MRI (How to guide)March 27, 2009
Today I had another MRI. The last few months I didn’t have any MRI so I had many sleepless nights because of it. I always start with telling the MRI operators that I suffer from severe claustrophobia (which is true) and that the scan only can be successful if a special protocol (mine) is followed. The MRI operators can help you by:
- not fixating your head in the cage (usually they put small pillows in this cage) but allowing you to insert small ear plugs instead
- demonstrating the possibility to get out of it immediately
- telling you in advance how long the total MRI would take and then how long each specific scan will take
- installing the drip with the contrast liquid at the beginning of the MRI
- allowing your spouse to hold your feet or ankle
ad 1) They will only not fixate your head if you promise to keep your head (or the part of your body that forces you to undergo the MRI) motionless. Otherwise they have to start all over again and that is in nobodies interest (for sure not yours). I prefer to hear everything (so no earplugs) but the operators will not allow you because of the noise.
ad 2) This is vital. The first times I had to undergo an MRI I asked them whether they could show me how long they needed to get me out after I squeezed the emergency ball, to show me how the door opened from the inside, how to unlock the cage (if your head is not fixed in the cage you can pull out your head instantaneously in case you get a claustrophobic attack) etc.
ad 3) To me this is vital information and I presume for you too. With the latest equipment (minimum 3T the Siemens Symphony) a typical brain scan takes between half an hour up to an hour and a half and comprises many short scans with different wave patterns. You can better prepare for a long scan if you know that you have to lie in the MRI tunnel for an hour instead of a quarter. And if the operator (in case of a long scan) informs you for each short scan how long it will take you calculate how long you still have to lie motionless in that bloody tunnel!
ad 4) The operators used to install the pump or drip with contrast liquid by interrupting the MRI scan, moving you out of the MRI device, sticking a needle in your arm and waiting until the contrast liquid reached your brain and rolling you back in the tunnel. That seems to be nice if you have claustrophobia but you have go into the tunnel twice. Nowadays you can ask to stick the needle in your arm in the beginning of the MRI scan. That saves time and you don’t have to suffer from a second trip through the MRI tunnel!
ad 5) You can hear the control room but they can’t hear you. Squeezing the ball is one solution but that is the last resort. Instead I agreed with my wife (who is standing next to the MRI device holding my feet) a kind of “feet-code”. Any code will do as long as you both what is meant. She can then signal the operators in the control room (if necessary).
I followed these basic steps and forty minutes later I was ready. I was so relieved. If these steps don’t help you need psychological help. The psychologist will either use “flooding” or a technique called “systematic desensitization”. If you suffer from claustrophobia related panic attacks probably the systematic desensitization approach works best. I have another three months to go before I need another MRI. Hurray, I made it!