It’s been hard to write for the past few days. I had this experience on Tuesday that has been difficult to process or understand. There was a lot to hold onto, so it felt impossible to even begin writing. But I’ve been able to talk though it a bit in therapy, so I want to try to write it out here.

*Mild trigger warning for content (medical trauma)*

Earlier this week I had to get an MRI. Which, for those who don’t know, is a type of image taken of the body using magnets. The scans vary in length and type, but the entire procedure is generally around 45 minutes or so.

I was prescribed an MRI due to a previous injury to my hamstrings and hip muscles. Since my bone x-ray was normal, the orthopedist wanted a scan to see what might be going on with the soft tissues in that area to cause me pain, or that may be attributed to slow healing.

I wasn’t given very much information about what to expect. Some friends in the radiology program at my school informed me that the machine would be very loud (and to ask for ear plugs if they didn’t offer), the room would be cold, and I’d probably only have to go halfway in the machine.

When I got to the hospital, the security guard sent me to the wrong location (to be fair, he directed me to inpatient MRI, which sounds pretty similar to outpatient MRI) so I had to walk across the entire hospital to the correct location. Luckily this appears to happen often because there were blue arrows stuck to the floor that followed directly to the outpatient radiology clinic.

As I was making this walk, I passed the psychiatric emergency room. It’s probably worth mentioning that this hospital has the same parent name and logo as the hospital I was admitted to last August, so just seeing the entryway to that ER made my heart jump.

Once I found the correct location, I filled out some paperwork and was taken to the changing area. I had to remove everything from the waist up and put on two hospital gowns (another trigger. Also, one of them was blue and white stripes, which seems a little distasteful). They locked my belongings up in a locker, gave me the key and pointed me towards the restroom (they “strongly encourage” you to at least attempt to pee since you’ll be in the machine for 45 minutes).

Once I completed that task, I was escorted to the MRI waiting area. A nice gentleman named Carlos came out to get me. He took my locker key (no metal in the machine!), went over my paperwork and asked me once more if I had any metal in or on my body or if I could be pregnant (no, no, and no). He briefly talked me through what to expect and then asked me to sit on the hospital bed. I did.

He placed a large metal plate over my body from belly button to my knees and strapped it to the bed, which had a similar metal plate underneath my body so I was literally strapped between these two plates. He asked me to turn my toes in and taped them together to hold my hips in internal rotation. He said this was necessary for the scans my doctor ordered.

He handed me ear plugs and reminded me that the machine is very loud and makes a lot of clicking sounds. He said those clicking sounds would indicate that the images were being taken and that if I needed to scratch my face or move at all, I should do that once the sounds stopped between images.

He asked me to cross my arms over my chest and put an emergency switch in my hand. Then he said that I needed to hold that position for the entire duration of the MRI. Which probably wouldn’t have been terrible except he raised the table so that I was very close to the top of the machine. Then he moved the bed all the way into the machine, enclosing my entire body and head.

It is very similar to what I imagine it is like to be in a coffin while alive.

I tried to just keep breathing and talking to myself, reminding myself that I had a “kill-switch” if I absolutely needed to get out. There’s also a speaker overhead so Carlos was walking me through it and asking if I was okay. He said the first scan was 30 seconds, just to make sure I was in the right place and position.

No problem. All was well.

The next scan was three minutes. Still sort of okay.

Then there was a five minute scan. Almost as soon as I heard the machine turn on again, my hip started to ache. As the machine kept clicking and humming, the ache turned into actual pain. I was hanging in there, though.

Another break. Another five minute scan.

At this point my hip was screaming at me. I was in so much pain. Once the machine stopped, I tried wiggling my toes and legs to get more comfortable. No luck. There was very minimal movement even possible due to the way I was being restrained in a specific position. All I could really do was shift my foot around, so I just kept tearing the tape apart at my toes.

By the next scan, I was in excruciating pain. I could feel myself starting to leave my body, but I really did not want to switch. I was terrified of who would switch out because many Insiders would be massively triggered if they switched out into a body that was strapped to a table with their feet taped together, face only inches away from the top of a narrow tube making obnoxious noises.

So I kept breathing and I kept talking to myself – trying to breathe positive, healing, relaxing energy into my hip. Then the pain started radiating down my thigh, leg, calf, and into my foot which was tingling. My body started writhing, trying to relieve some of the pain.

That scan ended and Carlos asked me what was wrong. He said I had moved too much so the image would need to be re-taken. I was not happy about that. I told him I was in a lot of pain and I was also tearing the tape at my feet. He reminded me that it was almost over and that it was imperative that I stay still. I reminded him that I was in tremendous pain.

He said, “I’ll be right in.”

He pulled me out of the tube and asked me what was going on. I explained the pain. He explained that he was sorry, but there was no other way to take the scans. I asked him to please let me move around a little. He agreed to un-tape my feet for a bit and re-tape them in slightly less internal rotation.

