I looked back on the last time I wrote a part of the “Diagnosis” story of my life and saw that it was on 05/17/12. It has been over a year since I wrote about the story of my diagnosis. That is how painful and hard my story is and how excruciating this next chapter is. I had to be so ready to write it that I was bursting at the seams! Lately I have found it very challenging to come up with the words. I am a writer with too many words and no words. I truly believe there are not enough words in the English language to describe so much of what I’ve been through.
BUT IT’S TIME. IT’S TIME TO GET IT OUT. IT’S TIME TO TAKE ANOTHER STEP TO BE FREE OF THE TRAUMA.
As you can tell from the title, my focus will be the first MRI that changed my life. THE MRI.
Here goes. I know you’re all here with me so I’m going to jump in. I can already feel the adrenaline of anxiety rushing throughout my body. The emotions are rising to the top. Those really really hard emotions. I can do this.
It’s November 2002. I’m 25 at what I believe is supposed to have been the Prime of my life. Or at least I “believed” it was supposed to be. I gotta admit, if that year was the Prime of my life then I’d have nothing to hope for. That year my family had decided to have a family reunion of sorts with my Mother’s side of the family for Thanksgiving. We were all going to meet at my Grandpa’s up north in Monterey, CA and it was going to be a grand ole time! My sister had planned on visiting me in LA for the first time the week before Thanksgiving and we were supposed to hang out and cause some trouble before the family shenanigans started.
Looking back I’m not sure what I was thinking when I scheduled my first MRI to be at night on the first night my sister was visiting. I mean, I know why I scheduled it at night. I had to work during the day. My sister and I met at a small mall for lunch and she was going to hang out for awhile before I could get out of work. I was scared that day but on top of the world. I can remember feeling so proud and so “up”. My sister was visiting MY WORLD. I was going to show her MY WORLD. I had seen HER WORLD before in the past but this was mine. She’s older and I was so proud to show her LA, to show her I was “making it” out here. Still not sure what “making it” means but I digress. I can remember walking down the sidewalk at this mall and looking for her and thinking it was a pretty day and oh by the way, I had lost almost 50 pounds so I couldn’t wait for her to see that too. Weight has always been a challenge for all of us in the family so the idea that I could even lose 50 pounds was AMAZING!
Anyway, we met up, had lunch, I took her on a tour of my workplace and I was so so proud to do that. Look Lori, I work at a television station! I’m really starting to do what I came out here to do! Those were the thoughts in my head. Isn’t it weird how we can bring ourselves back to our past mindsets and know they’re familiar but almost not recognize them? That was over 10 years ago. I have been through so much since then. My mind even feels different.
I don’t remember much until I showed up at the hospital in Burbank with Corey and Lori and had to fill out the paperwork. Actually, much of that is a blur. I was so nervous. I’m sure I had decided to just have the MRI then because I had to wait weeks for my HMO at the time to process all the red tape to even approve an MRI for me so I just wanted to get it over with. Plus I had had sooooo many medical tests by then that had come up with NOTHING that I might as well get this done. If I didn’t do it then then I’d have to wait till after Thanksgiving. On a side thought, I wonder if that would’ve changed much of the course of events?
I then remember being called by a lady to “Come on in and we’ll get you started” and she lead me through white hallways. Please tell me, why must all hospital hallways be white or yellow? Why can’t they be calming colors or fun colors? And I know they’re supposed to be sterile but some decoration of some sort would be nice. And about the fluorescent lights…PLEASE GET RID OF THEM!
So the next thing I know I’m being sat down at a small table to the side in the middle of the hallway it feels like (at this point I was so not used to being in a medical fishbowl and everything felt like it had to be a secret and why were we sitting in public–even though no one was really walking by or anything) and this nice lady with long dark hair (blurred out everything else) sat me down, pulled out a pile of paperwork and a pen and proceeded to ask me questions I could not answer. That was the first day/night I ever heard about fibromyalgia. The who the what now? That was the first day/night I ever heard I could have symptoms of fatigue and that they were real. That was the first time ANYONE had ever asked me if I felt any real pain and where and did I have any other autoimmune diseases? What are those? Why was she bringing them up to me? That was the first time for so many things. I think I was a medical virgin or something. It was all so surreal.
