Getting out the tape measures

A post of two halves, really.

First, I have just got back from a swim in which I clocked in a <6m 400m and a ~15m kilometre. Ended up sharing a lane with a bloke who just outclassed me, like a xebec outclasses a sloop, and trying to keep pace. I failed, obviously (He had youth, strength, and a complete lack of ehlers-danlos on his side) but I felt so much better for at least not completely embarrassing myself out there.

The second part is that today was my spinal MRI at CA.

Wandering through the usually-busy hospital, and finding it completely empty but for two radiologists in one tiny department in one tiny corner of the building was frankly eerie. Even on quiet times during the week there’s reception staff at the desks, or porters and cleaners going about their errands, but today, being a Sunday, there was just the dull hum of the lights to break the silence. Main reception was closed, the automatic admission terminals were switched off. We navigated down through the halls into the tiny annexe containing radiology, Dearest being far less perturbed by the empty hospital than I was.

Upon getting to the MRI suite there was a card on the front desk saying “Please use the phone provided to ring extension 35XXX when you arrive, and fill in one of the questionnaires on the clip boards. All the staff are busy right now.”

I was delighted by this. This was efficiency as I enjoy it – All the staff present being MRI technicians, and no disclosures to non-essential staff. I phoned the number and got a rather sweet “Great, see you soon, you’re up next!” then filled out the questionnaire which confirmed whether or not I was a cyborg and about to break their magnets.

For future reference; Titanium body jewellery is perfectly safe to wear during an MRI. I took out anything that I couldn’t guarantee the provenance of, replaced a few things with plain titanium BCRs from my piercer.

Anyway, I was taken through to a cubicle, where I took off anything that had metal in it (Jeans, shoes, hoodie) and put all of my clothes and things into a plastic shopping basket, which one of the two technicians took through to the MRI anteroom for me. I put on a gown and padded along after her in my bare feet, clutching a copy of Reise Reise and a bottle of morphine.

I’d decided to pre-dose myself with plenty of morphine and a diazepam before getting into the tube, to allow myself to stay still for longer more easily. As is the case with EDS, lying still – and especially lying still in a position that I didn’t get to choose for myself – was going to be a problem, though exactly what kind of problem I wasn’t certain of (there’s so many to delightful possibilities!)

I was given a pair of headphones, a squeezy panic button, a pillow for my head, and a support for my knees, then slid into the tube. The machine itself was a delightfully-modern-looking Siemens one, open at both ends to lessen the claustrophobia, with pleasant sea-green glass on the frontispiece; A quick image search reveals that it’s a Magnetom Avanto, known for being both quiet and fast, and operating at a magnetic field strength of 1.5T. I wish I knew more about the physics behind the MRI itself, other than the slightly obvious “There’s a huge electromagnet, which excites the hydrogen atoms in any water-carrying structure in the body, which causes them to emit radio waves. The switching on and off of the coils of the electromagnet allows different types of tissue (with different densities, different positions in the body, and different water contents) to return to a non-excited state at different speeds, making their radio waves look different, which are then picked up by the radio receiver in the machine and translated into an image”.

Most usefully, from the point of view of most people, the Avanto comes with a pair of metal-free headphones, so that you can listen to music whilst in the tube, as well as being able to hear from the technicians without anyone needing to shout. I’d picked Reise Reise as my MRI album, since it’s good and loud, very familiar, and has a lot of thunky mechanical-sounding passages in it, which go nicely with the clicks and whirrs of the MRI.

After about five minutes in the tube (Literally, a few seconds into Mein Teil) my left hip started to scream at me. Not just a dull ache, but an outright burning, screaming, unsettling agony. I wanted to lift a hand to it, crush it, stretch the knee upwards, shift around a bit on my arse… but of course, I was in an MRI machine. I grit my teeth, and bore it. This lasted for about two minutes, until I was squeezing the panic button in a complete mess and begging for morphine.

I was let out of the tube, clutching my leg and making pained noises, and was fully prepared to be called a hypochondriac and a timewaster and an idiot. And I wasn’t! The two technicians were incredibly understanding, helped me stretch out and stand up, get my morphine and my diazepam and offered me a quick break to stretch my legs and let the drugs to their work. I took a minute or two, returning to the table, and this time had them strap my legs so that I didn’t need to keep hold of them on my own. Back into the tube I went, to find my CD was now halfway through Dalai Lama.

