Well, that was fast.
After I saw a neurologist last Wednesday (March 18), her order for an MRI was approved almost immediately by my insurance. Then, when I called Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), I was given an appointment for the very next morning. All of this after more than four months of daily headaches and two months of struggling with the insurance company for approval for testing*.
(*If it turns out I have some life-threatening condition—which is unlikely—and I’ve lost two months of possible treatment time due to these delays on behalf of bureaucracy, I’m going to be royally pissed.)
I arrived early for my 7:30 a.m. check-in, after braving the maze that is the OSHU campus. I’m kind of astonished, actually, that I found the Diagnostic Imaging Services department without taking any wrong turns. I filled out a rather long, electronic form on one of the station’s iPads—Do I have a pacemaker? Do I have a history of seizures? Do I have any body piercings?—and then waited for about thirty minutes. When the techs were ready for me, I was instructed to take the elevator down to another floor and pick up a black phone in another waiting area to let the techs know I’d arrived. Then I got to wait some more. I’m really glad I had my iPad with me and something engaging to read.
After about ten minutes or so, I was retrieved by one of the techs, given a locker for my jacket and purse (containing the iPad), and was shown to yet another waiting area—this time just a pair of chairs set off from the rest of the clinical room by a hanging curtain. I guessed this was where they set up patients with IVs when their tests call for contrast dye (mine didn’t). The only reading material available was a very thin and heavily perused issue of AAA’s Via Magazine. I tried to take my time flipping through the pages describing sights in Florence, Oregon, and some destination in Wyoming that I can’t remember now, but I still ran out of magazine long before another tech, Mike, came to retrieve me.
Finally, I was headed in for my brain scan.
Mike gave me a tour of the machine and talked me through the procedure before he had me lie down on the table.
“The machine is very sensitive to movement,” he told me. I said that being inside the MRI machine was probably the perfect time to develop the world’s worst burning itch. He laughed and told me about having an MRI scan on his ankle—he had been injured and was actively limping when I saw him. Right in the middle of his own scan, he told me, his other foot started cramping up. “I just had to ride out the pain,” he said.
Not wanting to screw up my own scans with movement, I asked about breathing.
“I like breathing,” Mike replied. “Breathing is good. I’m all for breathing.” He did request that I save any deep breaths for the pause between scans, however.
I had elected to use the closed MRI—vs. the open machine—when I made my appointment the previous afternoon. I understand that the open machine is designed to accommodate patients who are claustrophobic or obese, but the way the scheduler went about asking me about these factors was a bit odd: “Are you claustrophobic?” she asked first. “I guess we’ll find out,” I replied.
She laughed. Then, “Are you diabetic?”
I started to wonder, Why would diabetes have any impact on the—Oh.
It was an indirect way of asking a patient if she’s overweight.
My sister chuckled when I relayed the conversation to her. She took on the role of the scheduler and asked me rapid-fire questions: “When’s your birthday? What’s your eye color? Are you fat?”
Mike had me recline on the table. He gave me a pair of earplugs and covered me in a warm blanket. He handed me a “panic button” to squeeze if I had a problem during the scans and slid a heavy plastic cage down over my head. He slipped some padding between the cage and the sides of my head, both for comfort and to keep me from moving too much.
Then I was sliding back into the machine.
So it turns out I’m not claustrophobic. Hooray for me. One thing that’s not a problem.
I was inside the machine for about thirty minutes and had somewhere between seven and twelve scans done. I lost count. Honestly, the MRI process nearly put me to sleep. Each scan lasted a few minutes and went through a different sequence of beeps and clicks. Once I could hear the audio pattern in each scan, the ticks and hums and deep vibrations became almost pleasant. Even though the quarters were quite close, I relaxed inside my percussive cocoon. My thoughts wandered to the Japanese sleeping pods. I wondered if climbing into such a cubby might not be a great way to sleep soundly. All the while, the machine whirred and clacked around me.
And then it was over. As Mike released me from the table, I described the experience as being not unlike, “a really lame rave.” That got a good laugh.
And now, I wait some more.
They will send the scans to me on a CD, which I will then deliver to my neurologist when she’s back from a trip abroad. You know there’s no way I’ll be able to resist looking at the images myself, even if I won’t understand them. That will be the danger: not working myself up if I spot something potentially anomalous which may well turn out to be completely normal. We’ll see if Google Images will be of any comfort.
I want to get to the bottom of these headaches. I don’t want to have a malignant tumor, obviously. The hope should be for clean scans. But if there’s no problem in my brain, then I’m not sure where that leaves us in terms of solving the mystery of the daily headaches (today is day 127).
I just want to feel better, you know? Maybe I should start with a sleeping cubby.
Creative Commons photo: MRI – Magnetic Resonance Imaging by thomas23.