When he removed the tape, I realized just how little I could move, even without being in the machine. I propped myself up on my elbows and jammed my hipbones into the plate, trying to relieve the intense pressure on my screaming muscles.

Carlos was not into this. He stayed calm, but firm as he said, “You cannot move. You cannot change positions or I will have to start over.”

I snapped back, “I’m not fucking moving! I will stay in the same exact position you put me in, but if I don’t relieve some of this pain, I cannot keep doing this.”

He sighed and said, “Okay”

Once I seemed to calm down a little, he asked if I would be okay for the final two scans (one of which was a repeat scan since I moved too much). I asked how long they would take.

“Five minutes and six minutes.”

“Ugh. Fine. let’s just do this.”

He slid the bed back into the machine and I prepared myself for worsening pain. He said he needed to repeat the 30 second scan first to ensure I was still in the correct position. I was (see Carlos! I told you I wasn’t going to move!). Then he said he was starting the five minute scan. I was starting to get delirious from the pain.

At that point I started doing some mental gymnastics.

First, I imagined that the clicking sounds were actually synthetic voices, repeating the same word over and over (almost like a broken record). So, for example, one of the clicks sounded like the word “Pow”, so I heard “Pow-pow-pow-pow-pow-pow-pow-pow-pow…” and pictured some macho looking superhero stuck on a bizarre cycle of punching the bad guy over and over, unable to stop. It made me laugh.

Then, when that was no longer amusing, I started making up stories about people that had been in that machine before me. I tried to get as detailed as possible: what were their names? What did they look like? Why were they there? Who was with them? How did they feel about being in this damn tube? Etc…

The character that developed to the most fruition was an older “sassy black woman” who was not at all impressed with this ordeal (pardon my painfully obvious stereotype).

I imagined she was there for similar hip pain, possibly a torn labrum, and she was freezing cold from the fan incessantly blowing on her. Her daughter brought her to the hospital and was waiting nervously in the waiting room. This woman would hum while the scan took place to keep herself calm and distracted. At some point, there was a long pause between her scans. Curious as to the cause of the delay, she turned her face towards the speaker:

“Carlos? What in the world are you doing back there?”

“It will just be a moment.”

“Listen Carlos, I have places to be. I can’t be waiting in this damn tube all day while you sit there. I’m about out of patience and it is too cold for anyone to be lying on this bed with just a flimsy sheet. So either turn this machine back on and finish my test or bring me a damn blanket!”

“I’m sorry for the delay, Ma’am. I’m ready for the next scan. If you’re cold, I can bring you a blanket.”

“It’s okay Carlos. Just get back to work. Goodness.”

And her scans are finished without incident.

This served me pretty well, actually. I managed to get through the rest of the MRI. I may have even started humming myself. When Carlos came in the room to get me, I ripped out my ear plugs and noticed that I was crying. My face was grimacing and my lips were quivering – likely because that’s the only part of my body I was permitted to move.

As soon as he un-strapped the metal plate, I sat up and lifted my hips off the table. I slowly shifted my legs into slight external rotation and stretched out as much as my angry hips would allow.

Carlos said I could stand up and put my sneakers back on. I stood and immediately noticed that I couldn’t bear much weight on my injured side. When I went to bend down to pick up my sneaker, I couldn’t bend far enough to reach. So I kicked my shoes towards the nearest chair and sat down to lace them up.

He walked me back to the lockers and opened mine for me. I grabbed my stuff and went into the changing room to put my own clothes back on. I stumbled into the reception area and asked something about my scans. The receptionist told me they would be processed and sent to whoever prescribed them. I asked for the fastest way out of the hospital and hobbled to the elevator.

As soon as I stepped onto the street, I started crying again. It was beautiful outside and the sun was just setting. The juxtaposition of the gorgeous weather and visually stunning sunset against the harsh, cold, and painful experience I’d just had was overwhelming.

I gathered myself and caught my balance. Then I took a deep breath, put on my headphones, and started walking towards the train. But the entire commute home felt surreal. I didn’t feel real. None of it felt real.

I think I was in shock. I think I understood that something really terrible had happened to me, but it felt very far away. I couldn’t let it get too close to me. I was already removed from the experience and it was getting hard to remember it at all.

I held onto all of those emotions and foggy memories until my next therapy session, where I walked my therapist through the incident. I completely opened up all of the pain and horror I was feeling and promptly dropped it into the therapeutic space. It was too hard to hold it alone – I needed her to help me.

And she did.

31 thoughts on “Shock

  1. jaklumen says:

    Yikes! I’m sorry you had such an awful experience, Andi. As I tweeted earlier, I’ve done MRIs so often now that I don’t think much about it anymore. But then, I’ve never experienced physical pain during the scans– I know I’d have a MUCH more difficult time if that was so!

    They didn’t have any music for you to listen to? The machines I used had headphones that I could put on. You said you were in NYC, right? Even if it was just broadcast radio, I’ll bet you’ve got a better selection there than my small town area.

