You mess with Harpo Marx, you get the horns.

Friday, August 24, 2007

My First MRI - by Earl Fando

It's been a week since my last post, and this has been the slowest month of The Dictionary of
Unfortunate Ideas
since the May Stew found out about discount golf. Nonetheless, I'm forging on in the absence of my compatriots, simply because I can, and not just because I'm a stubborn bastard with an obsessive streak, no matter what that fortune cookie said.

As faithful readers of this blog know, I've been under the weather these last few weeks with what is believed to be a herniated disc in my neck. I too, am as alarmed as you at the idea of something as groin related as a hernia being in close proximity to my face, but it's not quite the same I assure you, even if the doctor put two fingers under my chin and asked me to cough.

Fortunately, thanks to a diligent physiotherapist, constant vigilance on my part (lest I end up as mangled as Mad Eye Moody, or the final installment of the HP series), and large quantities of alcohol, I've made a fair recovery. I'm joking about the alcohol. It's not safe to drink with all the Vicodin I was taking.

I do still have a bit of a funny aching in my hand and shoulder from time to time. My own thinking is that this is my herniated disc, having been coaxed back into place, subtly telling me that if I take a wrong step it will rip my shoulder off. My PT has given me some exercises to combat this. The exercises consist of pulling in my chin and then looking straight up as far back as I can without falling over. I believe the official name of that specific exercise is " Mr. Bean spies a sparrow." In addition to helping quell the aching, they have given my family and friends no end of mirthful laughter, particularly when I do the falling over backwards bit.*

I have to sit with a "lumbar roll" as well. Whilst this sounds rather like the bread serving at a baby back ribs barbeque place, it is in fact an instrument designed to slowly torture your spine back into proper curvature. Apparently, mine should resemble a gentle "S," whreas it currently resembles a violent "G."

I'm also to walk with improved posture. This means standing up straight, getting my shoulders back a little bit, and curving my back in a subtly creepy, but apparently natural way. If I were 15 years younger and 30 pounds lighter, I could get a Calvin Klein modeling job looking like this.

Also, I enjoyed the rare privilege of having an MRI on Wednesday. Magnetic Resonating Imagery sounds thrillingly futuristic, but what you don't realise until you arrive at hospital, or clinic in this case, is that the bleeding thing really is a giant magnet. Fortunately, I had some warning as a few of us lunched earlier that day and discussed the test. One of our number had done one before and explained the hazards of the magnetism.

Stew pointed out that he had a BB pellet in his head from a childhood incident. I've always suspected it was whilst playing stand-in for the lad in A Christmas Story. A few of us observed that the highly attractive magnetic properties of an MRI might have the side benefit of pulling out the BB. Stew sagely pointed out that it would be no good if it pulled the pellet out directly through his brain.

I arrived at the clinic and immediately disrobed. The nurse explained that this was unnecessary, much less in the waiting room, so I got dressed again, apologising for the thong. She then began to ask me a series of questions involving the likelihood of my having bits of metal in my body, such as, "Have you ever broken a bone and had a metal rod inserted to support it?" and "Have you ever had your skull laced with tinfoil to keep out harmful mental rays from extraterrestial beings?" I kept waiting for the Scientology pitch, but it never came, not even after she asked me if I'd ever fallen off a couch whilst jumping and then had metal pins inserted into my spine with a cordless drill.

I was then ushered into a room where I was instructed to remove my belt, my wallet (so as not to wipe my credit cards clean) and any other metal I may have been carrying on me. They left it in a room which I was instructed to lock and bring the key with me. I was going to ask if there was any danger of the key being sucked into the MRI, but as they'd obviously done this before and there was no blood on the walls, I decided it was a moot point.

They lay you on a large table in the MRI chamber, if that is the correct word for this large room with a massive tube in it. The table lifts you up and then slides you into the tube. If you have claustrophobia, which I don't at all, it could be a problem, given that the inside of the tube is always no more than ten inches from your nose and painted with pictures of human skulls. Actually, I just kidding. It was at least 12 inches.

They suggested I close my eyes, and where a midday nap is concerned, I don't have to be told twice.

They also told me to be very still, which was easy enough for me, given that inertia is like a holiday for me. However, I became slightly unnerved when the technician told me to "don't cough or swallow."

Even the most ordinary person is prone to elict enough saliva to constrict the air passages in the 20 odd minutes it takes the MRI machine to complete its run. For a wordy, 40-something, allergic, mucus and phlegm-producing champion like me, I can work up a lathery spit wad in under a quarter-second, even with a mouthful of saltine crackers, polystyrene, and beach sand.**

So, of course, inside a minute I have a large wall of saliva barrelling towards my windpipe like the tidal wave for the S.S. Poseidon. The involuntary swallowing was bound to occur. What was truly unnerving was that on at least two occasions I was able to hold out for a long time, only to have to quickly swallow, which was followed by the machine going silent. I kept expecting the voice from Monty Python that says, "Start again."

You'll know when an MRI machine goes silent, by the way. They gave me ear-plugs before they set me up. The normal sound of an MRI machine vacillates between a series of loud, ringing pings, to the sound of a pneumatic drill blasting its way through the walls of an echo chamber. It's only the second time I think I've ever nervously flinched at the arrival of silence, the first being the break between sets at a Night Ranger concert.

I did love the futuristic nature of the whole enterprise. I rather felt like one of The Thunderbirds (the cheesy puppets, not the very daring U.S. Air Force pilots, or the cheesy live action film) about to slide down backwards into my ship. However, an MRI machine is much noisier than a large rocket engine, so far as I can tell.

The other feeling was that of being loaded into a giant cannon, backwards. I suppose I the noise was to simluate the blast. It would have interesting I suppose to fly up into the air watching my feet soar behind me. Except that the room wasn't quite that big and I would have splattered against the wall before my trainers left the barrel.

Afterwards, I got my stuff and the staff bid me adieu. Literally, they more or less said, "Off you go, mate, you're finished here." No debriefing, no counselling, no "Your doctor will get the results in a day or two," just "Ta!" and away I go. I felt fine afterwards, although I was a little concerned with my tendency to gravitate towards large pieces of metal, particularly moving vehicles.

I haven't got my results yet, but the doctor was hoping for normal. That would be nice in at least some part of my life now, wouldn't it?

*Technically, this is not part of the official exercise.
** I do occasionally and ironically get ridiculous dry-mouth whilst speaking in front of large groups of people. I resolve this problem by doing the old ventriloquist bit of giving my talk whilst drinking an entire glass of water. If that fails to relax me and impress them, I do a rather large spit-take.