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Old 09-06-2019, 01:08 PM
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Getting an MRI for the first time.......


So I have a problem with my back. I tried physical therapy and that did nothing. I got an x-ray and that showed nothing. Next step is an MRI.

I'm a naturally anxious person and somewhat claustrophobic. I have no problems being in an elevator or something like that but when I watch people do caving on tv and they're squeezing through a dark tunnel on their belly and emerging on the other side like the cave birthed them I get queasy.

I asked a lady that's a friend how much clearance there was between her face and the tube and she said about 6 inches. Is that true? Or is she perhaps a bad judge of distance. If true I'm not sure how people of much size would get in one. She's average sized.

The doc said they'd give me some valium if I had concerns, 5mg. I've never taken valium before and am a 42 year old guy that never really has taken any meds to speak of. Maybe some ibuprofen. So I have no idea what to expect from taking that, and I'm not sure if I need it.

I think if the tube is enclosed on the end that my head is at that might kind of freak me out. Also if it's truly 6 inches from my face that might as well. I kind of get freaked out if there's no easy way out. I like the thought that I at least could get out if necessary.

So, any advice? Should I jump on the valium train, and where does it go, lol. Is my friend right about the tiny size of the tube? She said I could probably do an open MRI but the doc pretty much poo-pooed that idea. Thanks in advance for any advice. This is all very new to me, which I'm thankful for, but which leaves me and my over-thinking anxious mind wondering what I'm in for. I've done some research online myself but wanted to ask here as well.

Last edited by justanothermike; 09-06-2019 at 01:09 PM.
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Old 09-06-2019, 01:13 PM
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Yeah, six inches clearance sounds about right. There's pretty good airflow though, so that helps.
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Old 09-06-2019, 01:29 PM
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I've never felt claustrophobic in MRI machines, and I'm a pretty big guy. Mostly, I've felt bored. If they offer you acoustic earphones to listen to your favorite radio station, take them.
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Old 09-06-2019, 01:42 PM
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They can be kinda tight. I've never been in one where an end (like by your head) is closed off. I would not be able to do caving either, but mostly because of all the unknowns. After a minute or two, the 'tight quarters' feel goes away for me.

Note, they are loud. They bang around a lot, but I'm sure that will be explained. The should offer you something to listen to. The worst for me is the need to stay absolutely still. After that is the boredom.

I have a hip problem and need to make an appointment...
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Old 09-06-2019, 01:43 PM
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I've had a few MRIs without incident, but then again, I'm not claustrophobic. My biggest complaint is that they always make you take your shoes off, and without fail, the room with the machine is always cold, so my feet get cold.

I've also taken Valium before a knee surgery- I was really sweating it- my surgeon had told me that he couldn't tell how extensive the ACL damage was- I had a roughly even chance of needing just MCL reconstruction alone, versus combined ACL/MCL reconstruction. The former meant about 6 weeks on crutches and some minimal PT/rehab. The other meant more like 6 weeks of immobility and six months on crutches (this was 1989- now it's a MUCH shorter recovery time). Since I was an athletic kid, I really didn't want to be out of commission for that long.

Anyway, I was sitting there sweating- apparently my temperature was elevated a little bit, and my heart rate was something like 115 due to anxiety. Nurse says "Oh, I see you're pretty anxious. Let me talk to the doctor." She came back with a single capsule and says "This is Valium- it'll calm you down." In a very short period, my heart rate was normal, and I was very chill- not in the least bit anxious. The surgeon could have come in and said "I have to amputate your leg", and I'd have been like "Do what you gotta do, doc." It wasn't mind-altering in any kind of altered perception kind of sense, but it was definitely weird to be able to actually perceive the drug taking effect and feeling the anxiety ebb away.

I'd say to take the valium- it definitely works.
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Old 09-06-2019, 01:49 PM
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Yes, I've heard that music can be an option. I wonder if I can do podcasts. I love podcasts and can get lost in them. I can get beyond the boredom if needed, my brain is always running and will keep me entertained.

