* warning* this is a long post
If you are looking for my tips on how to prepare for an MRI and don’t care about my experience scroll to the bottom. Thanks for reading!
I wanted to share my MRI experience last night in hopes to prevent others from going through what I went through. I was told that this would be a 30 to 45 minute scan, with no contrast but lots of breathing and holding my breath.
First off, let me say that I went into this with complete confidence. I’ve had an MRI on my back years ago and knew what it was like and was prepared for it. However, this turned out to be an entirely different experience.
I arrived at the hospital at 645 for my appointment at 7pm. I checked in, completed a form and sat down in the waiting room.
At 730 a tech came to get me and escorted me to a locker room. They were out of scrubs so she had me wait while she went to get some for me to change into. When she came back she showed me where to change and lock up my personal belongings and said she would be right back to escort me to the MRI.
Scrubs are so warm and cozy. Not. I was freezing.
Here I am modeling my new outfit.
I paced the locker room that i had been left alone in while waiting, trying to stay calm and ease my anxiety. 30 minutes later another nurse came in to get me, not the original person. She acted surprised that I was still in there and asked if J* had been in there yet. She said she didn’t know where the original person was but that she would take me back even though I wasn’t her patient. This person (we shall call her S*) ended up being my angel that night, but at the time I was a bit frustrated for being forgotten about i had been at the hospital for over an hour at this point. When we arrived back at the machine she asked me if I had been told how this would go. I said no, I had only been escorted to the locker room and told to wait there.
She had me sit on the bed that goes into the machine and handed me some earplugs. She got me a warm blanket and then the other nurse (j*) showed up and tosses a bag of fluids and contrast in my lap.
“Okay! Ready for your IV!?”
No one said anything about an IV. The phone call prior to coming on to the MRI said I wasn’t having any contrast. I had no prior knowledge of this.
I felt my heart racing as I stared at the huge needle that had been dropped in my lap. My veins are poor and I had to stop drinking water at 2pm that day per the phone call for my scan. I knew I was dehydrated and would be a hard poke, and hadn’t prepared for it. You just don’t drop an IV bag and needle in a person’s lap without a warning. Especially me. Don’t do that to me with needles. I work hard to decrease my anxiety and it takes a lot of preparation, dropping a needle in my lap doesn’t help anything, especially right before I’m about to be stuffed in a small machine.
“Are you sure you have the right patient?” I asked. “I was told this would be a no contrast MRI, just lots of breathing.”
“Nope,” she said without even checking. “Your orders changed and you’re essentially getting two MRI’s today.”
S* saw the sheer panic in my eyes and asked if I was okay. I stated that I’ve had some really terrible experiences with getting IVs before when I’m not prepared or hydrated enough and that this was a shock for me. I then went on to say I needed to be heat packed and needed a baby needle and they may need to contact the IV
J* interrupted and said she wished I would have told her this earlier so they could have worked on it already. (When would i have done this? When you forgot about me in the locker room?) She then said she would try a couple times and we would call the iv team if necessary.
Thank God S* took over and said she used to be an outpatient surgical tech and felt confident that she could get it on the first try. She asked J* to get a smaller needle, told me to lay down and breathe and try to relax.
She got it on first poke.
J* asked me why I was there, I explained that I have ulcerative colitis and the MRI is to check for bile duct cancer.
She asked when I went to the lab to treat my “colitis” and I replied it’s ulcerative colitis, not simply colitis, and I don’t go to the lab, I go to the infusion center and it takes a few hours for my medication.
She then shrugged, gave me ear plugs and had me lay down, strapped me to the table and put a brace like thing over my stomach. She said to stay as still as possible and said to listen to the prompts from the machine and that she would guide me through the whole time.
She left the room, and S gave me the panic button to push in case I had any problems. She put my arms above my head and a bolster under my legs and heard her leave the room as I breathed deep and waited. And waited. And waited.
And finally J came on the overhead and said the table is going to move, and in I went. I closed my eyes and took deep breaths.
