Your first MRI? It's Really Not So Bad

The MRI experience

I had been seeing my chiropractor for a rather constant pain/discomfort in my right shoulder. Yep, it was one of those: "Doc. It hurts when I raise my arm up above my head." "Well, then don't try to raise your arm above your head." So, the start of one of the sessions, as I tried to convince the doc that I was making progress (and probably not sounding very convincing), he recommended an MRI. That sounded simple enough, so I thought "Sure. Why not?"

On the way out he added that there would be an injection of contrast material into my shoulder.

"Oh. that's why not", thought I to myself.

During the next few days I planned how I would prepare myself for both the imagined 16-penny sized needle being shoved into my shoulder and myself being shoved into a drainage-pipe sized cylinder. "I'll take one of the Skelaxin muscle relaxants that the medical doctor gave me when all this started, and I'll combine that with a Tramadol. No. Maybe they're not strong enough. Maybe I'll not be able to talk coherently - I've only had them at night. Maybe these will interact in some way with the contrast compound. "OK, how about a couple of aspirin. That works with the dentist. No. Too much bleeding." So on the morning of the session, I took my wife's suggestion to just take them up on their offer of a sedative. The patient "instruction" sheet said to be there an hour and fifteen minutes early. So we left thirty minutes before that, planning a quick trip up the new freeway.

Five minutes out the freeway double-crossed me. Traffic slowed to a standstill and an electronic sign scrolled details of a wreck blocking the road ahead.

So we took the back roads and arrived about thirty minutes after the suggested one hour and fifteen minute arrival time.

I mentioned the sedative, hoping I wasn't too late. The technician came out, surprised that I changed my mind (I told him the day before during my confirmation call that I would not need sedatives). He reached into one pocket, produced a prescription bottle of Valium and dropped two into my hand. He reached into the other pocket and, from another bottle, produced two Benedryl tablets.

"Cool", I said, and took the four tablets with some sips from an apple juice container that he provided.

"Can I drink the rest?"


"Rats", I said as he smiled. (I was hoping to get some sort of nourishment to make up for the four hour fast. Why is it that virtually every medical test requires you to starve first?)

The technician led me into a very pleasant room with a large TV, comfortable reclining chairs, and a fountain. He even suggested that my wife join us.

Here he explained the procedure, which would involve pre-injections of a local anesthetic.

Ahhh. The Magic Words - Local Anesthetic. "Why didn't you say that", I thought to myself. He took my blood pressure. 158/97, far higher than my normal. I told him it was likely due to the traffic and the nervousness.

I was then ushered into the injection room. The injection of the contrast dye into my shoulder was preceded by a local anesthetic, and was quite painless. By way of a TV monitor I could watch the rather long needle being guided right up to my shoulder socket. The compound was introduced and I was wheeled out.

Soon I was invited into the Magnet Room.

"Oh", thought I, rather pleasantly surprised. This isn't some closed, narrow tube. It's a rather large cylinder about three feet in diameter and only about 5 feet long. (By this time I was quite relaxed anyway - they could have put me into a half inch copper water pipe if they wanted to.)

I climbed up onto the table. It was padded (I was expecting a hard surface). There was even a pillow. A curved assembly was placed over my shoulder. (They mentioned later that this served to concentrate the magnetism). The table raised up and then it moved into the cylinder. I closed my eyes, but took a peep anyway. "Not too bad", I thought. The technician for this procedure was a lady (the other tech was my escort, and also assisted in the injection). She admonished me to be perfectly still, and then left the room.

The MRI started.

The giant machine went through various cycles of incredibly loud noises - she had previously offered ear plugs and I had them in my ears. But this was a racket that was experienced with the whole body. There was the constant background clanking, like the sound effects to the underground caverns in the original Time Machine movie. Then there were periods of alternating machine gun fire, jack-hammer pounding, and various sci-fi sound effects.

"Bring your own CD of quiet music, if you like", the patient brochure said.

You might as well bring a music CD to a tractor pull.

Copyright © 2017 J.A.