I was supposed to have an MRI today to get a better look at the two masses and make sure there’s nothing hiding in my “dense” breast tissue. I made it one-third of the way through the procedure, then quit.
The appointment was scheduled for 7 a.m. I like being the first appointment. In and out, I thought. Then I can hang out at Panera, get some work done, and get ready to see the oncologist at noon.
The hospital volunteer took me back to the MRI area right away. I was given a locker for my things and a gown and pants to put on. A few minutes later, I was taken into the MRI room.
(Sidenote: I had an MRI before, when I was about 19 years old. It was for my head, after I started having some strange symptoms which were later diagnosed as atypical migraines. I remember the machine being loud and very tiny, but it wasn’t too bad.)
One of the techs started an IV for a contrast solution which would help show the abnormal tissues in my breast. She tried both arms – my veins are deep and not easy to hit the first time. She finally managed to start it and then asked me to turn over and lie on my stomach.
She moved the pillow I was laying on while she started the IV, and there were two holes. “Your breasts go here,” she said, pointing to the holes. “Forehead here,” while pointing to a C-shaped elevated platform. “Arms outstretched like Superman on this pillow above your head.”
It was wildly uncomfortable. There’s an elevation between the pelvis and the holes for the breasts. It felt really unnatural. The forehead platform was only elevated about an inch and a half, so very little clearance between the tip of my nose and the bed of the machine. (Also, Lauren used my makeup brushes to paint with my hair gel, which I didn’t know until my overly sensitive skin developed a wildly red, itchy rash on my cheeks and forehead. The forehead platform hit all the red itchiness in all the wrong places.) Plus, it was completely uncomfortable with my arms straight out in front of me.
She put headphones on me. (“To help you relax, focus on the music,” she said.) And handed me a cord with a rubber ball at the end. Apparently this was my way of contacting the techs if I had an issue.
Once situated, she moved the bed into the tube. Because of my position, I couldn’t see how close the sides and top of the machine were to my body, but it felt small (even though I wasn’t touching the sides, I was very aware that I was in a small tube with no easy way out.)
“I need out,” I said. And she moved the bed out and allowed me to sit up. I asked how long the test would take (30 minutes), and it was reiterated that I couldn’t move at all during the test or the films wouldn’t match up and we’d have to start again. She recommended that I focus on the mirror placed below my eyes in the forehead platform. “You can see outside the machine through this mirror. It’ll make you think you’re in the open!” she said. I thought, well, now you just told me that what I’m seeing in the mirror is a lie and I’m not REALLY out of the machine, so that’s not really going to work…
“OK, 30 minutes. I can do this,” I said. “Put me back in there.”
Music started in the headphones. Country, not my favorite and certainly not necessarily relaxing. The voice of the male tech came over the headphones. “This first one will be about 40 seconds.”
Thunk, thunk, thunk. The process of getting the images sounds like a jackhammer. I tried to think about being in a downtown area, watching the construction of a beautiful building.
It was a very long 40 seconds. I think he lied about the time.
“How are you doing? Next one is five minutes.”
I opened my eyes and saw the mirror of lies. I lifted a finger and could see the image in the mirror. It was about then that I realized it was really hot in the machine. And there didn’t seem to be enough oxygen.
“You can do this. It’s ony 30 minutes. Go back to the construction image,” I tried to tell myself.
More noise and a really long five minutes.
“How are you? This next one is about four and a half minutes.”
“OUT!” I yelled.
“I can’t understand you,” said the male tech.
I repeated, louder. And squeezed the panic ball.
He came in the room to the opening by my head. “If you talk too loud I can’t understand you in there. Are you okay?”
“I can’t breathe very well. It’s hot in here.”
He still couldn’t understand me since I was essentially talking to the mirror below me and I was stuck in this tube.
I lifted my head and felt a glorious cool breeze on my cheeks. I realized the cool air felt great and being in this position did not move my breasts. “OK, let’s just get this over with.”
I thought I could go the rest of the time with my head elevated, but after a few minutes of the next round of images, the cool breeze wasn’t that cool anymore. I was starting to sweat, and it was getting really hard to breathe – like there just wasn’t enough oxygen in this tube.
After the four and a half minutes of the next round of images ended, I cried to get out. “I just can’t,” I said as tears rolled down my face. “I need up. I need a drink of water. I need air.”
The female tech came back in the room and disconnected the IV and helped me sit up. She gave me a Dixie cup of water and a tissue, and she rubbed my back. “This happens a lot,” she said. “We can’t put you totally under for this procedure since you have to lie on your belly, but you can see your doctor for a Valium or something to take the edge off.”
My hands were shaking and I felt weak – physically and mentally weak for not being able to get through this. Both techs assured me that this was one of the hardest MRI tests because of how the body is contorted.
I just wanted to get dressed and leave.
I called my mom and B when I left, and they both made me feel more calm. Writing this is making me calmer. I finally stopped shaking, and my heart isn’t racing anymore. I’m killing time until my oncology appointment at Panera (one of my happy places), enjoying a mocha, and eating a cinnamon bagel. I figure I deserve it.
On the positive side, there was one option (lumpectomy, maybe?) that would have involved undergoing an MRI annually to supplement the yearly mammogram. Yeah, that’s not happening, so my surgical options are sorting themselves out.
EDITED TO ADD: How badly did I want out of the hospital this morning? Two hours after getting dressed post-MRI fail, and I just discovered my pants were on inside out.