Thanks for the words about valium. Something that just takes the edge off the anxiety is probably not a bad idea. I wasn't sure how loopy it might make a person.
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Old 09-06-2019, 01:50 PM
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If you're claustrophobic, take the meds. 100%, no question. It's tight and you can't move. I find I do better with my eyes closed, so I can't see how close things are. It helps if they've got a fan going to move air past your face.

I am a person of size. They can move the bed around and up and down a bit to help adjust, but you'll still be slid into a hole. In other words, you should fit, but it's not roomy.

Valium shouldn't do much other than make you feel really calm, and possibly a little floaty. Follow the instructions so that it's in full force when you start the procedure.

They will give you a buzzer you hold in your hand so you can signal if you need help.

All in all, it should go relatively quickly. I've gotten through by doing my math in my head or other mental exercises to keep distracted. I won't lie though - I really hate them.
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Old 09-06-2019, 02:25 PM
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Why did your doctor nix an open MRI? I've had numerous scans, one of my MRI's was in an open machine. I think it was simply availability, since I don't have problems with enclosed spaces.

Is my understanding that they're more expensive, but that's an issue for you and your insurance, not the doctor. One of my doctors requested a pricey PET/CT scan knowing it would probably be denied. It was, so we settled for an MRI.

Anyway... The worst part is staying still. Mine are done on my head and neck, so even swallowing is problematic. Then there's the fl*cking needles (gadolinium injection). Boredom and noise are merely annoying.
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Old 09-06-2019, 02:31 PM
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Imagine being under your bed, or working under your car for an extended period. Would that bother you? If so, take the valium.

My claustrophobia is all about running out of air. So in the MRI machine, with huge round holes at the top and bottom, I am A-ok. Put me in a much larger enclosed cabinet though and I would freak.

Here's the thing though, the valium will also relax your muscles. So it is possible that a small tear in a disc or something might not show in the same way it would if your back were in its normal, tensed posture. So don't take it just because you can; only if you need it to get through the procedure.
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Old 09-06-2019, 02:31 PM
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@garygnu - She (and the research I've done) said that open MRI's aren't near as detailed and kind of look like someone shoot an etch-a-sketch up a bit. It's not as clear and detailed. Like for this back issue they need extreme detail to be able to tell what's going on. The thought is a herniated disc, possibly an issue with a facet. That's the reasoning given to me for what it's worth.
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Old 09-06-2019, 02:52 PM
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Imagine being under your bed, or working under your car for an extended period. Would that bother you? If so, take the valium.
I have no problem under a bed or car, but I'm in the group that never considered themselves claustrophobic until I had an MRI.
For me, what made me feel that way was that there's no (easy) way to get out if you want to. It's really not something you could do on your own, there's just no space to wriggle around.
Oddly enough, I found closing my eyes to be more annoying. When they were closed I felt like the tube was an inch away from me and I'd be relieved to find it about 6 inches away when I opened them.

If you're truly going to panic ask for a valium and make sure you have a ride home. This is what those techs do, they'll think nothing of it. OTOH, look at it this way, if you got in the machine when you started this thread, you'd be on your way home by now. If you can suck it up for 45 minutes (maybe more, maybe less), you'll be fine.
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Old 09-06-2019, 03:21 PM
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Oddly enough, I found closing my eyes to be more annoying. When they were closed I felt like the tube was an inch away from me and I'd be relieved to find it about 6 inches away when I opened them.
Yes, the eye trick only worked for me if they had the active air movement device. If there's no breeze, then my brain stayed firmly in "I can't get out" mode.
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Old 09-06-2019, 03:31 PM
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Take the Valium. It will help. Sunny, I close my eyes too. I have spatial phobias, leans more toward big open areas, but I do get claustrophobic in crowded spaces. I wanna run out the nearest exit.
Again, OP take the Valium. Best stuff on earth.
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Old 09-06-2019, 05:48 PM
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They should offer you some sort of ear protection/distraction. You have to use their headphones, not your own because equipment in the same room as an MRI machine has to be OK'd for being in proximity to a monstrously large magnet. If you didn't already know, essentially you're being threaded through the donut-hole of the magnet.

If they give you Valium it won't be enough to knock you out (although they'll probably not want you to drive yourself home). As others have said, it just eases the anxiety.

