Monday, April 11, 2011

Tips for Surviving an MRI

MRI Machine

So, it's all over. I got my MRI done today at Sloan Kettering, without taking the Ativan. While my claustrophobia is still a major issue, today's MRI test went much more smoothly than the last one.

What is an MRI like?

After a nurse runs your IV line, you go into the MRI room and lie down on the "patient table". For a liver MRI, you raise your hands over your head, and a technologist straps a "coil" over your chest - which looks a little like a baseball catcher's chest protector. Next, the entire table raises up so that it's even with the machine's opening, and the technologist pushes you into the MRI tunnel until you're completely inside.

After you're inside, the machine (which is a huge magnet) turns on...which is loud, REALLY loud. Periodically, the machine will instruct you to breath or hold your breath as it takes pictures. There will be a lot of loud buzzing and beeping - and toward the end of the test, a contrast die is injected into your IV. When it's all over, you get pulled out of the tunnel, and the table lowers down so it's easier to get off. The entire test takes anywhere from 35-40 min.

Top 5 Tips for MRI Testing

1. Wear pajamas and Uggs.

You can wear your own clothes for an MRI exam as long as there is absolutely no metal on them. This means nothing with snaps or zippers, no bras with underwire, and no metal aglets (the little tubes at the ends of sweatshirt strings and shoelaces). Make sure to also remove all jewelry.

2. Go in Feet First

For organ imaging (liver), request to be put into the machine "feet first". You still end up completely inside the machine, but it psychologically feels better when your head is the last thing to go inside the tunnel.

I love this cutaway diagram, mainly for the totally unnecessary identification of the "patient" - as if they were worried that people might mix up the "patient" with the "radio frequency coil" or the "gradient coils"

3. Get Blindfolded

Ask the technologist to give you a blindfold, and put it on before the table starts moving. This was a tip from my amazing friend (and hero) Sasha Cano, who won her battle with cancer after undergoing two brain mapping surgeries. Her story is nothing short of miraculous and inspirational, and she is featured in many of UCSF's advertisements (click HERE to read Sasha's story.) I don't know why it's so much better using a blindfold rather than just closing your eyes, but it really does help. Plus, you get to keep the snazzy blindfold as a lovely parting gift - BONUS!

4. Have a Secret Weapon

You need something to occupy your panicking mind for at least 30 minutes. I had two secret weapons: 1.) a folded-up slip of paper in my shoe with an inspirational quote printed on it and 2.) a cadbury creme egg in my purse. While I was in the tunnel, I kept repeating the quote over and over in my head, while visualizing myself safely in my car on the way home from the hospital, eating that creamy, chocolately egg-shaped treat.

5. Take a Break

When the nurse comes into the room to inject the contrast into your IV, ask to be pulled out of the machine for a few minutes. Don't take the blindfold off or move around... It's enough just to know that you're out if the tunnel, which allows your body to relax.


  1. These tips are great!! I've avoided an MRI thus far, but have a Otreotide scan coming up in June. I love those silly diagrams, too. I always plan to do something fun after my scans, that way I can just relax and think about what I'll be doing later. I hope to keep avoiding an MRI (mostly because I am just not into being in such an enclosed space), but if I ever need one, I think your tips will be of great help!!

  2. Thanks Stephanie! I still say that the next scan you get you screw around with them for a little bit -- "What do you mean I only have one lung?" Are you done with school before you get the Otreotide? Is that instead of the MRI? You could totally do an MRI... I'm a big chicken and I got through it. Glad these tips could help if you're stuck doing an MRI in the future... but hopefully the Otreotide will come out looking good. Keep me posted - and thanks for all of your support :)

  3. I get a CT scan and Otreotide scan in June. I'll be done for the semester, but will be heading to Mexico City for research the week after my scans! Have you ever had an O-scan? The O-scan is open, there's a camera about an inch away from your face and it scans your whole body all the way around, so it rotates up and down and then around. It takes 25 - 30 minutes on one day and then about an hour the next day. I think I could talk myself into getting the scan at this point, but when they first wanted me to have one, I was being a big baby about it. :-)

    What's funny is that I went to a new Dr this week and she was so shocked that I had lung carcinoid. She even had her nurse double check that I was the correct patient after she saw my history! She got a kick out of hearing nothing on my left side where the lung should be.

    I'll plan to document my visit this june a little more and blog about it.

  4. Thanks for the tips, I've "survived" three closed MRI'S and two open for a brain tumor. One of the best tips I read was by a person who suggested visualizing assisting a child needing an MRI. As an adult male I can certainly withstand the claustrophobia better than a child so I intend to utilize that technique tomorrow during my next MRI....thanks for the suggestions hope mine helps someone get through theirs.