Friday, January 15, 2010


It did seem odd to me that the imaging technology company, to which Kaiser sent me for my MRI, was located in a Bank of America building in Beverly Hills. What, I wondered, is the nexus between big banking and big medicine that brings them together in the same (weirdly green-ish) glass and steel semi-high rise on Wilshire Boulevard? Does this have something to tell me about the state of our economy and the state of our health care system?

I left that one unresolved. In the reception area, they had me fill out forms. I found that I had forgotten most of my medical history, the dates of my surgeries--hernias, polyp and gall bladder removal, appendix and tonsils as a child--and had to improvise. Did I suffer from claustrophobia? I noted down, "Mild." It didn't seem to matter much anyway. I don't think anyone actually looked at the forms, once filled in. They were interested mostly to know if I had any metal or other foreign objects concealed somewhere in my body. I don't. No pacemaker, no metal plates...

I declined the medical robe they offered me, but left my valuables in the locker as requested, and was escorted to a room with one of those tube things I was kind of dreading--and which the good doctor at Kaiser had prescribed against. The horrifying images from Haiti have brought back all my dread of being entombed (and, curiously, have reminded me that my mother's greatest fear was of being buried alive. She was absolutely insistent that, in the event of her death, the doctor should slit her wrists before her burial. Are such phobias genetic?) My technician took note of my "mild" claustrophobia and reassured me that it was really not so bad.

I was already on my back and about to be inserted into the plastic tube when the technicians made a change of plan. Apparently, an "open" machine had felicitously become available, more suitable for a person like myself; I was reassigned. I climbed down, changed rooms, lay down on my back again. And wondered why I was given earplugs. I was given a panic button, to press in case of emergency. The new technician asked me, too, to use it if I felt a cough or a sneeze coming on. She could pause the machine while I took care of this bodily function, and restart it when I was done.

The "open" machine still seemed pretty closed to me. It swallowed me up. I would be in there for half an hour, they told me. Okay, it would be a good test for my meditation skills. I closed my eyes and began to pay attention to the breath... In the event, it was not a cough or a sneeze I had to worry about. It was a giggle. I had not been forewarned about the sounds. It started with a hollow knocking, as though on the wooden sides of a coffin, regular, then sporadic. Then grinds and staccato stutterings, machine-gun-like, sudden roars and rhythmical pings--a cacophony of noises that began to sound like what I once used to listen to as "concrete music." It just sounded funny, and I was tempted to laugh out loud.

Soon, though, I adjusted to this strange environment. I managed to settle into the breath and, counterintuitively, to kind of enjoy the isolation. The half hour passed with remarkable speed, and I emerged none the worse for the experience. I must now await the results, and have no idea how long it will take to process them.


robin andrea said...

Hope the results are good, peter. I have never had an mri and would probably have to have one of those more open machines. I'm terribly claustrophobic and could easily have a panic attack.

Adam said...

The noise is by far the most bothersome. I giggled too when I had my MRI, and for what reason, I still don't know why.

Gary said...

Yes I thought of John Cage and Harry Parch during
the search for nerve damage. It turned out that the
results allowed for a diagnosis that allowed me to walk better.

All the best Peter!