Back then, the MRI machines (this was only 10 years ago) were very different than they are now. They were long tubes and they were dark and they were skinny. Here’s my thing. I was so much skinnier and yet I felt cramped in there. How could anyone bigger than me fit in there at all? I don’t remember much of the process just yet but I know I was hardly wearing anything. I had to take off all metal, all jewelry, my bra with the metal underwire, my pants with even a hint of a metal button (don’t think the button was metal actually). To be honest I can distinctly tell you what I was wearing that day. So weird. So much of it is a blur but what I was wearing is clear as a bell still to me. I was wearing my favorite navy blue long sleeve button down shirt that I had just bought in a size smaller due to my weight loss and I was so proud of me and of it. I was also wearing khakis that I don’t think I’d be wearing now. Not that I’d even fit in these clothes now but still. At the time I was wearing contacts so I didn’t have to worry about not seeing and feeling vulnerable that way and I had to wear a very thin white hospital gown. I felt so vulnerable and I also knew I was claustrophobic but I didn’t know how much because luckily I had never been put in that situation before.
These days I have had much better experiences with MRIs. I usually have one a year. I believe I’ve had at least 15 MRIs but if I count any that have been done in a row in the same session (meaning 4 in a row with all kinds of machinery and equipment locking me down and in and not being able to move for OVER 2 HOURS) I’d say it’s close to 20 by now. Each time they’re different. Fortunately, the technology is so much better and the MRIs I have had have been shorter, a bit wider, some of them have music and I don’t have to take off much of anything. The ONLY thing I usually have to take off is my bra still but that’s it. Why? Because they are usually only interested in my brain to see where lesions are for MS. Why did I have 4 in a row once? Well I was at USC where they have state of the art equipment and my MS Specialist Neurologist at the time wanted a whole picture of me. The technicians usually ask me if I want to take a mood enhancer drug of some sort to help me not care about the experience and I have told them No. I like being with it afterwards. Then again, if I EVER have to do such extensive MRI tests AGAIN that make me stay in one position for 2 hours then I will have to take a drug. I WILL NOT DO THAT AGAIN COMPLETELY CONSCIOUS. I was in so much pain from not moving and I was told that if I moved even a little bit then they’d have to start over. Plus it can be extremely hard to get my head out of the “tunnel mode” and back into the big wide world with no tubes enclosing me. Oh and I have had an Open MRI before but to me it was worse because there’s no tube BUT it’s like they put you inside a sandwich of a top and bottom of a machine and you can see out the sides but it’s not like you can move your head to see them and all I kept thinking about was how it was going to crush me or the machine would eat me or something. But I digress.
You know, A LOT of people knew what was going on with me at that point and a bunch of them had had MRIs before and they all had different ideas of what they were like and some told me that they were awful and some told me that they were easy and so on…However I will tell you this, if you have never had an MRI before I will not tell you what it’s like for you. I will only tell you what it was like for me if you ask. I will however tell you that I’m sorry you have to go through that and wish you all the best. My experience was different than that of anyone else who told me what their experience was like. In fact it was so unique and traumatic that it’s so hard getting over it still which is why it’s so important for me to share with all of you what happened and to get it out.
Anyway, when the paperwork was finally done and I already was so nervous my heart must’ve been beating out of my chest at that point and I was in the paper thin white gown, I was lead into the room with the MRI. I remember the room being a yucky yellow and I saw this big machine and a little circular opening into darkness was there. I knew right away this was the MRI. It’s fight or flight right? My head was running away so fast yet my body stayed put. I’m sure I tensed up all over the place. I’m sure my breathing was labored. But I toughed it out. I could do this. Oh yeah and the room was cold because the machine could overheat fast. Plus it was already so so loud in there just from the monster machine. So they had me lay down on the thin flat cold table and locked my head in telling me not to move it. They put earplugs in my ears or headphones on (don’t remember), asked me if I was OK–UM does anyone see the logic in this? I still have technicians doing that with me. They block my ears and lock my head in so I can’t turn and can barely interact and then they ask if I’m OK. WHAT????? Did you say something? My instinct is to move my head. And then panic, oh wait I can’t. GEEZUM! Someone’s gotta tell them that makes no sense. Perhaps walking us through some hand signs would be helpful or something. Eye contact with me directly over where my head is locked in would be good too.