You do have a panic button. If you use it they'll pull you out of the MRI machine.

I found keeping my eyes closed worked for me, YMMV. I'm not a fan of tight spaces but I didn't feel at all trapped or anything of that sort which is what triggers my claustrophobic tendencies.

Actually, I was so chill during mine I actually fell asleep for a bit. And I didn't even have the Valium.

If I had a complaint it would be just how LOUD those machines are.
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Old 09-06-2019, 05:54 PM
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Take the Valium and have someone drive you. Music helps too, if only to drown out all that clanging.

I had a breast MRI almost 2 years ago; it was an open MRI and I was face-down, so claustrophobia wasn't an issue for me.
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Old 09-06-2019, 06:16 PM
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I also made the mistake of opening my eyes and nearly had a panic attack. Luckily I was able to calm myself after closing them again.

You may want to ask about these: https://www.alimed.com/mri-prism-glasses.html

They didn't have them where I got my MRI, but they would have helped greatly.
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Old 09-06-2019, 07:27 PM
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I am claustrophobic. If I have a dream in which I am in any way confined, I will wake up in a panic and need to get up. However, I elected not to take the valium. As it turned out, I suffered no anxiety even while remaining perfectly still. I had them play 60's classic rock and I counted the passage of time by the length of the songs. Doing so helped me focus. While a 45-minute MRI didn't freak me out, a 20-minute bone scan did. My legs were tightly bound and I had to hold my arms over my head. There was no music and no communication. With nothing to distract me I really began to get panicky. Had I been in there any longer I would have gone berserk! In short, the music helps pass the time, but if you really feel the valium would ease your mind, go for it.
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Old 09-06-2019, 09:37 PM
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I wish I could see or experience it in some way before taking the valium because I might be cool with it, but it sounds like if panic might even possibly be an issue I should just take it and move on. I don't know if I'll be in any place to judge, while on valium, if I'd be cool or not.

I was told to take one 5mg valium before the scheduled time, and I have another for later if I need it. My wife can drive me to and from.

Those prism glasses look cool. Of course, I probably can't wear my metal glasses frames in the machine and without them I can't see far anyway. I wonder if closing my eyes would even make a difference since i'm so nearsighted, lol.
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Old 09-06-2019, 10:59 PM
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I get an MRI to check on progress of my MS every 1-2 years, so I'm a "pro" at this point. Ask the nurses to put a folded-up towel on your eyes. The one time they did that for me, I was able to pretty much totally forget that I was in a tiny tube. I don't ask for it every time because the sensation of being in the tube doesn't really bother me. I am a person of size, and there's not usually any problem with getting me in the tube.
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Old 09-07-2019, 08:50 AM
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Another vote for the valium and an eye shade/towel. And the headphones with some loud distracting music. I had to push the button once during my first shoulder MRI. If your problem is lower back, your head may be partially out of the machine, which for me is a whole different experience.
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Old 09-07-2019, 09:31 AM
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Based on my experience, the table you are on will be fed into the machine to various depths as they scan different parts of your back. They will probably feed you feet first so that your head will be in only for a short time period. My problem was prostate and for most of the procedure my head was completely outside the enclosure. They did scan up my spine so my eyes we just inside the opening at one point.

You'll need the headphones for no other reason than the MRI is freaking loud. The music won't block it completely, but it will help.
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Old 09-07-2019, 09:35 AM
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Sounds like you have a Vitamin V deficiency and a 5 mg dose should help considerably.
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Old 09-07-2019, 10:24 AM
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Based on my experience, the table you are on will be fed into the machine to various depths as they scan different parts of your back. They will probably feed you feet first so that your head will be in only for a short time period. My problem was prostate and for most of the procedure my head was completely outside the enclosure. They did scan up my spine so my eyes we just inside the opening at one point.

You'll need the headphones for no other reason than the MRI is freaking loud. The music won't block it completely, but it will help.
If they don't have headphones, at least they will offer you earplugs, which will muffle the noise, but not eliminate it completely.
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Old 09-07-2019, 01:58 PM
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If my head didn't have to be in it, or if I went in feet first, I think that would be much better. I like the towel over the eyes idea, that sounds good. Some good stuff here! Thanks!
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Old 09-07-2019, 02:29 PM
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I've had several MRIs, but mostly of my feet and legs. My experience has been mostly that it's boring and a little uncomfortable, but basically benign.

