Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Stuck in the Tunnel

I knew this was a special medical procedure when at least half of the 30 or so ailments or conditions found in the hospital’s disclaimer I had to sign were things I had never heard of. I did not want to ask.  I just ticked the ‘no’ boxes and signed at the bottom and handed the form and clipboard back to the clerk.

She then asked a curious question, “Can you hold your arms up above your head?” Not thinking this could be particularly important, I raised my hands above my head in a diving position with only slight strain in my Parkinson’s-stiffened shoulders. Apparently, I passed the test. However, I failed to ask what would prove to be a critically important question; “How long?”

It was not the first mistake I had made that morning. I had followed the preparatory instructions to the letter, assuming when it said, “nothing to eat or drink for four hours before”, it meant that I had to postpone taking my Parkinson’s medications. I thought it best to tell the medical clerk not to be alarmed at my shaking, and explained my unmedicated state.  She obtained approval for me to take my pills, but it was too late. The shaking had begun.

Of course, the tremors only increased when I saw the technician arrive with a syringe and other paraphernalia. After searching for a vein, he informed me that I was being injected with gadolinium. Gadolinium sounded to me like the name of a small village occupied by hobbit-like creatures. Or, perhaps, a newly-discovered galaxy. In fact, I was informed it is one of 17 rare earth chemical elements, and it is used in conjunction with an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine) because of the element’s magnetic properties providing better definition for the images to be taken. I assumed it was safe.

Having surrendered up my hearing aids, asking any further questions, or at least hearing any answers, was likely to prove challenging, if not impossible. Patting the platform, indicating I was to lie down on a somewhat uncomfortable horizontal frame, the technician moved my arms above my head into the recently demonstrated dive position. Speaking loudly in one ear, he asked what I assumed was a rhetorical question; “Can you hold this position for the next 35 minutes?” How was I supposed to know? I do not recall ever having to maintain that position for 35 minutes.

I discovered a long time ago that I am not claustrophobic (that had been one of the questions on the disclaimer I had marked no”). And it’s a good thing because I was slid into the MRI tube feet first, arms in the dive position, looking like I was practising for the one-man luge event in the Olympics, except for the arms. Hearing various clicking sounds, I knew we were “locked and loaded”. I realized then that 35 minutes would be a very long time.

Squeezed into place, unable to move, the procedure began. What followed was a series of very loud sounds; something like a cross between banshee screams and intermittent air raid siren. In advance of each noisy invasion, there was a computer-generated voice, which seemed in my deafened state to whisper, “Breathe in. Hold your breath.” I wanted to ask, “How long?” But I was certain I wouldn’t have heard the answer. So I obeyed, breathing in all the oxygen I could, given the extremely cramped conditions, and breathing out when told to do so. All the while, the machine emitted computerized screams.

After what seemed like a lot longer than 35 minutes, I was withdrawn from the MRI “compression cylinder”. Despite aching shoulders, a couple of needle stab wounds, I knew the answer to the questions: “Yes, I can hold my arms over my head in the dive position for 35 minutes.” But please don’t ask me to do so.

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