are laying. Your arms are above your head so that the radiologist can see your breasts. I will tell you that for me, it is terribly uncomfortable to have my right side that way. In fact, my back muscles went into spasm once and I called to the technician. She came in and helped me to reposition myself and made sure I was still in position for the best possible test results, but I was able to have my arm oustretched to get into the machine and then under her supervision, was able to bend my arm against the machine so that it was comfortable once I was fully in the machine. It made a world of difference for me.
The object here to get the test done in the shortest amount of time with the best results while you are as comfortable as possible. To get all 3 pieces is a huge win-win. Your technician is a big help in this because they want you to have a good experience and they need to get the job done.
Working together is key here.
You are not alone in the MRI machine. You have a ball in your hand to squeeze in case you need help and your technician (who is in the next room) will respond. There is also an audio whereby you can hear the technician tell you what to expect ~ test for 8 minutes, the contrast is now starting, etc. and you can respond verbally as well.
You can have an MRI with and without contrast. Without getting too technical, with contrast means that you will have an IV inserted before you go into the MRI machine room. Once you are settled into position in the machine, the technician will connect your IV to the contrast for use later as the first set of MRI images will be without the contrast.
My advice is to drink water before you go to the test and to drink water afterwards to flush your system of the contrast. Drinking water before hydrates you (hence take the potty break right before) and allows your veins to be nice and plump so that the IV is inserted quickly, easily and pretty painlessly. If you don’t hydrate, then it’s harder to find a good vein, the prick hurts more and veins can get blown, which means you have to get stuck again in a different vein. That, my friends, is never fun and I’ve had a ton of experience with that piece.
When the technician tells you the contrast is coming, you will feel it in your veins. You may have felt something already, a little bit of cold fluid which is the saline solution to make sure that all flows properly. You will know the contrast is entering your veins because you will taste a metallic ink in your mouth and may even feel a warmth in your body. You may even feel like you’ve (ahem) peed yourself (for lack of a better term), but don’t worry. It’s simply the sensation because remember, you’ve already gone potty before you got into the machine. Once the contrast is delivered, the machine will clank again as it repeats the same imaging as before, only this time with the contrast in your body.
So what do you do while you are waiting for the whole episode to be over? It’s loud in the machine and time for me, feels like it stops completely. I have tried to sing songs to myself ~ made up rap songs to the rat-a-tat-tat of the clanking machine ~ I’ve tried to find a mantra to say along with the rhythmic clanging ~ I can do this…I am healthy…All is well…God please be with me…etc. I have tried to pray the rosary even, but as my mind has a hard time focusing I only almost prayed 2 mysteries. But perhaps you’ll find something to do to make the time go by easier.
I have had techs who have been diligent in telling me, “Ok, this test is for 8 minutes…now this one is for 10” and so on…and I have had others whom I thought had left the building as I hardly ever heard from them so I guess it’s just the luck of the draw. My favorite line from any of them has always been, “Ok, the test is over. Stay still, I’m coming in,” as I drew a huge sigh of relief that it was over.
I’ve been woozy afterwards with all of the fears now over, the test now over and I am now having to stand up after being face down for 45 minutes. Take your time. If you feel light-headed, TELL the professional as if you faint, the EMS come and it’s a big deal. If you can take your time and simply stay calmer, it helps. I know that those of us who are fainters (yup, me too) don’t always have any notice that they are going down, but if you do, please tell them. Believe me, you don’t want the EMS there because you fainted because the test was finally over. You want to do a happy dance that it’s over and get out of there!
I hope you found a tidbit or two to help you through ~ I have been there, done that, so if you have any questions or want to share your experience below, please do! I am here for you if you need a friend. I understand ~ here’s my hand, hold on. We’ll get you through this together!
P.S. Thanks to my sweet readers who shared their experiences below and gently reminded me about the contrast sensation. You rock Rhonda and Cordelia’s Mom. ♥