I had an appointment for MRI at 20:20 on Turiner Straße. It wasn’t my first MRI. I had one in 2017, but it was during an emergency period, details of which are hazy at best. I had forgotten the procedure or what it entails. This time, I was perfectly lucid, though slightly perturbed with the hour, sheet of snow and grey covering Cologne, and the fact that I had to access the MRI facility from the back door in the basement as main door was closed at 18:00.
I arrived shortly before my appointment, and was greeted by two apprentices at the pseudo reception. It was such a relief to see their young faces. Certainly no criminals, so I shoved my over-active imagination that had sourced images of Sony TV’s CID, to the curb. I was intrigued by the quirky ear piece that the boy had on. It was like 3 rings dangling from a single ear, which was pierced on his ear lobe. I hope he does grow up to be a doctor as we can certainly use more good looking doctors in this world. Though, truth be told, this particular facility only has visually appealing men and women in lab coats. The sweet girl handed me a form, and asked me to wait in the lounge.
I filled out the form, handed it over to my MRI Technologist, asked for clarity about a question that my limited German language knowledge didn’t assist with, undressed, got it done, waited for CD, and left. In retrospect, I wish I had known about these 10 things beforehand so I could have made this ‘experience’ better for both of us (MRI Tech and I).
1/ What MRI is and how it works.
I assumed for it to be a scan, like x-ray. Actually, it is a lot more complex, high tech and detailed. MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging, a procedure that uses a magnetic field and radio waves to make detailed pictures of your inside by temporarily realigns hydrogen atoms in your body, according to the Mayo Clinic. There is a huge range of issues an MRI can spot, including disk abnormalities in your spine (my reason), joint problems, tumours, structural problems in your heart, and brain injuries.
And it is pretty much as filmy as you might have seen on TV. I had to lie down on a narrow bed, with a sheet between my legs and support under my knees. The bed was then pulled into a tube, which had open ends on both sides. Older models might have the end on your head’s side closed. I had to stay still, with headphones on and a buzzer in my hand, in case of an emergency. The technologist on the other side let the bed roll out once I was done.
2/ It’s not really quick, if you know what I mean.
X-rays hardly take a couple of minutes. MRI, on the other hand, can take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour. It really depends on what needs to be done, how detailed does the report need be, what exactly are you hoping to find (or not), etc. To manage expectations (and unforeseen anxieties), I asked my doctor how long would I have to stay in there. She correctly estimated about 10 minutes.
3/ I could need an injection of a contrasting agent.
One of the questions the form that the girl at reception had handed me over asked if I agree to an injection of a contrasting agent if needed? I left it unanswered as I did not really understand what it meant. When I asked my technologist, she said that sometimes they need to inject a contrasting agent before MRI, to be able to see more clearly. It’s like light against dark in areas that could be murky and need clarity for imaging. It is usually used for people who have MRIs for heart or brain areas, and I won’t be needing it. Little did she know that I would have called it quits if she had to inject me with anything. I have a legit needle borderline-phobia (it’s called trypanophobia, in case you were wondering).
4/ I am not pregnant, am I?
While I have decided to not have babies at the moment and take all required precautions, there are always exceptions. MRIs are strongly advised against if a woman is pregnant, so for my own peace of mind, I wish I had pee-ed on a stick beforehand.
5/ Tattoos can be a problem.
This was news to me. Some tattoo inks contain metal, and as a metal magnet, this could create a havoc inside the tube. My tattoo is on my left wrist, and is tiny. So, I was safe. But something to think about when inking-craving kicks in.
6/ Dressing protocol.
You are required to remove all clothing besides your shirt and undies. No metal, like jewellery, pants, bra, shoes or glasses, can go in with you. I wish I had known this beforehand so I could 1) wear a longer shirt 2) wear respectable undies 3) shave my legs all the way 4) wear Happy Socks and 5) wear a shirt without buttons.
7/ Claustrophobic? Angstplatz?
As I explained above, it’s a narrow bed that slides in a tunnel with open ends. Newer machines have some breathing space, about 10 inches between your nose and tunnel’s roof. I have no problems with closed spaces, but I can imagine it being a problem for some. In case you have a severe case of claustrophobia, make sure to flag it beforehand. Some doctors will facilitate with a relaxant or even anaesthesia if need be.
8/ It’s loud.
I had headphones on, supplied by the facility. Again, this usually is no bother, but I can imagine it being one if I were in there for over 30 minutes. The sounds vary, loud crushing to rhythmic thumping. If you like techno, you will be fine. I focused on the pattern to deal with annoyance, and it worked beautifully. But just know, it is loud.
9/ A sneeze could ruin the imaging.
I was told to stay as still as possible, for fidgeting or moving can hamper with imaging. Now, I have unannounced flu episodes ALL THE TIME, especially when it gets unusually cold as it has been in Cologne this week. I did not sneeze, but it was a close call. Really close.
10/ It’s warm.
This was the best bit. The bed eventually gets toasty and warm, and I could have taken a nap. For someone with tensed muscles and aches, it felt like a mother’s cradle. Delicious. Relaxing.
Once it’s done, I was asked to dress, and wait for a few minutes. I got a CD, and was told that the reports would be posted to the doctor directly in a week.
After that, I went by my evening as I would any other day.