===========

I removed all my clothes, glasses, jewelry, etc., and put on a cotton hospital gown and socks with some rubber tread.

I lay down in a bed, with my feet aimed towards the machine. They spent some time positioning my body the way they wanted it, double checked about any metal that might be on me or in me (any metal stitches or devices?) and gave me earphones and a panic button. They promise to stop immediately if I press the panic button.

The bed slides foot-first into the machine. When it was just my ankle, my head actually stayed outside the machine, but I assume you will go all the way in. My head was just barely inside for my knee.

The hole at the head-end stays open. There's light. I can see. (not that there's anything to look at) There's a little air current.

The tech speaks to me over the headphones, and tells me they are starting the first series. There are really loud clanking noises, I try really hard to be still.

The noises subside, the tech asks if I'm okay, and then warns me they are starting the next series. Rinse and repeat.

Once, I really wanted to move some part, and asked if I could between images, and the tech said that was okay. That was a long scan, though, with lots of images.

I've never actually fallen asleep during one (they are too noisy for me to sleep) but a lot of people do. You are just lying there, and it's reasonably comfortable other than the sound.

Eventually, they are finished, the the bed slides out of the hole. The tech comes in and offers help getting out of the bed. They won't even bring my glasses into the room, due to fears that the frame might be pulled by the enormous magnet and break or something, but I notice the tech wears his glasses. I leave and change back into my things.

Easy peasy. But I don't get horrible claustrophobia.

I am terrified of valium. My mom took it once and slept for a week afterwards, rousing enough to use the restroom, but not enough to actually do anything. I haven't taken valium, but I've had sedatives in the same family, and I felt like shit for a long time after it was supposed to have worn off. YMMV, I seem to be at the extreme end of "react unpleasantly to this class of drugs". But if you think you can lie still for 45 minutes (or whatever they tell you it will be) I'd skip the drugs.
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Old 09-07-2019, 02:30 PM
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I'm not generally claustrophobic, but I didn't know what to expect and was pretty surprised at first. I had to calm myself down, but was ok after that.
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Old 09-07-2019, 02:45 PM
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I'm on the other end of the valium sensitivity spectrum (and I'm 200#)--for me it's barely noticeable and if they would let you drive yourself home I would. Not as strong (to me) as one beer... But it does take the edge off (as does a beer, but no peeing in the MRI).
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Old 09-07-2019, 02:51 PM
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I'd take the Valium (that is not a high dose and if you're average weight you won't feel loopy) and avoid caffeine until afterward. To keep my anxiety down before and during a really painful biopsy 2 years ago I focused on how good it would be to have answers and what my life would be like when this was all behind me.
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Old 09-08-2019, 06:13 AM
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I'm mildly claustrophobic, and have had many (>15) MRIs (tho full disclosure; I'm in the UK so the procedures may differ, even if the machines don't) - my best advice is to close your eyes before the tray/bed/whatever moves in and Keep Them Closed until it moves out again. I find the noise to be a nuisance, no more. Good luck!
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Old 09-08-2019, 06:46 AM
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My own claustrophobia is about feeling trapped: safety harnesses are Hell, but I've had an attack in a room that was actually quite large (a languages lab seating a couple of hundred) and no problem with an MRI. For the MRI, I could have pushed out the gurney out myself if I'd needed to. I think a different design could have given me a lot of trouble, though. If you haven't had valium before I'd try it a couple of days before if possible, in a safe situation: my family has a serious case of "atypical reactions" to mood-altering substances, I've learned to just avoid them.

