Geek on Wheels tells the tale of two scans


“It was the best of scans and it was the worst of scans”

I was a cub scout as a kid, really into it for a long while. Actually, I became a Senior Sixer! Which basically meant I was almost too old for being in cubs and had to move up to Scouts, but that’s a whole other thing. This past weekend I had a flashback to that time because of a game that was played in the school gym that was used for our Cub Pack meetings. You probably played a variation of it yourself. The goal was to get into a position on the floor, whatever you wanted, and stay as still as possible, not moving even a finger, until the game was done. The leaders would come around and try to distract you into moving…they couldn’t touch you, but they shout, clap, jump around anything at all to get a young kid to move. Once you moved, you were out, but you could around trying to get the other kids “out” too. I remember quite clearly, that I determined the best way to win this game was to get down on my hands and knees, and “turtle up”, hugging my knees and bending my head down, shoulders hunched up to cover my ears and my eyes closed. I won that game, staying still the longest…and I distinctly remember that those minutes…hell it couldn’t have been more than 5 minutes…felt like hours…

Flash forward to last weekend…on Friday, I got a call from St. Mike’s hospital asking if I’d be available for a rather oddly timed series of MRI’s. Yes, I’m going through them again as we are getting some updates on how the spine is doing…more on that later when I actually know more. What was notable here was that it was 3 scans, being broken into two appointments. A short 15 minutes scan of my head (insert joke here) happening at 5am on Sat. morning. Yep, had to be up at 4am, drive into downtown T.O. and get the scan while most of the world is dead asleep. It’s amazing though, that a 4am drive in downtown T.O. can take just as along as a 5pm drive. I’ve never had to do so many out of the way detours on totally deserted streets…actually I have, it was just back when I able to handle being up at 4am and not be fried for a week.

BING, ramble done.

The second set of scans was going to be the more difficult, two sets totalling 90 minutes at 1am the next morning. Fun fun fun. While I was able to five myself to the first scan, this one required Shannon to drive me…medications would be involved.

If you’ve never had an MRI, you must wonder what the big deal is. So take a read.

After being divested of all your clothes (you can have no metal on you at all), you are forced to wear one of those ridiculous medical gowns…when is someone going to come up with a better design for those? Once in the room you lie down on a mattress that a buddhist monk would declare too inhumane to lie on, and then  you are pushed into a tight metallic tube. You are in so tight that even the smallest person is going to have their shoulders pushing together against the side of the chamber and your nose will be brushing the top of it. Then you have to lie completely still for the duration of the scan with absolutely NOTHING to distract you. Oh did I mention needing ear plugs to block out the deafening noise the scan generates as it sends the magnetic pulses through your body? Am I making this sound appealing?

For shorter scans, this isn’t too hard. In fact, that first 5am scan went well. For once my legs behaved, and I actually just let the mind wander a bit…trust me you can’t fall asleep in that tube with all that noise. That night I discovered that the receptionist and the scan tech would be the same the next night, so I had a few good laughs with them, made sure all was well, got changed and then wheeled back through the deserted hospital, discovered the sun was rising and made it home by 7am….never did get back to sleep. Simple right?

That is what someone said later that same day at a BBQ we attended when we discussed why we had to leave early. Lying still for 90 minutes? How hard can it be? (channeling Jeremy Clarkson and Top Gear challenges). Seriously, things never go right once someone says that. What many forget is that it isn’t just about lying still for 90 minutes. It’s about lying still when you have two legs that barely obey you at the best of times, let alone 1am after too little sleep and in a very uncomfortable position. To say the least…scan #2 was a disaster….we never even made it to scan number 3.

That is one of the biggest frustrations we’ve had through this process. The inability to predict what my body is going to do in a given circumstance. Less than 24 hours earlier, it behaved. I could have done the longer scans at that point if the scheduling had been right. It wouldn’t have been pleasant but my legs weren’t moving at all, my back felt good and that was on barely 4 hours of sleep. Night two? Despite taking some meds I know I need to take to relax my legs, within five minutes of the scans the right leg, the WEAKER leg with the still healing broken foot, was jumping about like someone was shooting electrical probes into it. One jump was so bad I rammed the shin into the top of the bloody MRI tube. With no logical reason for why it happened.

MRI’s are something that all spinal cord patients have to deal with regularly. Not just us of course, people with MS, Parkinson’s and a host of disabilities rely on MRI’s to keep them in touch with what’s going on inside their bodies. Since my initial diagnosis back in 1999, I’ve had more MRI’s than I can count. It easily over over 20 of them at this point…and it amazes me how little the process has changed in 14 years. Same basic process, no matter how new the machine, same long long long wait as the scan does it thing. I joked with the tech about that and he mentioned that during the day they have two newer machines where they can actually pump music in to help keep you occupied…but nothing has changed in how long the scans take. They are more detailed and accurate, but they still take a long time to do.

Why?? Forgive my hate on Apple analogy, but its like these are machines that are overpriced but underpowered for what they do, with only minor tweaks in all that time to make them slightly more comfortable and more accurate. They are amazingly expensive and hospitals try to make them last for at least a decade where possible…but I can’t be the only one who wonders why this tech seems to have changed so little in the past decade.

I can look forward to a rescheduling of those scans (I don’t expect them to find anything in my head…not much there to begin with), but the spinal scans need to be finished. That means most likely they’ll be under a general anesthetic and Shan will have some fun hauling my butt home after the scans.  It’s amazing to look back at that game I played as a kid and remember how hard it was to stay still for even a short time. Now, 30+ years later….there is no way I could win that game. Hell I’m not even sure what the point of the game was! Teaching concentration? Killing time near the end of the meeting?

So here’s hoping that we get something better than MRI’s coming down the pipe soon.

PLEASE!!!

Whining rant complete. Feel free offer your own “how hard could it be” thoughts to match my REALLY stretched A Tale of Two Cities metaphor.

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One thought on “Geek on Wheels tells the tale of two scans

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  1. Your mention of Buhdhist monk reminds me that when they did multiple scans of their brains, the one monk was asked how it was
    His reply was that it was kind of like a meditation session for him. It was glorious.
    He was asked how he did it, he replied that he did a single point of awareness, focussing on a single bolt in the equipment. He considered the preson who engineered that single bolt and the influence of that person on so many lifes. Every focussed thought was on the wonder of that bolt, how smooth it was, the years rewquired for humans to cerate a threaded bolt, the strength of the threads,the precision of each drilled hole.

    He knew that thoughts and sensations of discomfort, tight space would come, but with a single breath he returned to the wonder of the screw, and the thoughts of discomfort just drifted away.

    So nexttime choose a point of focus a nd work your mental story telling of that object of focus. All the wonders, no negatives, just amazement of that single point.

    It is found in one of a series of meetings of the Dali Llama and brain scientists. It was a very relaxing experience for him.

    Good luck next time and enjoy.

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