The next thing I know the table starts moving and I’m sent into the dark tube. The tube I could barely fit in. And they kept sending me into the darkness. Oh thank goodness the MRI machines I go in now are white and have a lot of light. I kept trying to remember what my Rheumatologist had told me. Look straight up and you’ll see a mirror that reflects the window to the room where the technicians are. Look at them if you need to. She reminded me that I’m not stuck in there. I could slide out if I wanted to. However all I could picture was panicking and trying to sit up and knocking myself out because I’d hit my head on the head cage or the tube or both. She told me I could wiggle my fingers if I crossed them on my stomach (really not too comfortable for all that time) and I could see them in the mirror so I’d be aware that I hadn’t detached from my body somehow. However, I was still sooooo scared to move. I didn’t want to have to do this over again. I just wanted it done with.
Meanwhile I’m aware that Corey and Lori are in the Waiting Room. I think it was in that dark long squished tube where I got a glimpse of how vulnerable I really was. I was locked in. I was taken away from my people. Yes I had watched too many movies, TV shows and read too many books but I’m not convinced “weird” stuff doesn’t happen. How do I know? I started thinking about how they were looking at my brain. I started thinking about how I had a brain. Hey, I really had a brain! What were Corey and Lori doing? Wow, this machine is really loud even with my ears blocked. Oh my goodness I have an itch on my nose. How much can I wiggle my fingers? Can I move my feet at all? Doesn’t any movement of my body move the rest of it? As I looked in the mirror into the other room, I wondered, how I had not seen that room when I came in? Where was it? What were they seeing? Why were there so many people in the room? Dang it! Breathe! Oh my goodness I’m in a dark long tube! How long has it been? Why aren’t they talking to me? Can they please not talk to me? Can they please not tell me how much longer? Wait why is it so silent? What do the sounds mean? What does my brain look like? Oh my goodness this tube is long. I hope there’s not a monster just waiting to grab my head in the part of the tube I didn’t enter. Why am I so far in? Didn’t Dr. S say I wouldn’t be pulled all the way in? Uh oh. Why the silence? That’s a long silence. I can do this. Really I can. Uh huh. I got this. Soon enough it’ll be over and I’ll be on my way and Lori and I can have our visit. Why is it taking so long? Or has it been long? I’m feeling cramped. I’m so hungry! UM DID THEY FORGET ME? Why does this machine vibrate too? No one told me about that part? WHAT IF THERE IS SOMETHING REALLY WRONG WITH ME? WHAT IF I HAVE MS? The mind loop was endless and I worked so hard not to get worked up that I was so stuck in my head. Did I have a body anymore?
So then I feel the table start sliding me out. I must be done. OK. I can do this. Phew! I’m done! Wait, that long haired lady is back and she has a serious look on her face. Does she have a serious look on her face? What is she doing? Shouldn’t she be pulling me out? I’ll ask her. Where’s my voice? Why can’t I say anything? Did I forget how to talk? Can I move? AM I DONE? What is she doing with that needle? WHAT’S HAPPENING?! No. No more needles. I’ve had enough needles and blood taken from me in the past 6 months. (Little did I know it was only the BEGINNING…).
I really don’t know if she told me she was putting “Contrast/Dye” into my veins. I just remember thinking that I felt like a specimen and some kind of experiment. I must be a part of a horror movie right now. Wait! I don’t remember being told I’d have this done. Why is it happening? She asked me what arm was best for veins and I told her I wasn’t sure. So she just tried. (I now know it’s my left arm just on the outside. Otherwise, my veins hide and don’t like being bothered. They’re busy.) OW! WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?! The shooting pain was abominable. I was strapped down. I think I jerked and she tried to hold me down and apologized and said she had missed it and would have to try again. I asked her what she was doing anyway I think finally and she said she thinks they might have seen something (ummmm not a good idea to tell me this and aren’t they supposed to keep their mouths shut?) and so they are putting ink in my veins to find out.
FREAK OUT BUT STAY STILL!
STAY STILL?! STAY STILL?!
OH MY GOD! WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME?! SOMETHING WRONG? WHAT DO I DO? I can’t have something wrong with me. My sister’s here. I’m supposed to be tough for her. I’m not supposed to show any weakness. And then she moved to the other arm. Yes, I’m still locked in. I have a ridiculous force of will to stay in one place because honestly my head had me sprinting out of there so fast and yelling and screaming down the hallways. GET ME OUT OF THERE!