The machine came on and told me to take a deep breath, let it out, take another deep breath and hold it. I held my breath while I counted, sometimes to 5, sometimes to thirty five until it told me to exhale. And it would make the sounds like the alarm and shake and beep. And I breathed. And this went on for what seemed like forever. My hands and toes were tingling and numb from being so cold, and I was started to get anxiety because I knew I had been in there a long time but had no concept of how much longer it would be.
J* came on the speaker and said I was doing great and they were going to start the contrast now, not much longer. I thought the contrast had already been in me. This must have been about an hour after we started. The contrast stung a bit as I felt it travel up and back down my arm again. I breathed, and tried really hard not to cry as I wondered why I had to go through this. I just kept thinking of my fiancé and going to California on our honeymoon and being somewhere warm and my family.
The machine had me hold my breath and breathe, hold my breath and breath for maybe 5-10 scans and then one scan lasted for maybe 10 minutes, no status update from the S* or anything. Finally it went silent. I lay there and counted to 100. Nothing happened. I said “hello? Can anyone hear me?” Nothing. Silence. My shoulders were aching, my feet were numb and my hands were tingling and I was starting to think they forgot me. My heart sped up and I tried to focus on remembering breathe. Finally she came on the machine and said one, maybe two more scans and we were done. Okay. I thought. Can’t be more than 5 minutes. I can do this. And closed my eyes again and breathed.
I heard the door open. I’m done! I thought. I made it! And I looked up and backwards a to see S’s face. She said they entered the numbers in wrong and needed to redo the last 4 scans. (Wtf?!) She asked if I was okay and I said not really. I’m freezing and really uncomfortable and ready to get out. She felt my hands and said they were ice cold and got me a warm blanket to go over them and around my head. I asked her how much longer and she said about 15 more minutes. I breathed feeling the tears form and said okay.
I made it through the next 15 minutes dreaming of vacation and going through everything I am thankful for. And crying.
Next, it was silent again for a few minutes I stretched, and waited thinking finally (again) it was over.
Then J* came in and said okay hun we have a few more to do, we can’t seem to get the machine right but you are doing just fine keep staying still, ok?
I was done. I had been in there for who knows how long at that point and this was the third time she said it would be one more time. I said nope. I’m done. They can use what they have at this point.
So she left the room and talked to whoever and then the machine scooted me out and said she said well I guess it will be good enough. I was shaking through my whole body. S* came in with a blanket and wrapped me up. She then took out my IV and realized J* had taken away the cotton balls so there was blood dripping down my arm. S* explained to me what had happened during the scan and that I had been in there for almost 2 hours and was very strong. She said it was a very hard test, essentially two tests and I did great at staying still. She apologized for how long it took and that I wasn’t prepared for it and walked me to the locker room. It was 10 pm by the time I got to the locker to change my clothes and then had to wait another 20 minutes for the cd to be printed. I called my fiancé in tears, and drove home on the snowstorm.
If you read this whole thing, thank you. I wrote this in hopes that someone else preparing for an abdomen/bile duct MRI will know what they’re in for. So they will know it’s not a 45 minute scan, it’s about 2 hours. You will have an IV, you will have to hold your breath a lot and you should wear really warm fuzzy socks. Ask for extra blankets. You might not think you’ll need them when you get in there, but it only gets colder. Don’t be afraid to hit the panic button if you need a break. Have someone there to take you home because even if you think it’s no big deal, the reality of it is you could benefit from the support.
And wake up in the morning feeling thankful. I woke up today thankful for my supportive, loving fiancé who made me tacos and paleo tortillas and kept the warm and waiting for me to get home. I’m thankful for my health insurance that allows this test to happen. For my family. For the sun being out today. Let the experience remind you of what you have and what you are capable of. Don’t let how someone else treats you rob you of joy. You are more than a patient in a machine. You are a person, and I bet you’re an amazing person. Remember that.