My 7 Tesla MRI Experience
My multiple sclerosis is not very advanced. I haven’t had a flare since the one that led to my diagnosis. On a given day, I will have various symptoms, such as muscle stiffness, itchiness, sleeping issues, and (most definitely) fatigue.
The day of my MRI started early. I had to participate in a conference call at 5AM, so I was up a half-hour before that to prepare. I worked until 8:30, and then got ready for the trip into the city.
Since I was already scheduled to go downtown for the MRI at 1:45, I also planned an ophthalmologist appointment that day. It was scheduled for 10 AM.
While I don’t have significant vision issues, I do have extremely dry eyes. That causes the process of narrowing down my prescription to be a lengthy and arduous affair. Two hours later, I was so exhausted i could barely see, and I think I caused a resident to give up his eye doctoring profession for something with fewer mistakes, such as weather forecasting.
My husband and I stumbled out of that appointment and went to find lunch.
After a hearty lunch of Panera’s soup, we drove on to find the University Bioscience Tower. Even though I had been given directions, we realized we weren’t familiar with the side streets. Within a few minutes of walking from the parking garage, we found our way into the right building.
This is not a sleek medical facility. It is a stark research building, with a small lobby, a metal detector, and a security guard. And a requirement of a name to call for us to be let in.
Okay. My smartphone is in the car.
My husband had his phone and, thank goodness, I remembered my Gmail password, so I was able to find the name and number of the research coordinator. (In hindsight, she had told me she would meet us at 1:30 in the lobby, but we were early and I was fatigued so I forgot that little detail.)
The research coordinators found us and led down to the basement. Imagine concrete wall hallway, with random janitorial equipment scattered here and there. It could have been the last place a person is seen in a scary movie.
They settled us in a room with a couch, a row of lockers, and a small table. The researcher stopped by to let us know they were running late.
As we were sitting there waiting, it occurred to me that I had not planned for this non-medical facility. There is no stack of hospital gowns and scrubs. And I am wearing jeans.
I pointed this out to the research coordinators, and one left to find a non-zippered alternative to the jeans I had put on that morning at O-dark-thirty. Soon after, the researcher unceremoniously dropped off a gown and scrub pants.
While we were waiting, I was surprised to learn that I had the opportunity to watch a movie during the test. Since during 3 of the 5 MRIs I had had, I wasn’t even offered music, I couldn’t believe that was possible. Welcome to the future!
Finally, at about 2:30 (long after we had exhausted the conversations with our accommodating hosts...), the researcher finally came to get me.
Side note about my husband’s experience: After I left, he tried unsuccessfully to use the internet on his phone (remember, we are in a basement), and he was shuffled out of the relative comfort of that room to make way for someone else and was deposited into a breakroom with no chairs. He wasn’t having a good time while I in the tube.
As for me, I was taken down the hallway into the MRI room. The researcher asked if I had any metal in my pants. I joked, “They’re yours!” To which he replied, “I don’t want them back.” In hindsight, maybe they were actually his?
A technician walked me to the table, and showed me how the video works. It is projected from the outer room onto a wall, and then mirrors project it into the top of the MRI machine. Any joy of watching a movie faded when I saw that. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but that wasn’t it. I felt a little disoriented at the thought, especially when the technician noted that I’d have to raise my chin as far as I could in the machine to look far enough back to see the video. I bailed on the idea of the video and asked for music and a cover for my eyes.
The technician helped me lie back on the table, and settle my head into its cradle. This was the first machine I had used that was set up in that fashion. The others had had an open pillow, and then a structure fitted over my head. On this one, I had to place my head into the....we’ll call it a crown for lack of a better term.
The crown seemed like it barely fit my somewhat large head. There was hard bump that settled into the back of my head, and another one that pushed into my forehead. I was pretty sure I was going to look like Peyton Manning after a particular brutal football game. The feeling of it down on the head freaked me out a little bit; I think I was afraid the machine was going to be that far down on the rest of my face too (it wasn’t). While I don’t think I’m claustrophobic, there’s something about one of machines that makes one wish for wide open spaces.
After I was settled, she helped me place cotton pads over my eyes. (Note to self: ask for, or bring, a washcloth next time. Those pads would not stay in place!) She also gave me ear plugs attached to speakers that would both help block the sound of the machine and pipe in the music.
Speaking of music, just as she started pushing me into the machine, the music started playing in the external speakers. I got a huge case of the giggles. Of all the songs, the first thing I heard was, “You can check out, but you can never leave...” It took me a moment to stop laughing, and explain that I thought “Hotel California “ wasn’t the best thing to hear while being shoved into a dark tube. Once she understood what I was giggling at, she laughed too. That was fun, and I felt like an idiot. Remember, I was really tired.
After my fit was over, she continued pushing me into the machine. I do not know what was happening in my brain (maybe the Eagles were still messing with me), but I felt like I was going on a long, circuitous path into the belly of the machine. I guess I was having some vertigo, because I was on an adventurous trip!
Once they had me in the machine, I had a couple minutes to get myself settled while they did whatever they were doing. The music was switched to my earplugs, and I started stretching a bit to get a sense of my surroundings.
The technician had a very nice, calming voice. She was immensely professional, but also kind.
After a few minutes, she announced they were ready for the first segment. She asked that I stay still, and try not to move. For this and every one, she told me how long it would be (some were 8 minutes, some 10, and some 12...although how could I know for sure unless I were a real 80’s music connoisseur?).
My left eyebrow itches.
Who sings this song?
Is this Sirius? There are no commercials.
I wonder if my forehead is bruised?
I feel like a bug is crawling up my leg.
My right ear plug is fallllllllling out.
That part behind my head is drilling into my skull.
Zzzz... Did I snore out loud?
I need to sneeze.
The cover has fallen off my eyes. Oh, interesting, it isn’t freaking me out to see the machine. It is really roomier than what I was imagining.
And 60 minutes later (or about 20 songs), it was done.
The nicely-voiced technician told me they would take me out in a moment. Since the cover was off my eyes, I was prepared to see that long and windy road out of the machine. But, nope, it was straight out and couldn’t have been much longer than the length of my body. Isn’t my brain weird?
When I was out of the machine, I was a bit off-balance. The technician and researcher helped me off the table. Once I regained my balance, I walked back to the hallway, seeking my clothes and husband.
The research coordinator met me with my clothes as my husband joined us in the hallway. I realized then that I’d forgotten my glasses in the MRI room. The coordinator knocked on the security door and got us back in.
The researcher offered to show me pictures from the MRI. I was rather amazed by what he showed us. Imagine the difference from a 2-D sonogram to the 3-D ones where you can see the kid’s dimples. That was what I could see: a 3-D image of my brain, with practically lifelike blood vessels.
I told him that I knew one of my lesions is in my pons, so he directed a technician to show a particular image. There in living color was the splotch of my missing myelin.
They told me the research project is so new, they are still working on a viable way of downloading the images from the cloud to CD. As soon as they are able, they’ll give it to me to share with my neurologist.
After seeing my brain in HD, I stumbled away to dress and leave.
My husband helped me to the car, and navigated his way through rush hour traffic. The day that had begun at 4:30 AM was now seeing 4:30 PM traffic.
We finally got home, and I fell into a sound sleep on the couch.
All in all. It was a good day. I was happy to participate in the study; the MRI itself seemed to be less traumatic than the others had been; and I should end up with some rather dramatic selfies! And best of all, it is my hope that one day, all MS patients will have access to this technology.
Does listening to music help lower the severity of your stress or MS symptoms?