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MS doctor checking MRI scan

Scary…’meh’…or enjoyable?

I have a unique relationship with the diagnostic test called Magnetic Resonance Imaging, more commonly known as an MRI. My relationship with having an MRI has changed through the various multiple sclerosis (MS) phases.

Before I was diagnosed with MS, I admit I felt uneasy with getting an MRI. The scary feeling that I experienced continued during  the first few MRIs after my diagnosis too. After several visits, I started to fall asleep and the MRIs became uneventful. The best word I can find to describe the experience is “meh”.

Over the last 10+ years of living with MS, I have come to find MRIs enjoyable. It sounds strange, I know, but what has helped me are some essential tips that have helped me reduce my anxiety over the years. Looking back, I would have told my younger self to minimize my fears by finding ways to make the experience an easier one.

The first time I had an MRI was when I was 27. I have been having MRIs over the last 19 years now. I can imagine you using your cognitive abilities to calculate my age right about now! Well done on exercising your brain!

I originally faced feelings of angst. I wasn’t sure if I was claustrophobic or if I would be able to tolerate the loud intermittent banging noise. I remember having anxiety about the unknown. When I was there, I was uncomfortable with the strict orders to stay still.

But it wasn’t so bad. The technologist provided me with earplugs and headphones to minimize the noise. They gave me an alarm button to alert the technologist if I was uncomfortable or needed to move. The staff were kind and my stress level diminished. I didn’t experience claustrophobia but am empathetic to those that do.

Getting an MRI is now near the top of my list of ways to spend free time. It sounds bizarre, I know. As an entrepreneur, an avid volunteer, and a mom with two children, it is quite rare that I get any time to myself. I often find myself working late after the kids go to bed. My nights are long, and my mornings are early. My days are packed with phone calls, emails, training sessions, cooking, cleaning, and entertaining my children. But when I have an MRI, it’s my time. Laying in the tube is comfortable - I pretend that snug feeling is me cuddling with a special someone.

The ‘football-like’ helmet isn’t exactly a fashion trend, but it doesn’t matter. It keeps my head from moving and allows me to relax. Yes, the loud mystifying noises of the MRI were bothersome at first, but after each MRI, I learned to enjoy them. To pass the time, I make up songs in my head to the beats of the MRI. The faint signals of the radio waves bring out my pianissimo musical inspiration.

Here are some tips I’ve learned from having MRIs to make the experience easier:

  1. Refrain from drinking anything an hour before an MRI and go to the bathroom before your appointment. This mitigates the urge need the toilet during your test.
  2. If you tend to get cold, wear socks. Use two gowns, one tying in the front and the other to the back. Ask for a blanket to place over your legs. You can also request something like a pillow to place under your knees to make it extra comfortable.
  3. If you have long hair like I do, place your hair in a ponytail or braids to prevent fly-away strands touching your face. Be sure to tie your hair up using an elastic without any metal on/in it.
  4. Squish the earplugs before putting them into your ears. Once they are placed, they will expand to fit better.
  5. During the MRI, train your brain. Think of a song that you love and sing it to the beat of the noises. You can also think of something you love to do or your ‘happy place’.
  6. If you think you will experience claustrophobia, it is important to desensitize yourself to being terrified. Perhaps speak with your doctor or a therapist about techniques to help you reduce anxiety.

My next MRI will be during the pandemic. I will share my personal story in a future blog of how the above tips will help me get through the new experience of having an MRI during COVID-19. I will aim to keep my experience meter between meh and enjoyable.

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