Ah, the whir, buzz, beep and drone of the machine almost drown out all thought. There are no lights, only the sensation that giant magnets embedded in the walls of this machine straight out of science fiction are taking cross-sectional views of my thoracic spine. How nice that I'm not actually being physically sliced in 1 mm-thick pieces. Rather, a virtual model of my spine is being transmitted to a computer that will deliver to my orthopedic surgeon and primary doctor a visually impactful set of images compressed onto a CD-ROM. My body, digitized.
I am once again squeezed into a cold plastic and metal cylinder, my nose just an inch or two from the smooth inner contours of the tube. I have removed my wedding ring, glasses and earring (I am pierced only on the left, dear Readers), and I'm wearing my own t-shirt (white, v-neck, 100% cotton, purchased at JC Penney's, if you must know) and a ridiculous pair of flimsy blue cotton pants with a fly that won't close given to me by the radiology tech. Having forgotten to wear socks (it's hot out and I came to the hospital in sandals and shorts), the aforementioned and very kind tech wrapped my feet in a white blanket and covered me with a second blanket in an effort to make me feel at home and cared for, not to forget the (completely ineffectual) orange earplugs placed in my tender ears. The efforts at creating some semblance of comfort were appreciated, and I did feel cared for and at home (well, as at-home one can feel in a cold room filled with computers, blinking lights, a gigantic magnetic donut, and switches and gauges of unknown purpose).
I have had several MRIs over the last few years, my first one immortalized in this post ("An MRI for I & I") back in 2006. At that time, apprehensive but curious about the machine and the experience of the tube (and the notorious noisiness of the test), I experienced what I can only call a medicotechnological (yes, it's really a word) epiphany.
A lifelong fan of electronic music, some of which many people might actually characterize as noise, I found the cacophony, drones, and loud beeping of the MRI magnets both intellectually and musically interesting. At that time, I had been listening to music by the band Matmos, their most famous recordings being music made from electronically recorded samples of noises made during medical procedures such as liposuction. So, to make a long story short, the almost onomatopoeic "noise" of the MRI's inner workings was actually like an electronic symphony as I lay in my 21st century sarcophagus, and , truth be told, this time my reaction and experience were no different. In fact, I eventually relaxed so much inside that friendly plastic cylinder, I actually had a nap during the last sequence. I guess I figured I had to lay absolutely still anyway, so why not catch a few winks on my insurance company's nickel? (Thanks to my insurance company's largesse and my doctor's clinical astuteness, I take Mirapex for fairly severe Restless Legs Syndrome and Periodic Limb Movement Disorder. Good thing, or trying to lay in that tube totally still may have looked---and felt---quite different.)
Based on my experience with both MRIs and electronic music, I would propose that, rather than medicating anxious and claustrophobic patients with Ativan or Valium prior to MRIs and other such noisome procedures, patients should be enrolled in a four-week course of "Electronic Music Appreciation". Following a thorough introduction to Brian Eno, Robert Fripp, John Cage, Philip Glass, Matmos, Kraftwerk, and The Boards of Canada, the would-be unhappy, claustrophobic and traumatized MRI recipient would be transformed into an appreciative and well-adjusted patient eager for a repeat MRI at a moment's notice. (Come to think of it, perhaps insurance companies would balk at actually making the MRI experience more enjoyable. After all, if patients aren't rattled by the noise and close quarters, they might demand that their doctors order more MRIs and CT Scans so that they can once again have the ultimate sonic and musical experience.
Anyway, if you're planning to have an MRI yourself, please feel free to email this writer for a primer on electronic music, and for a friendly reminder to always wear socks (preferably clean) when going to the hospital. If, for some reason, you're afraid that electronic music appreciation is simply not for you and there is virtually no way on Earth that you would actually enjoy (or even revel!) in the knocking and whirring of the giant magnets rotating around you in a plastic donut at 100 miles per hour, simply go your doctor, tell him you're claustrophobic, and say "Make mine a Valium, doc".