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Winter Fury and MRI Madness

Posted by on February 2, 2010 in Medical Procedures and Other Drugs, My Health Updates - No comments


mri scannerWe head off for Duke today to finally begin the treatment – that is if is if we can push our car out of these ice sculptures that had once been streets. We were hit with somewhere between two and three feet of snow and Washington DC is in no way prepared for that kind of wintry demonfury. It is like the ninth circle of hell around here, a vast empty lake of ice,cars strewn in unnatural positions along the sides of streets like dinosaur bones and, yes, Satan himself, neck up from the ice just like Dante said he would be, frozen and bitter and Keith Richardsesque, mocking us, daring us to drive. So of course we’re going to do it

Some of our more foolish friends (bless their hearts) braved the first snows Friday night and we started off drinking Key Lime Martinis (no, I’m not kidding, they were delicious).  To get in the IL-2 spirit and prepare for Monday’s treatment, Dena with her Google MD set me up with an IV and we mainlined the stuff. Our  theory was that if I drank enough I could arrive at the hospital already nauseas, sweating, shaking with tremors and suffering hallucinations from the DTs, making a smooth transition to the IL-2 IV line at Duke. I think the doctors will be impressed with our thoughtful foresight.

Some of you may have heard that we braved Durham’s black iced roads last week, getting lost and sideways on more than once, in order to get my MRI brain scan. Other than the whole pop-tart-as-brain thing, there were few surprises.  The MRI experience was a little weird, though – very different from the CT scan and PET scan experiences. Unlike the other scan technologies, the MRI doesn’t use radiation; it uses magnets. (Hence the term MRI – magnetic resonance imaging.)  If the PET environment was Eastern mysticism and trippy day-glo colors, the MRI experience was black-and-white Monster Truck rally, a veritable opera of cranking and whirring and banging and shaking.

Before the process beings, the lawyers have prepared numerous documents for you to sign swearing that you have no metal body art or prosthetic limbs, no pacemakers or stents, no unfortunate remnants of bullet fragments or shrapnel, no plates in the skull, no bone screws, ear rings, nose rings, nipple rings or other various rings that we should probably not get into and, I am not kidding, absolutely positively no penile enlargement contraptions. It was like trying to get through security at the airport except that they let me keep my shoes on. Evidently all these precautions were due to the fact that not only could any of these metallic objects create havoc in your body due to the massive circular magnet into which you are being inserted, pulling them through your bone and skin upward and outward, but you could also end up with an embarrassing Strom Thurmond moment should your penile implant fall prey to some siren call whispering deep within those magnetic orifices.

I was able to sign the documents proclaiming no foreign objects in my body. Why would I need a penile implant? I’m married. I did have to confess to a tattoo on my left shoulder, which made me afraid that they might come in with a bic lighter and scalpel to scrape it off. I was told that some tattoo parlors around the world use cheap ink and that the MRI could cause them to burn — planting paranoid images in my head of the tattoo (a celtic cross from Savannah) bursting into flame, me trapped in this narrow death chamber frantically squeezing the little ball they give you in case you get claustrophobic or otherwise freak out during the MRI process and everyone else watches from behind glass barrier windows for a good laugh.

The scan itself was pretty cool, once you got over the concussive freakiness of it. The nurse gives you a couple of ear plugs like you might find at a firing range, then lowers you down on a very narrow bed, arms crossed on your chest, as there is no room for your body and your arms at your sides at the same time. She then cradles your head in a brace, which is more comfortable than it sounds. The brace is like one of those temperpedic pillows selling for $19.99 on latenight television. I was expecting a Snuggie next but got only a standard issue hospital blanket. It got a little creepier when they lowered a Hannibal Lector mask over the top of my face to ensure that I was not moving my head at all during the imaging.

You’ve probably heard about the banging with MRIs. It’s actually just one part in a broader array of generally ill-sounding mechanical sputters. During the start-up, the machine wheezes to life with a sudden ruckus like an airplane engine starting – propeller one flipping on and then propeller two and then propeller three, each successively snapping and whirring to life with steadily increasing velocity. All the while you are confined in this tiny dark space, arms on your chest, panic ball in hand, as the whirring and shaking grows more violent and you begin to expect at any moment to launch, hurled in your coffined fuselage through the roof and into the heavens.  It’s about this time that an incorporeal voice drifts into the room, from the pexiglassed chamber off to the side of the room, calmly reminding you to remain still, to remain relaxed, that there is nothing to see here and click, click, click as the camera snaps fine-grained black-and-whites of your insides.

The images produced by an MRI are dramatically different than those produced by CT or PET scans. They lack the neon glow of PETs and are easier to decipher. With the CT, you have to sit with your doctor and have him decipher the images.

See that dark spot?

Which dark spot?

That one?
mri brain

Here?No, that’s your liver. Over here.They’re all dark spots, doctor.

Yeah but that dark spot shouldn’t be there. It’s a tumor.
Looking at MRI scan of your nervous system, however, is like stepping into an art gallery in New York filled with pretentious modern art. The spaghetti-like branching of your spinal cord, dividing and extending into a thousand other little tributaries, are all easy to recognize. Well, kind of. I have to admit I’ve never seen my nervous system up close, but you nonetheless immediately understand what you are seeing. The brain scans are even more fascinating. If you have ever seen the movie Marks Attacks with Jack Nicholson, you’ll know what the brain scan would look like – just like all those little whacked-out martian creatures, complete with eyeballs bugging out the front and gazing intensely forward. The spinal column in profile, which is shot extending from your brain, looks like some kind of deepsea creature as yet undiscovered by modern marine biologists, unevolved for thousands of years, floating mindlessly with the currents a thousand leagues under the black sea

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