Alright, having recently had both an MRI and a CAT scan, today’s post shall be a tutorial on these two tests; their similarities, differences and everything (I can think of) you need to know to arrive fashionably dressed and survive them intact.
I don’t remember which one I had first, but I do know that as information was being traded between myself and the person preparing me on the phone, I was asked, “Are you claustrophobic?”
What I really wanted to say at that point was, “Well that depends entirely on just what you’re going to do to me in there.”
So I tried to find a picture of the machine in advance. But there’s a lot of variety on the internet. Google images is like a spastic dog: you ask it for a stick and it brings you all kinds of sticks and also all kinds of balls and quite a few squirrels, newspapers and old shoes, and a can of Spam and the Eiffel Tower and a famous politician.
In other words, I couldn’t tell if this was going to be scary or not. But as soon as I walked in the room, I was relieved (emotionally, although you do usually get one last chance to have a pee).
As it turns out, in my own opinion which I am very happy to share as you probably know by now, you’d have to be significantly claustrophobic to have a problem with either test. And some people are. We think of this as an irrational fear, which it sometimes is, but it can also be a post traumatic response. For such folks, having an MRI is dang frightening.
The CAT or CT is the less claustrophobicy of the two machines. It’s shaped like a giant inner tube and you lay face up on a bed that moves in and out through the hole in the center. Very little of your body is going through the hole at any given time. Also there’s lots of space between you and the machine on all sides.
The MRI, on the other hand, is more like a giant barrel on its side with a tunnel going through it lengthwise. Most or all of your body goes into the tunnel (again, you lay face up on a bed that moves in and out). But the tunnel is open on both ends, the openings slope rather than being a hard edge and there’s a good six inches between your nose and the ceiling of the tunnel. Since they were aiming at the middle of me, I could go in feet first and my head was just at the opening. (See I was imagining this tight little cave with my head deep inside and against a solid wall…)
You have to lay very still and intermittently hold your breath in both machines, but the CT takes ten minutes tops and the MRI takes more like forty. A voice tells you when to hold your breath. Staff can talk to you while you’re in the machines and you can talk to them. On the CT, there’s a little happy face that holds its breath when you do, which I guess is to emphasize the instruction rather than being for moral support. There’s also a count down. I, myself, find it very helpful to know how long I am expected to hold my breath. It was taking too long for comfort on the MRI and I was a little afraid I was going to pass out from politeness. Then finally one of the nice techs mentioned that it would never be longer than a count of twenty and I could perform that in my head and that was way better.
The MRI is loud. It’s a bit like being near a construction sight, not loud enough to actually hurt your ears but definitely impossible to ignore. Stuff is going on inside of it and you get clanking and knocking in various and sometimes quite funky rhythms.
So they give you headphones and take your music requests. They came through for me with Enya.
I don’t know what you think of Enya, but you could never deny that she is relaxing. I had to drive my niece from Ludington to Grand Rapids once when the child was about two. Not being a mother myself, this was a unique experience and I imagined the worst (you know, screaming, getting the doors open on the interstate, all those things that mothers get to worry about more routinely). So my mom and I double teamed her. We played running games all morning and as soon as my car doors were closed with her inside, I turned on Enya. My niece was asleep before I backed out of the drive and didn’t wake up until we got on the S curve.
I’m serious, people, try it. Enya = sleep medication.
You get to hold a “panic button” during an MRI, in case you just can’t stand it for some reason, and they will back you out of there. However (pronounced like Jim Carey would), if you stop the test, you have to start it all over again from the beginning. So one way or another, you’re going to put in your time in the tube.
Thus, the one time that the MRI really did scare me, was since I’ve been going through Lars (see my other blog posts on this delightful condition) and I had to choose my words as carefully as possible to explain my concern that I might, you know, be pooping in there. Ah, the male tech was unexpectedly so unconcerned and reassuring. (Let’s, by the way, all treat each other just like that guy did right then because life is hard, you really don’t want to poop in the MRI machine and if you absolutely can’t help it – it’s so super to hear someone tell you we will just deal with it.) I didn’t, by the way.
This is also why I’ve been scared of jury duty. I don’t like being in situations where the forty minute test would have to be restarted, or you would be in contempt of court, if you had an uncontrollable urge. So I postponed my jury duty for a year and just now I’m doing that thing where you have to call four nights in a row to see if you have to go in the next day. So far I have escaped two opportunities and have two more to go. Wouldn’t it be fun to tell a lawyer in front of all assembled that I have to be excused from jury duty because, well, because I have to be excused…
Anyway. At this point in the story, you’re thinking the CAT scan is the nicer, easier test. So there are just a couple other considerations I have to mention before I finish my tutorial. For the CAT, you have to drink a good, healthy quantity of really crappy, icky, bad stuff called oral contrast. It’s thick and milky and sour and totally yucko. Even holding my nose, I struggle. But (fortunately there’s a but) the last time I had contrast, there was a triple berry option. Yeah, they tried flavor. There was a picture of a nice basket of berries next to the usual diagram of the human digestive system on the label. And folks, triple berry wasn’t bad. This is significant medical advancement.
And finally, during the CAT, they put something in your IV that gives you, shall we call it, a little goose. You can get a strange, metallic taste in your mouth but the most famous effect is a little ball of heat shooting around your veins. It hits you in your extremities, including some very personal places. It hits, peaks, and then disappears quickly so just as you’re thinking, “woo, stop that” it fades – kinda like a firework if it were in your blood vessels.
And there you have it, now you know. Oh, fashion, we didn’t cover fashion. They’ll tell you what to wear and not wear. Be assured that you’ll get some time on the runway in those fabulous gowns that tie in the back and/or super sized scrub pants.
Update: No jury duty for Jen – yay!