The Good News Is: I’m Not Paralyzed

I had an MRI Tuesday on my neck. Which is to say, I was buried alive for 25 minutes.

I’ve done this before, so I knew what to expect, which is helpful. I feel like you’re less likely to scream, cry, kick your feet, wet yourself and relentlessly pump the panic bulb if you’ve already been buried alive once before.

Not only had I had an MRI on my neck previously; I had done it at this very place. So I knew that some very clever and kind nurse-type person had climbed into that gigantic contraption with the iiiiiittttty bitty space for a human in the middle and drawn a purple smiley face right at the spot where you would see it if you opened your eyes during your scan. But I didn’t see it this time. I didn’t see it because I decided that the wisest course of action would be to close my eyes before they slid me into that thing and not open them until they slid me back out.

Generally speaking, I’m not claustrophobic. I have two weird caveats to that: I’m not claustrophobic unless it’s also dark inside the small space. So I wouldn’t do well inside trunks of any kind, or locked in a non-walk-in closet, or in an airplane bathroom during a loss of power. Though I’d expect we’d have bigger problems at that point, and then at least it’s good I’m near something that will keep me from soiling my pants.

The other caveat is that I’m somewhat claustrophobic in MRI machines.

You might, then, see what’s coming. If I have my eyes closed, it’s dark. And I’m in a small space.  But if I have them open, well… it’s impossible to pretend I’m anywhere other than in a super-small space because my eyes go crossed trying to look at that smiley face that’s only like three inches from my nose.


Adding to this is the fact that my head is lying in a kind of cranium cradle, buffered by padding on either side to keep me still. There are plugs in my ears. Also there’s a brace of some sort bridged over my neck. All of this, I guess, was so that if whacking my head on the top of the machine’s tunnel didn’t do the trick, these things would keep me from escaping. This is exactly the sort of thing you want rigged up when you remember, whilst lying in the cocoon, that your father (a sizable man) got freaked out during his MRI when he started wondering what would happen if the machine caught fire. Because you never thought of that possibility, but now that your father has shared his thought with you, it’s in your head.

I immediately began a reasonable pattern of full, calm breaths and sort of vaguely thought about a beach somewhere. Happily, there’s something to distract you during an MRI. There’s amazingly loud and almost unrelenting noise. It’s particularly great because it’s booming in your ears while they’re plugged up, which makes it harder to hear the tech tell you from the other room that the machine has caught fire.

You’d think that with all the science and whatnot, they’d figure out how to quiet the thing down.

I remembered that there was noise, but I didn’t quite remember what it was like. When it started this time, I was immediately struck by the notion that it reminded me of something (besides the last time I had one of these things). It didn’t take me long to figure out what it was.


This was a less-than-awesome realization for me for one basic reason:

That song scared the crap out of me when I was a kid.

So I lay there all confined in my little tube of horrors, listening to all the pulsing and pounding rhythms of the MRI machine and thinking through “Iron Man” in its entirety. If you’re a believer in “immersion therapy,” the theory that one should directly confront that which one fears most, then this is your ticket. Just lie there in your tiny wormhole of noisy hell, listening to the screeching metal and pounding drums and creepy autotune of “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath (who, when I was a kid, may as well have actually been the devil), imagining a vengeful, wrathful metal man and wondering quietly to yourself how you would extract your body from the machine were it to suddenly go up in flames.

But since I’m a total nerdy nerd, the other thing I thought about, besides imminent death and immediate subjugation to evil unhumans, was what the films would look like. I mean you see these pictures in science books and stuff and you’re all, “Huh, that’s kinda cool,” but then when it’s actually your spinal cord and brain and stuff that you see, it’s totally amazing. I’ve been the same way with near-death CT scans and what-the-hell-is-your-problem ultrasounds. So my happy place turned out to be a series of films in my head, showing degrees of disc degeneration compared to the last set.

