Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Ehm Arrr Aye

That's pirate speak for Magnetic Resonance Imaging - or, as we more commonly call it - the MRI. Most people are surprised when I tell them that pirates actually invented the MRI. That's why lying is sometimes fun. You can really surprise people.

To tell you the truth, pirates have as little to do with MRI's as they have to do with Ninjas. It's like apples and spaceships. The only similarity I can conjure at the moment (and this required a serious foray into the world of abstract, creative thought) was that the coffin-sized plastic slab you lay on to be rolled into the MRI machine somewhat resembled a plank you might have walked onto before being pushed into your big, blue, watery pirate grave.

Your typical MRI scanner... if you live on the USS Enterprise. I don't know what's up with all the perfect gloss and stuff, but mine looked a little more "present day."
An MRI is a journey unlike anything else I've ever experienced, first-hand, in the world of medicinal science. I wasn't entirely unprepared for the adventure, however. I had seen diagrams of the machines and the procedure in one of those random pamphlets you pick up while waiting for the doctor. Pamphlets like "A friendly guide to Colonoscopy" or "Lyme Disease: Bambi's Gift to You" and, of course "The Most Expensive Half Hour of your Life: A Guide to the MRI". From such pamphlets, I had learned that I'd be strapped onto a piece of machinery, comfortable only by hospital-grade standards, and carefully slid into a large electromagnetic cylinder. I figured I'd lie still in my temporary sarcophagus for 20 minutes or so, pondering the warning stickers on the side of the machine, and then get on with life. What I was entirely unprepared for, however, was the noise.

I want you, for a moment, to imagine yourself in the middle of the most grotesquely flamboyant space battle ever made in a 1970's era space movie. As you stand there, mid-battle, you can picture some nerd at his electronic sound board toying with his synthesizer settings, creating, to his trekkie delight, an endlessly imaginative array of cosmic sounds.

When the technician handed me not only ear plugs, but headphones to put on over those, I knew the procedure was going to be different from what I originally thought. I put the plugs in, and in a matter of moments I was abruptly immersed into the sound. It was bizarre, but at the same time strangely relaxing.

Yeah. Relaxing! Not too long after the initial cringing, I began to be lulled into a deep, meditative state of mind. If there is anything good to come of the bizarre noises created by the generation of enormous magnetic fields, it is that everything else occupying the mind is momentarily thrust out of sight to reveal, at the center of your head, a tidy little package - cleanly wrapped, and labeled "calm."

It was really nice. Unexpected, yes. But nice. I lay there while the machine screamed at me and found, in it's incessant ranting, a moment of peace. Maybe there is something to learn there - some grand life lesson. Maybe not. This I know, though: If you ever find yourself waiting, in your scrubs, for an MRI technician to take you into unfamiliar territory, you can do so with the assurance that in the commotion of the machine, there is an instant of stormless tranquility to be had.

And for that alone, it was worth it.


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