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Here’s How I Get Through The Claustrophobia During My MRI

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Though MRI machines look circular, there is nothing aesthetic about this medical equipment or the white tiles that furnish the room. I have experienced such machines in dedicated hospital rooms in Mumbai, Vellore and Bangalore. It looks like a large truck tyre if you push your imagination.

I am tired of this machine, the set-up, the whole noisy medical equipment, seeing variants of this since 2016. This one, in particular, has become part of my cancer treatment.

MRI machine
The MRI machine at my hospital.

This is an MRI Console and the set-up is at the Baptist Bangalore Hospital in Bangalore city in a room with cold air conditioning, many tube lights and a humongous machine.

Earlier it was easy for me to get an MRI scan done at Bandra, CMC Vellore or Bangalore’s Baptist Hospital. But in Manipal Hospital, I found it funny as the room was lit with colourful disco lights, like a cheap bar.

However, after 5 years, things are slightly different. I don’t get excited listening to the machines erratic sound or the cold breeze shooting out of the room. Technicians are always under pressure to get the scan right in one go because if a patient does not want to go inside the machine again, they get into trouble for not providing the scan results in time while other appointments pile up.

So if you ask them about the prospective time for the process, they lie: “Sir, if you don’t move, we will finish the process in 20 minutes.” In reality, it is never a 20-minute session.

How Doctors Prepare Their Patients

Dr Mohammed Fayazuddin, assistant professor at Raichur Institute of Medical Sciences, said, “First we counsel the patient, clear doubts and any misconceptions regarding it. It is necessary and important to explain. If required, we give medicines to address anxiety like alprazolam, clonazepam, etc. 

“It’s necessary to be immobile during procedures. It is difficult for children, elderly patients, so we may give short-acting general anaesthesia.” 

Search for fear of MRI scans on Google and you will find enough content on it. Some people drink in advance to get through the scan time, the claustrophobia of machine and some use meditation as a tool to survive those critical minutes.

MRI Room
Image provided by the author.

But it’s a highly safe, air-conditioned, cosy room which welcomes you with a bench/bed attached to a large circle. Don’t carry any metal items inside or inform the doctors about any medical implants in your body in advance as they may have some metal.

Before the scan, they usually request you to change into their loose pyjamas. During the scan, you are inside the tunnel-like machine. You horizontally sleep on it in a regular position. Then they put an iron helmet on your face so you don’t move your head. They put noise reduction headphones or earplugs for the sounds the machine makes. The bench/plank moves you inside automatically.

The main procedure remained the same in the lockdown, but due to the COVID scare, they changed the plank’s bedsheets and gave fresh blankets after every scan.

Scanning sessions start with different kinds of loud noises. After half time, they put an IV in your hand for contrast (colour dye) during the session. The loud noise goes on for some time and then you are out of the machine. Usually, each scanning session takes 30 to 45 minutes.

In my case, the brain needs to be scanned, so the head needs to go inside the machine, which makes me claustrophobic. For scans on limbs, the body comparatively stays outside the machine.

MRI Machine
Representative Image.

Earlier they used to give out big A3 films during the results, now CDs are cheaper. This is just a scan, like an X-Ray to locate the problem, and not the actual medicinal cure. I usually demand masala dosa after getting treated like this, and I don’t like any part of the process or equipment.

My oncologist quotes author Stephen Grellet to her patients interested in English literature, “I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow-creature, let me do it now, let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”

My younger sibling gets me to the hospital for those expensive chemotherapy sessions every time and sings a lullaby once I am inside the claustrophobic iron helmet during the MRI. She is the first and last face I see when I’m in my helmet, holding my hands before going in that machine for MRI.

The technician played “Agar Tum Saath Ho” during the last MRI session and she laughed and said, “Yeh A R Rehman wala break up song kyun baja raha hai yaar.”

The older machines were more claustrophobic, dark and the patient’s face was right next to the ceiling of the scanner. The newer machines take less time to scan and are better ventilated.

My radiation oncologist Dr Saro Jacob peacefully and calmly explains this to every patient:

“MRI is a diagnostic test that will help in deciding your treatment. If the patient is anxious, I generally counsel them that it is expected to go on for 30 minutes. They can cooperate by lying down quietly during that time as movements during the scan may cause the scan to be repeated or extended, so cooperation is important. 

“They can go to a happy memory during that time. They can choose to listen to the music of their choice, which the technologist can play. Usually, this gets most of my patients through a scan comfortably.” 

She anxiously elbows her colleague to translate this in Hindi for the rest of the family, realising they didn’t get anything in English.

Featured Image via pxfuel
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