The answer: the disc that was messed up 4 1/2 years ago is still messed up, to approximately the same degree. No real surprise there. The “bummer” about it, as my chiropractor put it, is that there are two, maybe three other cervical discs that are also bulging and rudely intruding to some degree into my spinal column. In case you’re wondering, you only have six cervical discs, so we’re at at least .500 here. Plus there’s some calcification in the joints, for fun. Now, as it was explained to me, it is possible in these goofy creations we call bodies that the disc that looks the worst is not actually the one causing the most problems. This is apparently why spinal surgery is often a failure. Exciting information, no? But also, it seems that we could put any one of you people in that MRI machine and find discs out of whack, even if you don’t feel any pains anywhere. I don’t plan on having surgery if I can avoid it, since cervical spinal operations require someone who very likely had a drink the night before to literally slit your throat and go tunneling through the front of your neck, around minor things like your carotid and jugular arteries, vocal cords, these sorts of things, to get at the pesky problem all the way in the back, there.

No thanks.

I’ll take the chiropractor. And physical therapy.

And Black Sabbath.

Hey, wait, don’t leave yet! Turns out, I’m up for a Major Award over on Peg-O-Leg’s page. Now, there are four other totally deserving bloggers there, like k8edid and Renee Schuls-Jacobson from Teachers & Twits, and Darla the Maineiac and Misty of Misty’s Laws.

But my thing’s better.

Go vote for it, please? Thanks. You’re swell.

You can leave now.

What? Go already. Sheesh.

18 thoughts on “The Good News Is: I’m Not Paralyzed

  1. What a scary experience. I know there are open MRI’s, but probably not enough. If you have to have another you can tell the doctor you need to be sedated first. Just some ideas. Glad you are ok!

  2. I’m glad you’re not paralyzed. The MRI sounds remind me of the trippy electronica buzzes from Pink Floy’ds “Wish You Were Here” album — particularly “Welcome to the Machine.” That, and an off-balance clothes dryer.

  3. Yes, yours is pretty funny…

    I am glad I read this, the day before my surgery. I was trying not to think about my surgeon getting shit-faced before plowing around my visceral organs with long tubes. Thanks for that.

    I hope you can avoid surgery and that your pain can be managed. Our spines are fascinating.

    • Oh, dear, look what I’ve done. Sorry about that. Hmmm. I’m sure everything will be fine. Guts are easier. I had abdominal surgery and everything was just swell. And swollen, but that was kind of a different issue. Best of luck to you tomorrow! (And yours is funny, too!)

  4. Your description of the hell that is an MRI was spot-on. I’ve had one done twice and I am very claustrophobic so my doc prescribed a valium. It was the only way I could get through it. The second MRI was only on my ankle (just had this done last month) so I was only shoved inside the tube of death up to my chest. Still I felt like panicking so I kept my eyes closed and they gave me some music to listen to for distraction. Hard to hear the music over the loud pulsing noises, though. I certainly hope you can get some relief with your spinal pain. I’ve been to a few chiropractors but nothing helps me more than practicing yoga.

    • Makes sense that yoga would help you – strengthening the muscles does a body good! I can’t really hold poses like that, particularly with my arms, because of my neck. Some day my head’s just going to fall right off. But thanks for your wishes- and sorry you know exactly what I’m talking about with that machine!

  5. My wife has had to have several MRI’s and always insists on the open one. “You know the imaging isn’t as good in those, right?” “OPEN,” she replies. “OPEN OPEN OPEN.”

    • Yeah, not so good. But I gather she would prefer to take the chance at a blurry image. I have a bellybutton ring that I have never removed because I’m a chicken, and I worry that in an open machine that requires more magnetic force, I’ll just get sucked to the top and I’ll never, never come down, because, as the signs on the door clearly warn, THE MAGNET IS ALWAYS ON.

  6. I’ve never had an MRI but my Dad absolutely couldn’t do it. When he needed one, they had to find an open one, even though it wasn’t as good as the closed type. I’m hoping I never have to have one to find out if I could do it, especially after reading your description. Have you ever heard of a book called Back Sense? It’s a radical approach to back issues that’s helped me but my problems are relatively minor. It may just be BS but Google it and take a look.

    • You could do it, Bud. You’re very disciplined. I bet you’d find it a good opportunity to meditate… or at least get a blog post out of it. Not that I’m wishing you any condition that would necessitate an MRI. I have not heard of that book, but thank you for mentioning it. I’ll check it out.

      • I would definitely get a blog post out of it, as you did. Disciplined? Well, I post a lot … but lately, not so disciplined. As I’ve said before, I sound best on paper.

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