Be Mindful of Your Mask When You Get Your Next MS MRI

I went in for my latest MRI “checkup” for MS last September. It was the first time I’d set foot in the city since the end of February, and I was more than a little anxious about the whole experience.

Who wouldn’t be nervous about approaching a hospital facility actively treating COVID-19 patients?

Preparing for the pandemic MRI

I went in prepared to use hand sanitizer in every room I entered, hoping to find chairs in waiting areas spaced apart (and that was, indeed, the case).

I discovered that elevator floors were now decorated in foot-shaped decals placed in the four corners of each car indicating only four people could ride a single elevator at a time.

I wore long sleeves to pull over my fingers and hands for some protection against pushing buttons or grabbing door handles.

I also wore my cloth mask, one that slips with loops over the ears (not one that you must tie on). Then I wouldn’t feel the knots in the back pressing against my head.

Scheduling my MRI and doctor appointment on the same day

I schedule my MRI appointments so that I then visit my doctor within an hour or so after the test to review the scans on the same day. After the MRI, but before this office visit, I usually go for a quick bite at a local café.

But these days, I’m uncomfortable buying and eating carryout. Instead, I planned ahead with prepacked snacks I left in my car. This way I could just go to the safety of my car following the MRI, clean up with hand sanitizer, and pass the time with a snack and my smartphone before returning to see my neurologist.

Protocols safely in place

When I entered the radiology lab, the techs practiced extremely careful protocols. Everyone wore masks, gloves, gowns, and, in some cases, visors.

They prepped my arm with a port, as I would need two rounds of scans: one without, then one with gadolinium dye.

I watched them spray down the MRI bed, including the headrest. One of the techs joked, “We already did this, but I always do it again in front of patients so they see we’re keeping things ridiculously clean.”

I found comfort in this and told them I appreciated the gesture.

Getting settled in the MRI machine

The process continued, familiar and easy, save for the extra restrictions that working in a pandemic places on the techs. And myself, for that matter. I wore my mask the whole time.

The MRI bed beckoned. I climbed on, and they bolstered my neck, gave me earbuds, placed a washcloth over my eyes, and swaddled my body in blankets.
As they were leaving, I heard one of them say, “Wait a minute. Mask.”

The other tech then asked me, “You don’t mind if we remove your mask?” while pointing at his own nose, at the bridge.

The metal wire in my mask

I laughed as it dawned on me. The cloth mask I wore, with its convenient ear loops, fits perfectly because of the metal wire that’s sewn into the bridge of the nose.

“Of course, I guess I’m so used to masking up that it’s become second nature.”

They gently unlooped the mask from behind my ears with their gloved hands and slipped it into a zipper bag. “We can give you a fresh disposable afterward, just to be safe.”

The MRI testing moved forward, I completed my plans for a snack between meetings, got my results (no new disease!), and made my way home wearing the fresh disposable mask they’d gifted me.

The FDA speaks up

Just a couple of weeks ago, I found an announcement from the FDA while working.

Wear Face Masks with No Metal During MRI Exams: FDA Safety Communication

"The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is informing patients and health care providers that patients may be injured if they wear face masks (such as surgical or non-surgical masks and respirators) with metal parts and coatings during a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) exam. Metal parts, like nose pieces sometimes called nose clips or wires, nanoparticles (ultrafine particles), or antimicrobial coating that may contain metal (such as silver or copper), may become hot and burn the patient during an MRI. The FDA recommends patients wear face masks with no metal during MRIs...The FDA recently received a report that a patient’s face was burned from the metal in a face mask worn during an MRI. The FDA reminds patients and providers that patients should not wear any metal during an MRI.”1

Think ahead about your type of mask

I think it’s great that we’ve become comfortable with both wearing masks and seeing others wear masks during the pandemic.

Just remember: Safety first in the MRI machine means you'll need to think about the kind of mask you're using before you climb in.

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