    Also- if you ever have to do this again, I found it helpful to show up in my own clothes- usually sweatpants and a T-shirt. As long as it’s somewhat loose and no metal is in it (I have someone with me to hold keys and such), the technicians are fine and usually recognize I’ve done this before.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      Thanks, Jak.

      No, they didn’t have music or headphones. And yes, I’m in NYC so there are plenty of radio stations! I think music would have been so helpful.

      I actually did wear my own clothes. I wore yoga pants and a tee. But they ask all females to remove all clothes from the waist up because our bras often have metal clasps and underwire. I was able to keep my pants on, thankfully.

      Hopefully I won’t have to do this again, but if I do – I’m going to inquire about the headphones/music situation and I sincerely hope it’s not so painful again!


  2. Jean says:

    I’ve had an MRI and could imagine every step of what you described. Awful. I am surprised that they didn’t put in an IV and give you a tranquilizer. Then they could have added something for the pain. You did super great, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      My Physical Therapist said the same thing! So we agreed that if I ever need an MRI (or something similar again), I need to ask for a prescription for some sort of tranquilizer/pain killer combination. Thanks, Jean.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      Thanks, Cat. I sincerely wish I had asked about this more before going. I don’t know how much it would have helped, but sometimes just being prepared for how awful something will be makes it more bearable in the moment.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Cat says:

        Yes, I had to lie flat on my back with a slipped disc, utter agony and little sympathy from the radiographers. It’s the feeling of not being in control and something unpleasant happening that triggers the past trauma for me


  3. Cat's Meow says:

    I’m so glad that your therapist was able to help you with the experience!

    I’ve had a couple of MRIs done- one for a severely herniated disk and looking for possible underlying causes of migraines. While they were unpleasant and the one for the disk was very definitely uncomfortable, they were nothing like your experience.

    If you need to do another, you may want to tell them that you will take your bra off, but you are wearing your t-shirt, not the hospital gown. So silly of them to not allow that up front!

    I found NYC to be a weird combination of great, sensitive medical care and unthinking, factory “get them through the system” mentality. I never knew which I would encounter ahead of time. The whole, “just have all women change to hospital gowns” idea seems to be about simplifying things for the providers, rather than providing the best care for the patients. Grump.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      Thanks. Me too! She’s pretty great at that stuff. I was actually really confused when they asked me to take off my bra and my shirt. On the phone, they made it seem as though I would only have to remove metal. And since I knew that, I wore a sports bra (no metal). But if there’s a next time, I’m going to specifically state that and ask if I can therefore leave my clothes on. Also: totally agree about that policy being seemingly easier for the staff than related to patient care. Grump, indeed!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. J says:

    I am so sorry you went through all of that!! The only MRIs I’ve ever had were much shorter and for my head so my panic was shorter and I wasn’t as entrapped. I can’t imagine what the panic I’d have felt. (Though I loved your sassy black woman and will totally adopt that strategy next time!)

    I also completely relate to the logo and parent name of the hospital issue (in fact, I bet it’s the same one!) I was hospitalized in two of those hospitals from the parent company and to this day I can’t walk near the upper east side, a branch of the hospital I’ve never even been inside of because of the logo and name. They also (more recently) took over a hospital downtown, and I discovered to my shame that I have to take the long way around when I go nearby for semi-regular meetings because once I see the logo I’m perilously close to non-functioning….and it’s been 8 years since the hospitalizations. My psychiatrist and regular doctor know they have to send me to an alternative hospital any time I need tests done.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      Haha, thank you for appreciating my Sassy Black Woman! 🙂

      Ah! Yes! Stupid logo. It seems unavoidable. I try to dodge it whenever possible, but it pops up everywhere. This was actually my first time at the UES location. My orthopedist works there (but I see her at a private outpatient office for this exact reason). I need to have a strict policy to never go to any of those facilities in the future.


  5. J says:

    PS – No need to say, but if it was NYP, Columbiadoctors midtown location (51st between 5th and 6th) can do a lot of the same tests (including MRIs, EKGs, etc) that the hospitals do, and take the same insurance. They don’t have the NYP logo, they have the columbia crown next to the words columbiadoctors. They do have an outpatient psych department inside, but all you can see from the area where you walk is a waiting area and reception desk. The whole building is much more office-y then hospital. It’s easier for me to handle. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Rachel says:

    I had a palpable, horrified response to reading this. For what you went through. Feeling trapped in a medical procedure is so re-traumatizing, that lack of control and power. You are so vulnerable as a patient, and even with necessary procedures there can be more trauma-informed care (which you will provide when you’re in the field). I’m sorry, glad you took it to therapy, and so glad you felt comforted by your therapist. xx Sending tenderness.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Amb says:

    I’m so sorry. It sounds like it was a TERRIBLE experience. You’re so brave for having stayed in there for it. There’s no way I could have. I hope this is the last MRI you’ll ever need. I’m glad your T helped you, though, and that you were able to ask her to. xx

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s