There were three sets of images taken, and after every one the tech paused the CD and told me that she’d finished another one, keeping me updated on the progress and giving me good estimates on how long each image would take.

I’m increasingly feeling that MRI technicians have really taken the “Patient experience is important” part of healthcare provision incredibly seriously. I can’t think of a time where I’ve been treated by anyone in the healthcare services as if I was on a very good airline, rather than being treated a bit like I was either a fascinating geological specimen, a much-loved but still stupid Herefordshire bull, or a drug-seeking twattock. Effectively, this was like taking a train journey in first class, or an intercontinental flight; The two techs were nice to me, professional, efficient, and put both comfort and precision on a high priority.

By the time the CD was halfway through Los, the scan was all finished. I asked if I could look at the images, and was shown them with some interest; Of course, they couldn’t interpret them, but I was allowed to have a look anyway. I was fascinated by how asymmetrical my back muscles are (and by how little fat there is between them) and by how the vertebrae were so big and chunky – I have very short, very fat vertebrae. And a very curved spine. And a very thick spinal cord, which might have had a syrinx, but I can’t really tell since I’m not an expert. If I can get a copy of my MRIs for the blog, I will definitely do it, because they look awesome.

I got dressed, and was told to book a GP appointment around the end of the week to have a proper look at the results of the images, and their official interpretation.

I’m now really, really curious.


7 thoughts on “Getting out the tape measures

  1. The magnetic field splits the nuclei into two populations…spin north and spin south. The energy required to flip them equates to radio frequenies. As low as 1.5T thats around 90 MHz.
    The nuclei dont emit yhey absorb. The techs fire radio waves at you. Straight absorbance is too weak so they use resonance. They stroke theitr fingers round the wine glass of your molecules and listen for the ringing.

  2. Dumb question – what is CA? Secondly, love the joke about the stupid Herefordshire. I can see you joining the herd in the Archers!

    Finally, very pleased indeed that you were treated with kindness. It makes SUCH a difference. OH went through 6 weeks of hellish radiotherapy. One day we had reached the end of our tether with the terrible physical effects and were just sitting in the hospital radiotherapy waiting room crying. The staff found us, whisked us to a private room to cry in peace, and bought the staff to us rather than the other way round. We got through. Missing a day is very bad news, so we needed that Rolls Royce support to stay the course.

    Looking forward to hearing about the results. Take good care.

    • Thank you – And glad to hear that OH was treated well by the radiologists too; As much as it’s awful that he needed radiotherapy in the first place, it’s good that when he needed it, they really did give that personalised, supportive service. Hope that he’s recovering well.

      And, ah – CA is one of the three (main) local hospitals in the trust; All pseudo-anonymised, though it’s easy enough to guess where I am if you put them all together.

      What they do, as relevant to me;
      CA is the one which does most of the specialist physiotherapy, MRI, and rheumatology.
      StJ has gynaecology, rheumatology, an A+E, and a big inpatient mental health facility (StJB).
      LGI has an accident and emergency.

      Of the smaller hospitals,
      StM is a specialist psychiatric hospital
      SC does acupuncture and has the pain clinic
      TS is private, but does work for the NHS such as electromyography
      NH is purely private.

      In 2013, I managed to visit all of them. I’m not sure if this is an achievement I wanted.

  3. Oh dear Lord. You managed to visit ALL OF THEM in one year? That’s an unenviable record indeed. I imagine you spending your entire life at that time in taxis shuttling between these healthcare facilities (plus your GP surgery to co-ordinate it all I guess). Strewth.

    Do hope things are better now. BTW the radiotherapy (which followed massive super high-tech surgery) did work. Cancer free at five years post-diagnosis (in the lucky 50% on that score). Some permanent disability, but that was the price that had to be paid for survival. No such thing as a free oncology lunch! Though I have to confess I now have a massive crush on his oral surgery consultant!!!!


  4. I got my mri results emailed to me today, I understood little of it so had to Google. What I can gather is there is some sort of bulge (hypertrophy) and I have a “type iii anterior capsular insertion” which is medicspeak for a wobbly shoulder. Hope your results come soon

    • Ow, sounds painful (But I suppose you knew that bit already).

      I’ve got an appointment booked to view my results on the 11th – I just have to hope they’ve arrived by then.

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