MRI Machine

After my neurology doctor examined my legs and decided they worked, she deduced the problems were coming from my lower back. Time for my first MRI. No chance to anguish or research, it was scheduled the very next day. Did I want a Valium to keep calm since I would be in a fairly “cozy” space for a half hour? She thought they might have music (an iPod perhaps) available as an option. I decided bravery was my choice and maybe music.

Radiology was located in a far corner of the hospital complex and the waiting room was small. Two women and an elderly man were chatting away in an Eastern European language, I guessed, and another older woman was lying on a small couch. I discovered later she’d had six back surgeries and was still hurting.

My name was called and my technician, Monte, showed me the dressing room. Remove my bra and put on two hospital gowns: one for the front, one for the back, take off my watch and hair clip and lock up my purse. Did I have any metal in my body or metal in the pants I was wearing? I wondered what would be required if the answer had been yes.

Monte was pleasant and had a sense of humor. Turns out there was no music because patients would start moving around to the music and you must keep perfectly still for this monstrous machine to work accurately.  When I sounded disappointed, he jokingly pretended he’d entertain me: Did I like Elvis or Asian rap?

I climbed onto the sliding “bed” and settled on my back while Monte straightened the pillow under my head and added a pillow under my knees. He gave me a rubber device that fit in my right palm; if I squeezed it, he’d come to my aid, just in case I needed help—if I was too hot or too cold, for instance. He didn’t mention panic!

The platform started to move into what could best be described as a round coffin. No room to move: the rounded top was inches from my face and my arms were essentially pinned to my sides. Thankfully, I could still look down toward my feet and literally see the “light at the end of the tunnel.” When it stopped moving, I couldn’t help but feel trapped and had to work at keeping calm and still while air conditioning blew on my cheek.

He rushed out of the room but said he’d keep in touch through a speaker broadcasting into the “coffin.” Monte’s instructions, which he repeated from time to time, let me know I wasn’t entirely alone: “Keep your eyes closed. Don’t move and take deep breaths.” Why was I thinking of “Star Wars?”

At least I could move my hands a tiny bit and I managed to ignore my familiar nerve twinge in my upper calf. I listened to the noisy sounds the machine made: something that sounded like a device used to blow up a mattress in the background, and a type of motor noise that rose and fell as it did its work  making a scan of my back. MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging, so the noises are the pulses of radio wave energy.

It was creepy and I kept thinking of Egyptian mummies all wrapped up and lying in a coffin. The most comforting thing, besides thinking about how I would describe this experience, was to be able to see the light at my feet and know that 30 minutes wasn’t a lifetime.

What my MRI Scan might resemble.


  1. I’m not a doctor, Marianne, but what you’re asking makes sense. Check it out with Orland Park. Good luck.

  2. Great information, thank you. There is an Orland Park spine center that offers free MRI reviews. Can a MRI review tell me if I am a candidate for Endoscopic Spine Surgery?

  3. Barbara Cobb says:

    I just had one of those last Thursday, but on my neck–and I did know about how closed in the tubes are so I asked for an open MRI. That was not much better, except that the sides are open, so your arms are not pinned to your side. It is a bit better, but the tube is still 5 inches from your face–and mine was a 30 minute procedure also. Plus a face mask (kind of like a face guard from a football helmet) was screwed into place, even closer to my face. All in all it was an experience…! I was not looking forward to it and had to fight the anxiety. I know that I would have not been able to do the enclosed tube. I panicked enough when just my knee was done and I was run in to the tube about chest high. Big Chicken here!!

  4. Victoria says:

    Now I’ve got to see the neurosurgeon on Monday and we’ll see what’s next. VG

  5. Ed says:

    If your MRI looked like that (HNP L4-5)-//
    I hope you are recovering well postop!

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