My Black Friday (if you insist on calling that) began in the comfort of an MRI bed at our local hospital network. That would be Northwestern Medicine, the conglomerate that now owns a variety of hospitals across Northern Illinois. They are a good operation as far as I can see. Given the interface between consumer and health care providers is so heavily brokered by insurance companies these days, one is mostly glad when there is permission given to walk in the front door.
That would be called a referral. I received one for an MRI on my left knee over two months ago. I missed the first appointment because I’d forgotten it was scheduled in an NW Medicine cancer center, not my local hospital. The second scheduled appointment was on Halloween Night, and I plum forgot about it.
But a nice lady from Northwestern called this week and said, (and I paraphrase) “Hey Dude. Still want that MRI?”
And I said yes, like the Big Lebowski says yes. And the Dude Abides. So I wound up lying on my back with my leg encased in something that looked like a piece of styrofoam computer packaging. It wrapped around my knee. Then the tech lady gave me some sound-canceling headphones to put over my ears.
The MRI machine was a GE model. I lay there looking up at the swoopy GE logo thinking above me, pondering how big that company must be to make something like an MRI machine. It’s not something you can throw together in your basement with some magnets and junk from American Science and Surplus.
I looked up some facts on MRI machines. Here’s what the website Medicalnewstoday.com said about them:
“Here are some key points about MRI scanners.
- MRI scans are a non-invasive and painless procedure
- Raymond Damadian created the first MRI full body scanner, which he nicknamed the “Indomitable”
- The cost of an MRI scanner starts at $150,000
- Japan has the most MRI scanners, with 46.5 per one million citizens.”
The article goes on to say:
“An MRI scan uses a large magnet, radio waves, and a computer to create a detailed cross-sectional image of the patient’s internal organs and structures.
The scanner itself typically resembles a large tube with a table in the middle, allowing the patient to slide into the tunnel.
An MRI scan differs from CT scans and X-rays because it does not use ionizing radiation that can be potentially harmful to a patient.”
I like that last sentence because I once had an MRI done on my brain. I’d had some optical migraines, the kind that wipe out part of your vision for a short period. The doctor wanted to rule out possibilities of a tumor. Fortunately, there were no signs of a tumor, but the pictures of the inside of my head were insanely interesting.
I even wrote a short story whose main character had an MRI done on his brain. The medical technician saw an image of Jesus in the scans and tipped off a radical Christian organization to which he belonged in hopes that they had found some sign of the Second Coming. The group kidnapped the terrorized the victim but when a second MRI did not produce the same results, they let him go.
That’s how shallow the whole world of religious zealotry can be. Small signs make people do and believe crazy things. The only thing it proves is that some people have a disease of the soul. But really, we’re mostly made up of water with some other shit thrown in for good measure. That’s what an MRI measures.
The human body is largely made of water molecules, which are comprised of hydrogen and oxygen atoms. At the center of each atom lies an even smaller particle called a proton, which serves as a magnet and is sensitive to any magnetic field.
Normally, the water molecules in our bodies are randomly arranged, but upon entering an MRI scanner, the first magnet causes the body’s water molecules to align in one direction, either north or south.
The second magnetic field is then turned on and off in a series of quick pulses, causing each hydrogen atom to alter its alignment and then quickly switch back to its original relaxed state when switched off. The magnetic field is created by passing electricity through gradient coils, which also cause the coils to vibrate, resulting in a knocking sound inside the scanner.
My real concern in getting this MRI is to determine what if anything can be done about a dodgy medial collateral ligament that has bugged me on and off for two years. I know that these things do not automatically get better on their own. So an ortho doc will be looking at my MRI to determine if there’s something that needs to be done to fix it.
I was mildly concerned about the experience of a closed MRI. That means you’re inserted into the tube of the machine where some people experience a sense of claustrophobia. I can get like that sometimes, so I’d begun to prep my brain by working through how to relax in a confined space. Already in life, I’ve overcome a fear of the dark that vexed my youth. There have been other fears that have vanished with time and perspective. I saw no reason why I should not learn to calm the mind in that circumstance too.
The development of the MRI scan represents a huge milestone for the medical world, as doctors, scientists, and researchers are now able to examine the inside of the human body accurately using a non-invasive tool.
Only there was no need. Only the lower half of my body was inserted into the MRI hole. The rest of me stuck out like an uncut carrot from a salad so there was no need to worry. Above me was a multi-dimensional photograph of a locust tree against a clear blue sky. I looked at that with amusement thinking I was probably one of the only patients who sits there thinking they might find a yellow-billed or black-billed cuckoo in that kind of tree on a summer day when tent caterpillars set up shop. Makes for good eating when you’re a cuckoo.
Okay, so I’m the one that’s a bit cuckoo. But then the machine started up and it sounded at times like those long monotonal instrumentals from a long series of Pink Floyd albums. “Welcome my son…Welcome….to…the Machinnnnne…”
Once in the MRI scanner, the MRI technician will speak via the intercom to ensure the patient is comfortable. They will not start the scan unless the patient is ready.
It was somehow calming to hear all that hum and drone. It was like a White Noise app on steroids. I got all funny relaxed and stuff. My mind wandered. I nearly nodded off. The technician spoke through the sound system in the MRI lab and with noise-canceling earphones all I heard were mumbles and vibrations inside my head. It was the most comforting feeling knowing my knee was being analyzed while the inside of my head was numb with random noise and humble mutterings. “Why not enjoy it?” I told myself.
During the scan, it is imperative to stay still. Any movement will disrupt the images created, much like a camera trying to take a picture of a moving object. Loud noises will come from the scanner, which is perfectly normal. If the patient feels uncomfortable during the procedure, they can speak to the MRI technician via the intercom and request the scan be stopped.
All that was left after half an hour was to mutter Namaste to myself and use my abs to sit up. Or perhaps I crawled out like a monarch emerging from its chrysalis.
That proved difficult after a race yesterday. My body was a bit tired. I walked outside the hospital into a quiet dawn. Checking my phone, I saw that Sue had just then invited me to join her for swimming at the Vaughn Center. I haven’t been in the water in two months at least, since August. So I said yes, and we went. And swimming felt good. Even my dodgy medial collateral ligament went along for the ride.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging. It’s quite a trip.