A Detailed Description of What to Expect During an MRI Scan
A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan can be an odd experience for those who have never had one before. Knowing what to expect beforehand can calm the nerves, so this week, I’m sharing what my first MRI was like.
For people with multiple sclerosis (MS), frequent MRI scans are crucial to tracking whether treatments effectively reduce brain and spinal cord lesions. The results inform neurologists’ treatment strategies.
While I was hospitalized and hunting a diagnosis, radiologists fed me into various boisterous, buzzing, machine monsters that I’d only ever seen on hospital dramas like “Grey’s Anatomy.” I had no idea what they were and the hospital staff didn’t exactly calm my nerves.
I remember my first MRI like it was yesterday. The MRI scanner was in the car park. Yes, you read that right — the car park! I was 22, and a porter who looked younger than me wheeled me there. Seeing the MRI scanner for the first time was strange enough that my anxiety spiked the moment I passed through the door.
I transferred to a bed, about to be fed into the scanner, while the radiology team placed a tall cushion beneath my knees and a squeezy ball in my hand, then covered my ears with headphones. The radio was on and playing my favorite song — nice! Then it got a little weird. They slotted my head (with headphones still attached to my ears) between two pieces of stiff foam and placed a cage over my face. I was super confused by it all but trusted they knew what they were doing.
I’d never felt so claustrophobic in all my life. I shut my eyes, tight.
“We just need to inject you with some contrast so we can see what’s happening,” mumbled the nurse who’d placed the headphones on me. Contrast improves the clarity of internal bodily structures in the images taken by MRIs. I’ve had contrast a few times now and only had one bad experience, when a nurse didn’t inject it properly.
“There will be some loud noises. Don’t worry. Squeeze the ball if you need us at any point.” They droned through the headphones as though they’d already said it a thousand times that day.
The bed drifted backward, slowly fed into the machine as it began to emit rumbling sounds. I focused hard on the music playing through those headphones, my eyes still tightly shut. An electric-type pain shot through my limbs as I grew more stressed. That pain wasn’t from the MRI, but rather from my MS.
The angry machine monster groaned and jutted. It was like being in the engine of a jet plane. It was so loud, even with the headphones. Every so often I’d hear, “Two minutes for the next image.” “This one will be 10 minutes.” “Another three minutes.” I think I was in my first MRI for nearly two hours.
I’d never wanted to scratch my nose more in all my life. When told not to move, it’s laughable how much I suddenly want to scratch my nose or cough or sneeze. In my MRIs, I almost always have some kind of muscle tremor that breaks my stillness.
“Sorry, I think you moved on that one. We’ll have to do it again.
Ugh. I sigh and roll my eyes beneath their closed lids.
I kept telling myself, “Focus on the music. Count the sounds. It won’t last forever.”
Do you do that? Count the sounds? I know many people who do. It really helps to calm the nerves.
When it was finally over, the radiologists pulled me back out and took everything off of me: the cage, the headphones, and the cushions. My eyes blinked repeatedly to adjust to the bright lights. I think it would be so nice to come out of an MRI scanner and be greeted by a piña colada. That hasn’t happened yet. Fingers crossed for next time.
Radiologists never tell me the results then and there. Instead, they send them to a neurologist, who either calls me or discusses them during my next appointment. In the future, I may not need a full MRI scan. Who knows?
At the end of an MRI, I like to give myself a treat. Most often, that means picking up a pizza on the way home — my favorite. Do you have a favorite treat after appointments?
Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.