It’s not uncommon for people to be frightened of or even refuse to have an MRI scan. Up until today all I knew was that an MRI scan generates images using a magnetic field (from GCSE Physics) and that the machine looks like a tunnel which you are moved through (from photographs). This morning however, I woke up and went to the hospital to have an MRI scan taken for myself. I thought it would be interesting to reflect on this experience seeing as I have been on the other side of this situation when I was involved in trying to encourage a child to go for a CT scan during my volunteering on a Children’s Ward.
My 7 year old sister was also booked for an MRI scan last year, but when the procedure was explained to her she completely refused to go through with. She missed her time slot so she was given another appointment at a later date. It was planned that she would be sedated before being taken for the scan, but she refused to go along with it because she knew where she would be taken afterwards. At the time I did understand why it may have been quite intimidating for a child to have a scan such as this, but after actually seeing and having an MRI scan myself it has truly allowed me to appreciate those fears a lot more!
Leading up to the appointment I wasn’t at all worried about having this scan. It was only the night before when I decided to have a read of the information sheet where it mentioned things to be aware of such as the room warming up during the scan and the noise level. Being completely honest, this made me feel a little uneasy, because of course I still didn’t know what to fully expect. I also had to fill out a short form asking about any metal implants, recent surgery etc. because the magnetic field in the scanner is supposed to be really strong. Anyway, this is all leading up to the appointment, what was the actual scan like…?
Once I got to the hospital a student radiographer went through how it works and quickly ran over the form I filled out. I was then asked to check that I don’t have anything metal on me. I was asked to double check and triple check, again and again – this was obviously very important because I wasn’t even allowed into the scan room until I was absolutely sure I was metal free! It was actually useful that they asked me several times because the fact that I had a pin on my scarf did somehow manage to slip my mind until the radiographer said ” Are you sure: no hair bobbles, no hair slides, no pins, no earrings?” Thank goodness for that! He kept saying it’s important to make sure since the magnetic field is very strong!
After coming home it made me wonder what would have happened if I did accidentally take something metallic in with me. So I did a little research and I found this article which gets straight to the point about the potential severity of the situation – it’s definitely worth taking a quick read of it and a look at the video at the end. It’s now making me wonder whether a metal detector should be used to ascertain that the patient doesn’t have anything metallic that could interfere with the scanner just as an extra safety precaution.
Anyway, back to the scan room now. When I was taken in I was asked to lie down on the scan table which was just outside the the tunnel. Seeing as I needed to get my head scanned, a plastic grid was lowered over my head and face. I wasn’t really prepared for this and I was taken aback for a second to have my head trapped in this case-like structure. I was then given headphones as I was told the scanner is very noisy! The radiographer also told me that he will be communicating with me through the headphones and letting me know how long I’ve got left and so on. Another pair of ear muffs was then placed on top of the headphones and I was given a buzzer to press incase I was feeling uncomfortable or needed to get out of the scanner. Everyone then left the room as the scan was about to commence.
The scan table slowly moved into the tunnel. There was two things I was quite surprised about here. First of all, I was only having my head scanned and yet I was knee deep into the tunnel. Secondly, the tunnel was a lot narrower than I had imagined, it did feel like it was closing in around you. Luckily I’m not claustrophobic but I can’t imagine how somebody who does have a fear of small spaces would have been able to have a scan like this. After the first few minutes, the radiographer spoke to me through the headphones and said that the first scan had been finished and the next one will begin. Right there in that moment I could feel myself willing that the next scan won’t mean I’ll be moved deeper into the tunnel. It wasn’t necessarily a terrifying or scary experience, but it wasn’t the most comfortable either.
Now to the main point about the about this whole experience – the noise! It was so loud! Even with the soundproof headphones and the ear muffs it was ringing in my ears. It was mainly a mixture of loud short beeps, long beeps and a loud drilling sound as though you’re right next to some roadworks machines – so definitely not pleasant sounds! The difficulty of the situation was that you have to stay perfectly still otherwise the images from the scan will appear blurry and they’ll have to be taken again. My scan duration was 15 minutes, but my information sheet did mention that a scan can last for as long as 60 minutes! Something else about the noise was that in between the different scans the machine would fall silent for a few seconds and then it would suddenly make a deafening bleep as it started the next one, so as you can imagine I did jump out of my skin several times during the 15 minutes I was inside!
Here’s a quick graphic giving you an idea of just how loud it was, my referrence to road works was quite right there then – it’s actually even louder!
So that was more or less it, after all the relevant images were taken the scan bed slowly emerged from the tunnel again, the grid around my head was lifted, I got up and I was all finished! The radiography department aren’t responsible for telling you the results from the scan, so I’ll have to go and collect that from my GP.
This whole experience has allowed me to completely understand and fully empathise with people who’d find it particularly difficult to go through a scan like this, especially for young children. When I asked my sister about why she never allowed for her scan to take place she said it as because she was scared about being left alone in the room and because she was told to press the buzzer if she wants to get out. I can completely empathise with both of the reasons that she gave me. Firstly, being left alone: any child is scared to be alone anyway; even me being older, I wasn’t frightened by myself, but after spending several minutes inside a machine where you can’t see anybody else it was definitely relieving to hear the radiographer speaking to you to tell you how long you have left through the headphones – it’s almost like you need that assurance of a human presence somewhere outside all that noise. The second point about the buzzer, I think it’s a psychological thing, being scared that there might be a situation where you may need to use an emergency buzzer. When I read the information sheet and it said “if you get too warm please use the emergency call buzzer” I was a little alarmed and worried about just how hot it could get in there!
One thing that I have learnt is that empathy is definitely strengthened by shared experiences. During our day to day lives we are able to empathise with different people and their circumstances, but when you have been in that position yourself you are able to truly place yourself in that person’s shoes. Just a few months ago I was as a volunteer on a Children’s Ward trying to encourage a young child to go for her CT Scan, I did empathise with the child and appreciate why she was scared, but now that I’ve seen what a scan is like I do think my outlook and approach would be different.