The Screening

 I have been so exhausted over the past two days, that even the most mundane tasks seem overwhelming, except, of course, eating some vegan fruit gummy’s, which cheers me immensely. I thought that a high-powered (3 Tesla’s vs. 1.5) MRV (Magnetic resonance venography) couldn’t be too bad, but clearly I had underestimated the beastly machine.

En-route to the Clinic

In my youth, I have had many MRI’s, always checking that my brain was ‘normal’, not affected by my genetic condition, NF. These have always been mildly traumatic experiences, but holding Mum’s hand helped, and thinking of an open field or the sky, waiting beyond the facility doors. It’s the sheer volume of the machine that used to frighten me, but with an injection of tranquilizers, it was easier for my child-self to sit still for the 30-45 minute test. The MRV was looking for blocked veins in my neck (which would make me a candidate for this CCSVI therapy). The only place in Canada that has the equipment to do this kind of screening is in Vancouver, luckily, at a private clinic. We waited awhile in the high-ceilined, first to be ‘refereed’ by their physicians to get the MRV done, and then for my turn in the ‘coffin’.

If you have never had an MRI or MRV I will try my best to explain how it is, although you wouldn’t believe just how loud or uncomfortable it is, especially if you’re head and torso are deep in the machine. The table that you must lie on, if you are having an MRI of the brain/neck, is unbelievable ‘firm’, as though a small piece of uncompromisingly rigid foam is covering a rock hard plate, which is pretty close to how it is. It helps the image show up clearer, and though I’m sure it is important, I would have appreciated a bit more padding ;). The pain I suffer from affects me in various ways and depths (skin, bone, joint, nerve etc). Touching things with my body, or being touched causes wave after wave of excruciating pain to crash over me i, often making me pass out. Even sitting in a chair or lying in bed hurts, but I was turned down as a candidate to live in a space shuttle in zero-g, so what can you do?. I had heard that the test would probably take about 1.5 hours, but this turned out to be ‘active testing time’ meaning the time the machine was taking pictures. I thought I’d be able to bear lying on the hard table, for the estimated time, although I expected discomfort. The machine is very narrow, and an apparatus rather like a hockey-mask is put over your head, only increasing the sensation that you are trapped in a sarcophagus. I had no idea I was claustrophobic until my first MRI, where I found it difficult to breathe and keep myself from panicking. I am not even sure I was afraid of confined spaces until I found myself in one. Once you are tucked in and ready to go ,inside the machine, you are the requested to lie still, while the pictures are being taken, otherwise the test has to be repeated. Blurry pictures cannot be read well.

How it usually goes is a sequence of pictures is shot, and usually a technician talks to you in between the fifteen minute ‘photo shoots’ to tell you how long the next one will be, and either that you are doing well, or to try and sit still longer.  Yes, this is infuriating. Then the machine, which has been humming in the background all this time, awakens, like a monster rearing in it’s restricted, echoing plastic cave. A quick tattoo of booms jumps around the cramped space, a precursory warning of what is coming next. I usually jerk with the first BOOM of the actual picture taking, at such a high decibel, that even with the earplugs pressed to your head with pieces of foam, it cannot possible hope to drown out the racket. I think that they hope the earplugs will have a ‘placebo-esque’ affect on your eardrums, because in no possible universe could they seem helpful. The sound is so strong that it is impossible to think any thoughts while it blasts you, sometimes in a steady rhythm, on-off-on-off-on, and at other times a wave of constant sound, varying in pitch. It is exceptionally boring, because all you can do is just lie there, focusing on not moving, which of course makes your nose itch at the most inconvenient time, or a tick to go in your calf or your foot twitch in rebellion. Every thought is blasted from your mind. I wonder if this was an inspiration for the method of ‘questioning’ where the person is subjected to constant, defining music, in part to prevent sleep and wear the person down. It certainly is physiologically and physically draining, being so tense yet still for so long. Ever muscle rigid, crying to move, yet taped into place with sheer willpower. During the few seconds of respite while the machine moves you into place for the next set of photos, you can shift slightly. Wiggle. But the thing that would relieve the pain would be to roll on your side, to stand, any position but this one. As the minutes drag by, panic usually grips me. At some point I feel as if lying here anymore will cause my body to explode, that my sinews will be pulled free of the joints, which would relieve the pain. Just let it be over. Just let it be finished. The injection of contrast dye during the last few sequences makes my stomach flip over, squirming, and a shaking feeling grip my arms, spreading slowly over me. Discomfort is always my reaction with the dye, in part because it brings some part of me back to a terribly painful and frightening test I had as a toddler, again with an injection of dye, which I can remember vividly. At least I can tell the end is in sight, and the dye will be out of my bloodstream soon.

I’ve found spending time wishing something will end only makes it last longer. Just let it end… and 2.5 hours later it was finished. The pain is so great that I can barely sit up, just flipping onto my side would be enough, as the IV is slid from the crook of my elbow. Every inch buzzing, screaming, the relief enough to make tears leak from my eyes again. I know if you have not had a test this long, or aren’t in pain to begin with, that it would be difficult to understand the agony. I only hope that if you have to have this test done, the place where you go has earphones in the machine :), and that you really really think the procedure will help.

Then a burrito. Car. Bed.

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