My, oh my, oh MRI…

Matt Dawson, me and Motor Neurone Disease
9 February 2017
Blue Lights, Morphine and a Resuscitation Room
27 February 2017

Bzzz, click, whirr, tock, bzzz, bzzz, silence. Click, click, Pacman-like beep, click, bzzz, more bzzz. Silence. Long Bzzzzzzz. Silence. Then a bzzz that sounds a bit like a vibrator. Apparently. I wouldn’t know, obviously.

The endless, seemingly random set of VERY LOUD noises DESPITE HEADPHONES that overwhelm you as you endure your MRI scan. I’ve done three now, two a decade ago (the second quick on the heels of the first because they scanned the wrong bit the first time!), the third last Friday evening at precisely 7.10pm. What a lovely start to the weekend that was. This last was ‘just’ thirty minutes, the first two were close to an hour. Each of them bzzz’d like a lifetime. Everybody asks what music I listened to, but that wasn’t an option for my MRI. Just noise, and the thoughts racing unchecked through my head.

MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. I had to look that up. It’s a narrow chamber that you’e trundled into. A clever bit of kit that uses magnetic and radio waves to zap right through you and take a precise 2D image of whatever part(s) of your body the clever medical people want to inspect. Apparently it avoids the risks associated with X-Rays though it doesn’t feel like that at the time. It’s entirely painless, though you mustn’t move a muscle, (difficult when you are prone to spasms), and of course you can’t deal with the inevitable itches that crop up. Every sound effect feels of doom, of illness, a little of despair.

I know what they’ll find when the images of my brain and the top of my spine come through in a week or two. It’ll look like someone has spilt tippex on little areas of my grey matter. It only makes sense to the neurologist: where they are, how many they are, and if any are active. That is to say, are these squidges currently doing further damage to central nervous system, or not? They just look like evil bubblegum to me.

I had this new MRI as my Multiple Sclerosis is progressing fast right now, with my mobility worsening fast and a newish symptom, neuropathetic pain, getting seriously ouchy. Seriously. My neurologist wants to see what is going on. Not sure what he will conclude or if he will offer me any new treatments, as I’m already at ‘defcon 3’ in what I’m taking to try to slow progress.

Hey ho. Has anyone found anything useful from having MRI’s? I’m not convinced, but I generally do what I’m told…


  1. D Smith says:

    I have had 3 or 4 MRIs (I think?) over the past 10 – 20 years. The first one was carried out privately on BUPA – I had company BUPA membership at the time – and was called an "open MRI". I had no idea what the 'open' referred to and when the neurologist said he was 98% certain that he knew what was causing my difficulties, I merely asked 2 questions: Will it to kill me? & Can you cure it? When the answers to both questions were "NO", I declined to know what IT was. 3 – 4 years later, my BUPA membership had reached its cost threshold and finally I had to go to the local NHS hospital. It was here that I had my first experience of an MRI such as that you describe and boy what a shock it was!
    For those who don't know (and I certainly didn't) and open MRI is a completely different experience. Firstly, it consists of an open bed with 2 discs one below and one above you (hence the 'open'). The headphones were the same-ish, but on this first occasion I was able to listen to classical music!
    Now the 2nd MRI involved being pushed into a tube with earphones + a head guard fixed around my head. Fortunately, I'm not claustrophobic but I think the experience would have been even more traumatic if I had been.
    Rather than describing the noise as a LOUD click, buzz, whirr – it sounded more to me like someone had started major DIY banging and crashing on the outer walls of the tube. Apart from a quick flash of the first MRI, I've never seen any of the subsequent ones and I really must ask if I can have a look.
    Since my last really awful relapse about 5 years ago I was reclassified as suffering from SPMS, because I attended the appointment in a wheelchair and now have much more severe problems dressing, eating etc. I took voluntary redundancy from my job at the start of 2014 – significantly reducing my stress level, set up my own company and began working for myself from home.
    I now take much less medication, I haven't really improved that much, but haven't got any worse either and I can still carry out my work on-line. I've seen far fewer medical professionals over the last couple of years (I guess that's the result of the SPMS label), but in a perverse kind of way I do want to see the MRIs to see the correlation between them and how I feel.

  2. Yep, I do want to see the result. I was never shown the second one (ie the only correct one to date), so I'll be sure to be asking – demanding – this time round.
    I like the DIY analogy and I know exactly what you mean. And the BUPA version sounds exactly how I imagined it and how I had seen it on telly. I guess they choose to depict the glam one…
    I suspect I am SPMS. I work from home 4 out of the 4 days I officially work – though actually as I'm in social meeja, I actually dip in and out all the time. I'll hang on to work as long as I can. Lovely team I work with, lovely bosses I work for…

  3. I've had a few MRI's over the past few years as well (Mild MS-er from Australia here). It's a bizarre noise, isn't it? I always think it sounds like bad 'dubstep' or German Krautrock like Kraftwerk or something! hahahaa.
    I think the MRI's are partially just to give the neurologists something 'techy' to work with? Sure, they can identify some of the 'markers', but as to what they can do with them… hmmm…
    Hang in there!
    Mal, Australia

  4. Yup, indescribable, though we can all agree on LOUD. Kraftwerk could indeed make use of it!
    Promise to hang on in!

  5. John Wildy says:

    Advise on MRI'S isn't my strong point, after wrapping my car around a bollard after my 1st one.
    I'm on 1 MRI a year, I'm surprised you have so few.
    Good luck Mark, I hope symptoms especially the pain calm down soon.

  6. Ta John… My MS Nurse (different hospital) would have me on one a year too. Neurologist not so inclined…

  7. Kacey says:

    You're so right about the loud noise inside the scanner. But knowing that the results could reveal a lot about your condition, I guess it's worth it. Let's just be thankful this kind of technology has already existed in our time. I can only imagine doctors of the past making their wildest guesses about their patients' conditions. Kudos to you for being so strong and active despite your condition, and to your doctor who's doing everything to help you recover.

    Kacey @ Glendale MRI

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