Last edited by Nava; 09-08-2019 at 06:47 AM.
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Old 09-08-2019, 07:57 AM
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Re "feeling trapped". I agree with Nava. In the rig I was in, I could not have used my arms or legs to crawl, but I could have scootched around on my back (as I routinely do in bed to adjust my position) or levered against the walls and gotten out. Or so it felt at the time.
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Old 09-08-2019, 12:25 PM
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I closed my eyes before being slid in head-first into the "tunnel", and kept them closed through the whole shebang. I only opened them up when they began sliding me back out, as I was curious just how confining it really was. I guess it was just 3 or 4 inches from my face, and I'm glad I kept my eyes closed during the process, as I could see where I might freak out.
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Old 09-08-2019, 03:35 PM
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I've been through some tight tunnels and an MRI did not feel like a tight tunnel to me. I guess it's because it is circular so you don't feel enclosed on the sides. Also you don't have to keep crawling when you're in there. If I had to crawl through a long MRI sized tunnel I'd have second thoughts.
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Old 09-08-2019, 09:04 PM
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Yes, I've heard that music can be an option. I wonder if I can do podcasts. I love podcasts and can get lost in them. I can get beyond the boredom if needed, my brain is always running and will keep me entertained.

Thanks for the words about valium. Something that just takes the edge off the anxiety is probably not a bad idea. I wasn't sure how loopy it might make a person.
I'm claustrophilic, so I had no trouble at all in the tube. I kind of enjoyed it, and would happily do it again, though Medicare might object at pay that much for my amusement.

They gave me headphones with Pandora. I chose classical music, which was good, since when they turned on the machine and the banging started I couldn't really hear anything. So a podcast wouldn't work very well.
The real trick is staying still. That takes the concentration.
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Old 09-09-2019, 11:51 PM
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I'm a larger person, and a bit claustrophobic.

The first time I had an MRI was on my shoulder and my knee (both done same day; IIRC I went in one way for the shoulder then they backed me out and sent me in the other way for the knee). I premedicated with some Halcion (a benzo), and just closed my eyes before they slid me in.

The next one was on my head. Halcion again. Since they put a cage over your head for a head MRI, this helped. Eyes closed before entering the tube again.

Then on my back. I premedicated for that. Valium this time; my instructions were to take one, then a bit later take another if I felt I needed more. The stuff wasn't hitting me at all, so I took a second one while in the waiting room. About 2 minutes later the room started tilting a bit (I guess the first was just about to kick in).

They called me back to redo the back MRI - not sure what the issue was. That time, I decided to tough it out. Again, I closed my eyes before going in the tube - figuring that if I opened them, that might set off a panic attack, but if I didn't open them, then I wasn't really in that tiny tube.

Yes, your face is pretty close to the top of the tube - but I made a point of closing my eyes before they slid me in, and did not open them again. My arms were the biggest problem: I had to hold them really tightly against / above my torso to fit into the tube, and when I relaxed them, they were lying against the tube.

Honestly, if you're nervous, ask for a scrip for a couple Valium. You won't be the only one they've had to do that for, and IMO it's better to prepare in advance, than to go and panic and need to be let out.

The music they pipe in (literally: I asked how headphones worked when they couldn't have any metal, and it's sent through a hollow plastic tube) won't be understandable. It's a minor distraction from the THUMPATHUMPATHUMPArattlerattlewhirrrTHUMPA of the machine. Before one or the other of the back MRIs, we had some work done in the basement that involved jackhammering. I quipped that it was good preparation for that evening's plans.

Last edited by Mama Zappa; 09-09-2019 at 11:52 PM.
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Old 09-21-2019, 10:37 AM
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How'd it go?
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Old 09-21-2019, 10:44 AM
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In case you haven't had it yet, keep your eyes closed and wear earplugs. Tightly fitted earplugs.

Oh, and blow your nose before you're loaded in.
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Old 09-21-2019, 10:46 AM
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I think they offered me earplugs and headphones. Or maybe they made me wear them. Anyway, yeah, it's REALLY LOUD when the machine goes CLANK CLUNK CLANK around you.
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Old 09-21-2019, 11:21 AM
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I have had many MRIs. I had no problem with them until one day I did. I toughed it out and made it through but now I have some anxiety whenever I have to go. During my recent health issues the MRIs I had to take were 45 minutes long. Xanax to the rescue. I generally dont like taking medication but I did then.
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Old 09-21-2019, 12:50 PM
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I had one yesterday. I just had the ear plugs and kept my eyes closed. One without the contrast and one with it.

