How to survive an MRI

Let me assure you, I have extreme claustrophobia. I have had claustrophobic panic attacks driving into an underground parking garage. I have to practice deep breathing exercises to get through some of the line for Indiana Jones at Disneyland. Airplanes are decidedly outside my comfort zone, and the back seat of a two-door car is simply out of the question. So you can imagine how I felt when people started asking me to get inside these various tubes for imaging. Thus far I have had a couple of CT scans, a PET scan and two MRI’s.

The first one, an MRI, was on my breasts and was done face down, which was a whole lot easier. The second one was a PET scan, and they wanted me to lay on a bed and be put head first into this tube. I think PET uses a CT scanner, and I believe the tubes are a tiny big bigger, but it was still an unimaginable thought for me. I laid down and the table started to move, and I shot up again and said, “I’m sorry, but I just can’t do this.”

The tech said that we could stop and I could take some Ativan before the next scan, but she pointed out that I was already radioactive, and they would rather not make me radioactive more often than necessary. Well, I didn’t want to do that either, and I also wanted the results of the darn scan as soon as possible. So when she offered to put something over my face, I accepted. She draped my face with a folded sheet, I went to my “happy place,” which happened to be dancing on the Sea of Galilee with Jesus, and off we went. The sheet wasn’t able to completely fool me. I could tell when it was getting darker and when it was getting lighter, but it was enough, combined with dancing with Jesus, and I survived.

I had a couple more CT scans after that, and both times I used the cloth over the face and got through it. But today I had to have a MRI. When I had my last CT a couple of weeks ago, I remember the tech asked me if I’d had an MRI, and commented that even though he didn’t have claustrophobia, he got panicky when he had an MRI. Yikes.

Keeping this in mind, I took an Ativan 60 minutes before my MRI was scheduled. So I show up, not really feeling the effects of the Ativan, and I see this tiny tube. “That is really small,” I said to the tech. He was great at his job, perfectly positive and entertaining attitude. “Oh, it’s pretty roomy if you really look at it,” he says, making sweeping motions with his hand. “It’s 24 inches.” I am laughing inside and thanking God for the CT tech’s offhand comment a couple of weeks earlier. Or who knows, maybe he had already seen the results of the CT scan and knew there was an MRI in my future and was giving me a subtle warning.

I was going in feet first, which helps, but I was going all the way in, which means my head would end up inside the machine. Presumably I’d be able to look up and see outside the machine, but that was no comfort at all. I got a washcloth this time and put it over my eyes. I went into the machine with my arms raised over my head, and I could feel when my shoulders went inside because the sides of the tunnel actually closed around me and pushed my arms in.

I have a new happy place this year. It is the “secret place” from Psalm 91 (New King James Version). Let me tell you a little about its I visited it today. It was a cave, oddly enough. There is a little pool of water in the cave, and there are logs there that I can sit on while I talk with God. Maybe it will look different in different circumstances, just like my walking on the water with Jesus took on different manifestations over the period of time I relied on it, with me sometimes unable to even climb out of the boat because my faith just wasn’t there. In those times, Jesus just sat with me, his head on his hands, leaning into the boat.

And the happy news is that I got through the MRI. I think the Ativan probably really helped, and if you have claustrophobia and are scheduled for this procedure, do ask for a prescription. I took only one, and honestly I was relaxed enough to doze off a couple of times during the procedure (which took 45 minutes). Take an Ativan beforehand, and take your faith with you to the procedure, know where your happy place is and go there in your mind. You don’t have to be where you are.

Part of the reason I wasn’t terrified this morning is, of course, that I have survived a few similar scans before. Once you know you can do it, you know you can do it. If you haven’t had the opportunity to prove that to yourself yet, you can take my experience and use that. Because if I can do it, you can do it.

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