And something in my head told me to try to calm down. Let’s just get this over with. It may be nothing. They had told me that before during this journey of finding out what’s wrong with me. They thought they saw something and I’d freak and worry and lose my mind and then I’d found out it was nothing or that oh so fun medical word, “inconclusive”. Oh the things I could do with that word…
So she tries my other arm and she just couldn’t get the vein. She didn’t just stab me this time but squeezed my arm so tight and had me clenching fists and FINALLY I think she got it. Meanwhile, the other arm was still screaming. She had gotten the ink in my muscle. Who knows what that did to me. I still wonder. Before she sent my head into that dark tube she asked me if I had anyone there with me in the Waiting Room and I told her yes and who they were. She said she’d tell them it was taking longer than expected.
So she says, OK, this shouldn’t take too much longer and she sent me back into that dark tube abyss…to be in my own head…to freak out…to be so horrified and think I was living in a nightmare…Did anyone really tell Corey and Lori why it was taking so long? What did they say? Did they know more than me? A part of me knew, I KNEW, that something was really wrong with me. What it was was terrifying me. The possibilities were endless. Would I find out right away? Would I have to wait forever to find out? What now? This should be done with me! I want out! Get me out of here! I was clearly wound up with so much stress I could barely stand it. I don’t know how I did actually. I guess a survival instinct took over. I was so worried about what Corey and Lori were thinking and that this shouldn’t have had to happen while she was here and now what and my head just kept exploding with crazy thoughts.
THE MRI MACHINE STOPPED…
AND I WAITED FOR-WHAT SEEMED LIKE-EVER FOR SOMEONE TO PULL ME OUT OF THAT TUBE.
I had tensed up so much I could hardly move. I was so in my head I could barely function. This time the person taking me out was a blonde older woman with curly hair and glasses and she looked directly over me where my head was and I’ll never forget her eyes and the way they looked at me and kept staring at me as she unhooked my head and loosened it all up around me.
SHE LOOKED AT ME AS IF I WAS GOING TO DIE.
I still have those eyes of her’s so stuck in my memory that I don’t think they’ll ever come out. So as I’m still laying there and I now have my ears clear, she asks me all kinds of questions. How am I feeling? What are my symptoms? When did they start? Do I have anyone here with me now? And I can hardly talk. I try to sit up really quick and I almost fall off the table I’m so dizzy and out of it. I’m so traumatized. I’m 25. I’m invincible remember?
I also was incredibly tense with MS and didn’t know and probably lupus and didn’t know that for so many more years after that that it’s a wonder I didn’t have a major attack/exacerbation/flare right there on the table or in that room. She kept those “You are going to DIE eyes on me the whole time.” I felt violated and so alone. I just wanted to get out of there. And in that same tone with those eyes, she said, “Now I need you to call your doctor right away in the morning. It’s too late now because you’ve been in here so long.”–Oh it wasn’t just me thinking it was long? It REALLY was that long? Poor Corey and Lori! I was so used to trying to please everyone and entertain everyone that I couldn’t be anything but that strong person. How was I going to show myself? I didn’t even know what they had said to them. They must be so worried.
So I tried to sit up and that wasn’t happening very well. I almost fell off the table. I had “freaked out dark tunnel scared to death” head. Horrifying. Why didn’t I wake up yet? Worst nightmare ever. Especially those “death” eyes of her’s. She caught me as I teetered to the side and held me upright and still looked at me as if I was going to DIE right there on her. I wish I could be exaggerating here about how she was looking at me but to this day with everything else I’ve been through, I have yet to see “THOSE DEATH EYES” on anyone else. So she told me to just sit there for a bit and she’d go out into the Waiting Room and tell Corey and Lori I was done and coming out soon. She came back in and asked me if I was OK getting up.
YES! GET ME OUT OF HERE NOW!
And I jumped up. Ooops. I stumbled and almost fell. Get me away from this woman please! She’s scaring me! Where was my voice? Did I even know how to talk? I had hidden me away somewhere deep into my brain. I was protecting me. I think I was a shell at that point. So upon seeing that I’m stumbling and clearly my legs are jello she tells me I’m going to have to ride in a wheelchair out into the Waiting Room and she’d be back.
WHAT?! A WHEELCHAIR?! I’M STRONG! I CAN WALK! I’M OK! I HAVE TO SHOW EVERYONE I’M OK! I CAN’T BE WEAK! PLEASE! NO!
