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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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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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