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fMRI: The real thing

February 1, 2008

D-day: today the test I feared most was performed: the fMRI. The same no-nonsense nurse/operator who performed the trial fMRI a few weeks ago did, as he had promised, also perform this real fMRI scan. A wonderful trustworthy guy. I had asked him to give me some time prior to the scan to discuss my ‘fear factors’. He listened very carefully and told me not to worry (he was also informed by the psychologist).

He was willing to reduce the amount of foam that was to lock my head in the MRI ‘helmet’ but made me promise that I would not move my head. He told me that it was possible to break the scan into segments (I asked for that) but advised against it. It would increase the length of the total procedure as some recordings would have to be performed again. Just the fact that I could was enough for me. He also promised to keep me informed about progress of the series of recordings which he did.

To control my claustrophobia it was important for me to be able communicate with the operator. That is very difficult as the operator is in another room, separated by a thick door, and as the communication between operator and patient is only one-way (the patient can hear operator instructions, but not the other way around). My wife was therefore allowed to hold my feet and she could relay my ‘answers’ with gestures to the operator through a window in the room. It means a lot to have someone with you that you can trust. We agreed signals for ‘no’ and ‘yes’. Last but not least I was given a small balloon to request an immediate stop of the test.

It was just as Andrea wrote in her blog (Newly Diagnosed MS) with the big difference of course that I was told to keep my eyes open to be able to read the instructions on a projection screen placed at the end of the MRI tunnel. The moment the helmet closed over my head (a helmet with small holes for your eyes to see through into a mirror under an angle of 45 degrees) claustrophobia immediately kicked in. I asked for the helmet to be removed for a minuted and conditioned myself using the Systematic Desensitization. That went rather well, perhaps also as my Reiki coach sent me a truck load of confidence and courage while I was on my way to the hospital.

I had to perform three tests. Test #1 was to ‘think’ words starting with the letter projected on a screen outside the MRI tunnel. After a few letters (4-5) a little star appeared, the sign that I was not allowed to think about words but instead of a walk on the beach. Then a similar sequence started and this was repeated for about 10-15 minutes. Test #2 was to repeatedly bend and straighten the fingers of my right hand while I was seeing the word ‘Action’ projected on the screen and to stop doing so when the word ‘Rest’ appeared. This sequence was to be performed for about 6 minutes for each hand. Test #3 was similar to test #2 but now for both feet (bending and stretching my toes).

The entire fMRI check took just less than an hour and was made possible by a very understanding operator, my loving wife, the support of my Reiki coach and a lot of confident friends. It helps a lot though to understand the processes in your head and to understand that you’re (or can be) in control. This at least worked in my case. Thanks everybody so much to help me get through (literally!).

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