Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Some years ago, with painful feet and shoulders, I was diagnosed with arthritis. Expensive medication helped the pain in my feet. In my case, toes and feet are different kinds of arthritis, so what helped my feet has no effect on my shoulders, but my shoulder pain was largely gone--until a couple of months ago. The Dr. said I needed an MRI.
An MRI is a non invasive technique, and I have never been afraid of needles, or the dentist, and I drove to the imaging lab, thinking about walking through Dick's Sporting Goods when the session was over to see if any fishing tackle was ridiculously on sale. At the lab, the nurses were professional and kind, explaining what would happen, what I needed to do, and how long it would take.
The MRI apparatus is a long thin cylinder, and the patient is strapped on a board attached to a track, and the track slowly feeds into the cylinder, and then for 40 or 50 minutes, takes its image. It seemed simple. I was strapped in, with special care taken with my left shoulder, and my right hand held a bulb attached to a narrow tube, and if I had trouble, I was supposed to squeeze the bulb. What trouble would I have?
Well, my head hardly made it to the tip of the tube, and my heart started beating, and my breath came short. The roof of the tube I was being eased into, which seemed now like a round coffin, was inches from my eyes, and before I was up to my neck I was saying, "This has to stop. I can't do this." 40 or 50 minutes in this. No way. I didn't know I was claustraphobic.
The attendants were kind, seeing this happen to other patients before I am guessing, and my body started moving the other way. "We can't make you do this," they said, but I was embarrassed. I still had the residue of the panic, too, and they were not going to talk me back into that thing. That was not their intent. Another lab in the system had what was called an open MRI, and they made me an appointment for that one.
This time, because I had some trepidation, my wife came along. In this different lab, while the preparation was happening, it seemed things would be all right. Certainly this "open" tube looked bigger to me. But when I was again strapped to the board, and properly adjusted, my eyes again were just inches from the door of the closed coffin, and I knew it even though they put a towel on my eyes. I don't think I got much past my forehead before I started yelling about not being able to so this. More palpitations and short breaths, and I was on my way out again. My wife said I hardly moved before I started yelling, but I just couldn't do it. The only other option now was drugs.
The Dr. said, though, that maybe the ex-ray had enough information, and scheduled me for some physical therapy. I am still embarrassed when I think of my panic, but it was absolutely real.


  1. You spent how many years in these tiny offices at Edison and never knew that you were claustrophobic??? I bet I could put you in a committee meeting with a few people you know and you'd get the same reaction. I'll admit I've never tried the MRI thing, but at the moment I think I would just see it as a nice place to get away from students. OK, here is the literary critique of this piece--I think you should give this a David Sedaris spin. It -is- a bit funny, you know....?

  2. I've watched a couple of MRIs, and I think I might have a similar reaction.