© Copyright 2023 by Sara Etgen-Baker
Image By vecstock at Freepix.
While walking through my neighborhood, I caught my foot on a crack in the sidewalk, instantly plunging toward the ground. I broke my fall using my right arm, landed hard on the concrete, and immediately heard an audible pop. Pain quickly shot through my right shoulder and down my upper right arm. The following morning, I couldn’t lift my arm because it was unbelievably weak. The pain in my right shoulder was intense, like a knife was permanently stuck in it. I didn’t see my physician, however, assuming I’d get better over time. I accepted my condition and carried on as normally as possible, frequently using my left arm instead of my right, administering analgesic creams to my upper right arm and shoulder, and taking over-the-counter pain relievers.
A few weeks later, I finally admitted to myself that I wasn’t improving and sought the advice of an orthopedic specialist.
“The symptoms you’re describing sound like a torn rotator cuff,” she suggested.
“Are you sure?” I asked, disbelief creeping into my voice.
“Pretty sure, but the only way I’ll know for certain is with an MRI of your shoulder. Here,” she said handing me some paperwork, “take this order to the imaging facility across the street. You can have your MRI done today.”
“Yes, today. No need to wait,” she answered in a deliberate voice. “Come back tomorrow, and I’ll discuss the results with you.”
I walked across the street and checked into the imaging center. An hour later, a handsome, young technician greeted me and escorted me toward the imaging area.
“We want you to be comfortable during your exam. Unfortunately, some of today’s stretch athletic clothing contains small metal threads. When it comes to MRIs, these metal threads are dangerous. So, we’re providing you with safe and comfortable clothing to wear during your exam. When you change into these clothes, please remove all jewelry.” He handed me a set of purple scrubs, escorting me to a dressing room. “You’ll store your clothes, jewelry, and personal items in the locker area here.”
He gave me a few minutes to change before directing me to the room where the MRI machine was housed. I stared at the machine—a large metal donut with an open center hole.
“You look terrified, ma’am. I’m guessing you’ve never had an MRI.”
“No sir, I haven’t. You’re right. I am terrified! I’m claustrophobic and have heard plenty of horror stories about the ‘tube of terror’.”
“I hear that a lot. Not to worry, ma’am. MRIs get a lot of bad press because people don’t know what to expect. Perhaps explaining how the MRI works will ease your anxiety.”
“Okay, sure.” I nodded ‘yes.’
“You’ll lie on a padded table that slowly and gently moves into the tunnel. The scanning is done while you are in the center. You must lie perfectly still,” he said matter-of-factly. “The best thing you can do is to stay relaxed inside the MRI unit; movement can distort the image. The test takes approximately 30 minutes.”
He helped me onto the padded table and handed me a headset. “The machine is pretty loud during the procedure. We offer distraction from the noise with music of your choosing—easy listening, country, classical, and rock. What would you like?”
He positioned my right arm and shoulder close to my body, strapped me down, and moved the table forward into the ‘tube of terror.’ ‘Click.’ The music came on followed with a symphony of noises that drowned out the music and reverberated through my head—humming, clicking, clacking, and loud banging similar to a jackhammer. After about 20 minutes I became anxious, and my claustrophobia set in. Then a queasy feeling predicted a pending passing of gas.
I bit my tongue, pinched my side, and tried focusing on a pastoral scene in a green meadow beside a babbling brook. I could hear my mother’s advice for handling stress. “Squeeze the dime.”
I placed the imaginary dime between my shoulder blades, opening my mouth and blowing air in and out for a few seconds. But to no avail. I fidgeted.
“Please hold still, ma’am” came a voice from outside the tube. “Just three more minutes.”
“I can do this,” I thought. But no! My body betrayed me. I was trapped and helpless. My nervous body did what it naturally does. I ‘passed wind,’ an euphemistic, delicate phrase my grandmother taught me. But I didn’t pass guess delicately at all. I released gas with the intensity of a team of sumo wrestlers after a chili-eating contest. To make matters worse, the confined space amplified the sound as if a foghorn had been activated.
“Well now, I believe I have enough images,” the handsome technician said into my headset, suppressing a laugh.
The tube moved backwards into freedom bringing the putrid stench with it. I stepped out of the MRI, avoiding eye contact with the technician, and hobbled back to the dressing room.
My advice to my humiliation-prone cohorts: Stay healthy. Don’t injure yourself so you won’t put yourself in an embarrassing situation in which you’ll need an MRI.
On another note, my MRI revealed I had a torn rotator cuff that
necessitated surgery and a lengthy (six-month) recovery time. So yes,
please be careful.