Took about an hour.
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Old 10-09-2019, 05:13 PM
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Well, today was the day. I had mentioned that they got me some valium but the reality is that they waited until this morning to call it in and I didn't have time to go get it. I had accepted at this point that there would be no valium, and I worked hard on my anxiety to reframe the situation. So I was all ready mentally to just go do this thing. Then I got the call this morning about the valium and just blew it off.

I went in today and was given no headphones nor anything to put over my eyes. It was clear to me that I was just the next number in line and they couldn't have cared less. I'm sure if I made a fuss they would have accommodated in some way but they certainly weren't letting me know of my rights, lol. So I just laid down, closed my eyes, and did it. Honestly I wasn't nervous at all. I'm not sure why, but it wasn't nearly as intimidating as I thought it would be.

I did open my eyes a few times while in there because I'm stupid like that at times. I just had to see how close the ceiling was and yes, that thing was maybe 6 inches away. My arms were up against the sides. It was a tight squeeze. However it was really cool in the room and there was a nice breeze blowing through the machine and I felt like I could breathe just fine. That's one of the things that worried me, feeling stuffy and like I couldn't get enough air.

I found the noise of the machine soothing. The noises changed but they were rhythmic. I counted twice in my head to see if the sounds maybe each went for a certain amount of time. Apparently I waited until the end but the last two both went for about 80 seconds according to my bored and wandering mind.

All in all my anxiety before it was way worse the the actual MRI. It went smoothly. Now I will say that mine was only 15 minutes or so. I could have gone longer and was quite frankly surprised it went by so quick. Went out to a favorite restaurant afterward, and it was a good day. Now tomorrow I find out the results.
  #42  
Old 10-09-2019, 06:31 PM
TheCuse is offline
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^^^Glad it went well and I hope the results come back okay.
  #43  
Old 10-09-2019, 06:47 PM
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You know, echoing Voyager above, I had a great time with my first (and so far, only) MRI. I was wildly entertained by the various noises it made. There were stretches where I thought I was back in my youth listening to some cool new industrial album. I wish I could have recorded some of the parts.

As a guy that really enjoys caving, claustrophobia wasn't an issue. In essence, the whole experience was like a comfy nap in the middle of a caving trip while listening to some cool beats.

Last edited by Pork Rind; 10-09-2019 at 06:48 PM.
  #44  
Old 10-12-2019, 11:03 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TheCuse View Post
^^^Glad it went well and I hope the results come back okay.
Turns out I have a degenerating L4 and L5 disc. L4 is bulging and pressing on the nerves on the right side, causing my issues on the right side. The left side is encroaching. I also have a facet joint on L4 that is deteriorating. I honestly think that's where most of my pain issues and spasm issues come from. The bad news is that it's all deteriorating at 42 to a point where I had to leave my business. The good news is that the discs are holding great space between my vertebrae......for now.

Next steps are some injections to try to calm down the nerves and swelling around them. Not much they can do for the facet.

I'm to work on my core, do isometric exercises, losing weight never hurts though I'm almost 6'1 and 206 so not super overweight. There isn't much more to do.

I could do surgery regarding the discs, probably a fusion, but the doc seemed to think that it seemed like overkill given my position.

We'll see if the shots help. That would be nice. I stood for a couple hours last night video recording a high school football game for a friend and my back was absolutely killing me after on the drive home. It's definitely limiting me in a lot of ways. Hopefully I can find some relief even if the pain isn't excruciating, and maybe even find a way to keep the deterioration at bay. We'll see.
  #45  
Old 10-13-2019, 04:54 AM
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Good luck.

My spouse had terrible back problems all his life and until you have that or live closely with someone with that it's hard to understand how problematic it is. I hope you find relief.
  #46  
Old 10-13-2019, 05:42 AM
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I would try everything they tell you to do and hope for the best. You should also look into a medication like Cymbalta that works on nerve pain. It made a huge difference to me, and my back was where your back is now about 10 years ago.

If everything non-surgical doesn't work, don't be afraid to at least research surgery. I had a back fusion (L4-L5). Afterwards, I still had lower back pain, but it stopped the loss of function that was developing in my legs.

Good luck to you and please keep us posted.
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