I think I mumbled to please not do that but if she heard me she ignored me. All the while those “death” eyes on me as much as possible. I’m surprised she left me alone at all.
So she helped me a little too much into the wheelchair. By that time I had more of my bearings and was entering my body a little bit more from my hiding place in my head and I gave her a look like, “I GOT IT!” and forced myself into that chair. And then horrified, I was wheeled into the very bright Waiting Room where I saw Corey and Lori. As she’s rolling me she’s on a constant loop of telling me to call my doctor and not to ignore it and it was very important and when I finally found a voice to ask her what was wrong she told me she couldn’t tell me but that it was so very important and oh my goodness.
I was mortified that Corey and Lori would see me in a wheelchair because I mean really, I had only had an MRI. I was fine. I could walk. What the heck? I couldn’t look weak. I got this. Really. So still struggling to find my words, I try to get up out of the wheelchair ASAP and that blonde woman was STILL THERE! GO AWAY! LEAVE ME ALONE! DON’T TALK TO THEM! I HEARD YOU! I’M RIGHT HERE!
“Please make sure you talk to her doctor tomorrow OK. It’s so very important. You really need to do that. You can’t waste any time.”–as if I’m not there and I’m not understanding what she means and she gave them those same “death” eyes.
HERE’S MY QUESTION TO HER OVER 10 YEARS LATER:
WHY DID SHE NOT MAKE SURE SOMEONE CALLED MY DOCTOR THAT NIGHT NO MATTER WHAT IF IT WAS SUCH AN EMERGENCY TO HER?! WHAT AM I MISSING?!
So she walks away and Corey and Lori are looking at me like I need to be treated with gentle hands. That’s what I felt like. Now I know they were looking at me like they were concerned and worried and they were allowed to be. They got those same EYES from that woman that I did about me. Scary! So as I start bawling and Corey’s telling me it’s OK and I can stay in the wheelchair as long as I need to and ALL I WANT TO DO IS GET THE HELL OUT OF THAT WHEELCHAIR! I CAN WALK! I CAN GET UP ON MY OWN! LET ME!
I still had a bit of a hard time talking especially with the crying and finally he understood that I wanted to get OUT OF THAT FRIGGIN’ WHEELCHAIR and into a regular chair and I wanted to throw that wheelchair as far away from me as possible. Somehow FINALLY I found my way into a regular chair and I bawled and bawled. I think I left a piece of me in that MRI room. I lost a lot of innocence that day. I found out I was mortal. I found out I wasn’t invincible.
I was human.
We sat in that Waiting Room for a long time while I regathered myself a little bit more. When I look back on that night I think about how Lori was there and Corey was there. I wasn’t alone. That was no mistake. That was why I had scheduled the MRI for that night. I needed my Sister. Corey needed my Sister too I think. My Sister and I were still struggling with our relationship then and I had to be me with her the next few days. ME. And that was OK.
And one side note: I’m not surprised I couldn’t stand that wheelchair. It turns out I get very dizzy in them or I used to even up to a year and a half ago. I don’t know about now and I’m very fortunate not to know. I’m so grateful I can still walk. It’s weird. I’m OK with others in wheelchairs (well as OK as I can be considering these people are having a hard time in some way) but I felt like I couldn’t be in one. However, I now know that it’s hospital protocol. The last thing they want is me falling on their watch because uh oh I might sue. Oh poor things…
That’s it for now. I’m glad I got it out. As you can tell, I didn’t DIE. I haven’t DIED yet. I don’t plan on dying anytime soon. I’m too busy living.
And what happened after that?
ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE! So much so that I need to recover from this post in order to write another one. I hope it doesn’t take me over a year because I think it’s ready to come out and I can tell already that I’m more healed from finally writing this.
Therapists have now told me that I am still suffering a bit from PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from just that one experience and that there are separate episodes to work through too all connected with this one. I believe it. I wish there had been enough sensitivity at the time to really see what I was going through. I feel it in my heart that we all need to see Therapists at some point in our lives but when going through such trauma as medical tests and the limbo part before diagnosis and then the diagnosis of the Chronic Illness along with maintenance care throughout–we should be REQUIRED to see a Therapist. To not talk about it is poison and can only make our health worse.
Medical Journey Trauma (I think I just came up with a new term) is REAL. And we all deserve to talk about it, process it and move on with our lives.
Oh and how do I feel about MRIs these days????
THEY STILL SUCK!