Skip to main content.
Sunday, May 28th, 2006

My First MRI

Early yesterday evening I went over to Sharp Memorial Outpatient Pavilion for a scheduled MRI (my first one ever) to confirm my oncological surgeon’s recent diagnosis of the lump in my chest as a lymphedema. By which, I’m assuming he means “mild case of…”, because after recently learning the difference between lymphedema and the more general edema (the latter was what I thought my original surgeon had warned me about after my surgery to remove lymph nodes), I did some research and found some really bad horror stories – with pictures. So it’s hard to put the words “lymphedema” and “good” in the same sentence; but if true, the lessor relief is that I will not need surgery. I was very concerned that the lump is either a metastasis of my original melanoma or a case of male breast cancer, since the women in my family seem to be pretty good at getting it. So lymphedema, especially since it’s already getting smaller, is acceptable, I guess.

Earlier this week I was trying to encourage someone to not be afraid of taking a PET scan, which all the while seemed a little silly, because pretty much the hardest thing I found in the three I’ve taken was staying awake – I have a tendency to roll onto my side when I fall asleep. And snore. Really loud. I mean, REALLY, REALLY loud. But if Andrea had ever taken an MRI before her first PET scan, it would all make sense.

I had heard the your-body-in-a-tin-can-and-somebody-banging-on-the-outside-with-a-big-stick simile so many times, it was all I was expecting, and it didn’t sound too bad. I don’t consider myself to be claustrophobic, and we have a two-year-old at home, so someone always seems to be a) banging on something with a stick, or b) yelling about it. I figured I would still have to worry about falling asleep.

Looking back now, it wasn’t really all that bad an experience; but it was unpleasant, and unpleasant in ways that I wasn’t prepared for. When I showed up, the tech, as usual, got this worried look and started asking questions about my height and weight. I’m used to that, for these imaging techs always seem to be going by the conservative guidelines published by their equipment’s manufacturers, who don’t want the liability, and who either don’t know or don’t care how much more an enthusiastic and enterprising person can stuff into an orifice. But in my particular case, “stuffing” is an apt description of how we got my 195 cm (6′ 5″), 122 kg (270 lb.) frame into the desired area.

First, I had to get an IV set up. When I asked them to use the tourniquet as briefly as possible because of my lymph node removal, they decided that they needed to consult with somebody for instructions. While they were on the phone, I tried using my thumb to press deep between my biceps and triceps muscles to try to squeeze off the brachial artery, and flexed my arm muscles to try to get my veins to pop out a bit. I wanted to make the veins in the cleft of my elbow more prominent so that they wouldn’t have to use the tourniquet. Lymph has a much smaller, distributed circulatory system, and I figured that if I could directly manipulate my blood vessels, I might have found a way to get blood drawn (I seem to be getting blood drawn on a regular basis nowadays) while reducing the risk of lymphedema. While I was thinking this out, I realized that I was attempting to shut off the blood supply while looking for an effect that was caused by reducing the blood return. See? I’m not afraid to expose my ignorance to my readers! Somehow, probably just through the muscle clenching, I got a vein to stick out and I went ahead and got poked sans tourniquet. While I was being hooked up, I inquired as to what was being pumped into me, and was told that is was a contrast agent containing gadolinium, which is used because it is one of the few elements other than iron that is magnetic.

Next, I had to get into position on the bed of the MRI scanner. Here’s a small picture of the machine – I have so far tracked it down to one made by Phillips, of the Achieva line – when I learn more, I’ll post it.)
Phillips Achieva MRI scanner
The bed was fitted with a raised platform with apertures for breasts – up to rather large breasts, as I can see from the sample images at the Phillips site – but that didn’t help me and probably took away room inside the scanner that I later would have preferred to have had. I lay on my stomach with my arms extended ahead of me, and my head propped up on pillows and turned to one side, with my face resting against my right arm. It seemed pretty comfy, and there wasn’t any part of me to hang up the IV tube, and they proceed to strap me in, securing some sort of framework on my back. I tried the headphones – they were offering music – but it was either have my face stuffed into a pillow or the earpiece jammed into the side of my head, so I opted for earplugs instead. Then we tried sliding the bed into the bowels of the machine. Right away, it was clear that it wasn’t going to work. There was barely enough room for my shoulders, let alone the framework on my back, so they pulled me back out, removed the framework and slid it under me, and tried again.

At first I thought there was plenty of room, but the hole apparently had two stages, and as I was carried further inwards, my normal chest size of about 142 cm (56 inches) felt like it was being reduced a good couple of inches. My guttural and vocal reaction (!) caused the movement to halt, and there was more consternation. The tech asked me whether I could breathe, and, although I couldn’t expand my chest normally, I thought I could get enough air into my lungs by exaggerating the action of my diaphragm. (As I am analyzing the experience as I write, it occurs to me that this means that my chest is still bigger than my belly – so that post-Army beer gut I’ve developed could be worse!) By this point I was starting to realize that thirty minutes was going to seem like a really long time, but what choice did I have? I told them I was going to be ok. My face was pressed hard against the inside and against my arm, which was also barely fitting into the tube, and I opened my eyes, reconsidered, then tried again a few times. Although I saw material for a possibly interesting introspection about the true meaning of claustrophobia, it just didn’t seem like the right time. I kept my eyes shut the rest of the time.

So I was prone, physically compressed, unable to move, having to breathe deliberately, and aware that I would not only have to try not to fidget, but I was consciously suppressing a newly discovered (or acknowledged) fear of confined spaces. Not my definition of comfortable. And we hadn’t even started yet.

CONTINUED…

Posted by Greg as General Science, Melanoma, Posts About Me at 15:46 PST

1 Comment »