I went for an arthroscopic MRI the other day. What a lovely little slice of Hell that was!
Just for a little background, a few months ago, I hurt my shoulder. For no apparent reason, one night I picked up a pot and screamed in incomprehensible pain as someone drove a spike through my shoulder from front to back. It was pretty bad, and after an X-Ray and 2 months of physical therapy with no conclusive cure, my doctor sent me to an orthopedist. The orthopedist said he wanted an MRI. Then he said that he would prefer an arthroscopic MRI, if I would agree to it. Surprised at the question, I asked what it would entail that was different from just a plain vanilla MRI. He said, as nearly as I can quote, “They’ll need to give you an injection first before they put you in the machine.” Given the number of shots I’ve gotten in my life, some of them even radioactive (one before a CAT scan and one before a gamma-ray bone scan), I told the doctor it wouldn’t be a problem.
So I went in for my appointment. I sat down in front of a receptionist, who plopped about 15 sheets of paper in front of me, each of them a form I had to fill out. One of them even had an essay question entitled “A detailed description and history of the injury”. After twenty minutes of writing, I flipped to the next page, and was confronted by another essay question entitled “A detailed description and history of the injury”. I answered this one “See other form. My shoulder hurts!” (Did I mention I’m right-handed, and I hurt my right shoulder?).
Anyway, my final exam complete and my shoulder aching like hell, they finally escorted me to a changing room and thence to what looked like an X-Ray lab. I was a little confused, since I thought MRIs were big round things they slid you inside, so I asked the nurse what the story was. She said “The doctor will be using the x-ray machine to ensure that the needle is positioned properly inside your shoulder.”
INSIDE my shoulder!?!?!?!?!!
Apparently, my “injection” was actually a 10 minute procedure wherein they pierce the capsule of the shoulder joint with a 3 inch steel spike attached to a hose that has a water-balloon full of saline solution at the other end, and then slowly inflate the joint, to provide better contrast for the MRI! That was a whole lot more invasive than anything I had expected, and I considered backing out, but that pain in my shoulder convinced me to go through with it.
As the nurse pulled the gown off my shoulder, I pointed out my tattoo there, and asked her just to be sure not to go through it with the injection, as I recently had it re-inked, and didn’t want any scarring to mess it up. She looked uncomfortable, and left the room. Next thing I knew, I had two doctors standing in front of me gabbling euphemisms like “potential concern”, “unusually large”, “unfortunate placement”, and the sort. I gathered that while the “injection” wouldn’t damage my tattoo, that tattoo ink contains iron oxide particles, and any metal in the MRI could heat up and cause problems. I pointed out that my orthopedist had been looking directly at the unusually large, unfortunately placed tattoo in question at the very moment he sent me to them. They were amused. “Well, this isn’t his specialty.” I told them I hoped orthopedics was! They came to an agreement that I had a high probability of safety, but I should definitely speak up if my shoulder felt like it was burning, so they could shut down the scan.
In case my shoulder catches fire?!?!?
So there it was. I would probably be OK, except in the possible event that their giant radiation machine set my skin on fire, but if it did, I should yell. I told them I didn’t think I would have any trouble with that part!
At this point, I was really uncomfortable, and nothing had even been done yet. My shoulder was killing me, they were going to spear it a large metal rod, and then possibly set it ablaze with a giant electromagnet. Throw in that I’d now been sitting on a cold metal table for 20 minutes in a surgical gown that only covered the front half of me so that my lower extremities were numb but somehow still achy, and you’ve got what looked like the beginning of ONE MISERABLE DAY™. It was….
They got down to it. The doctor shaved the front of my shoulder (Yeah, they left that detail out too, go figure), and gave me an injection (the kind I originally expected) to numb the pain of the spike. Then he got to work. I looked away so as not to flinch. He told me I’d feel an uncomfortable pressure and a little pain. Then I felt an uncomfortable pressure. After what seemed like 10 minutes, but was probably 30 seconds to a minute, he said, “We’re almost there.” Then I experienced a pain so indescribably powerful I nearly passed out, as he punctured the exact center of the spot that had been causing me so much suffering for months. After I was done screaming, he said, “That’s the worst of it.”
Are you kidding me?!?!?
That damn-well better be the worst of it, ’cause if it’s not, and I ever wake up, you’re going to die, you bastard! I’m bigger and stronger than you, and I only need my left hand to crush your windpipe!
My shoulder finally inflated and already feeling on fire, I was escorted, half naked and shivering (probably more from shock than cold) to a wheelchair, and told I had to keep my arm as relaxed as possible, and completely still at my side, because if I forced the fluid out of the joint, they would have to re-inflate it. That’s right, they told me to relax, or else they would torture me some more. That little irony pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?
I was wheeled into the MRI room, where a whole new set of people took over. My first observation after looking the machine over, was “I hate to say this, but my shoulders are wider than that hole you want to squeeze them into.” Their response? “Oh don’t worry, we’ll fit you in.” Eep! They gave me a set of earplugs, had me lay down, balanced precariously on a tray that just barely reached to the inside edges of my shoulder blades, and slid me right up to the machine, until the tops of my shoulders were touching the outside of the hole. “Did I mention I’m a little claustrophobic?” “Don’t worry, you’ll only be in there for 20 minutes or so.”
They rolled me on my side and inserted my shoulder into some kind of shell to hold it in place, then rolled me back, and folded my other shoulder up onto my chest as they inched me over to one side, and then squeezed me just into the hole. Then they slid me slowly into the tube, packing my arms tight around my chest by wedging pillows in around me as I went.
At this point, I was in pain, my torso was completely immobilized, and my entire upper body was crammed into a space roughly the size and shape of an old-style metal garbage can. On top of everything else, I was beginning to have to fight off the irrational feeling that the sides of the tube might at any moment collapse in on me. Just then, the technician’s disembodied voice came out of the aether, “How are you doing in there? Good?” Never in my life have I had to fight off such a strong urge to scream at someone. “I’ll be better when we’re done here.” “OK, now there’s going to be some loud noises.”
At that moment, I learned what it must be like to have a garbage can placed over one’s head and beaten by several people with baseball bats. Whang-a-da, Whang-a-da, Whang-a-da, Whang-a-da! Silence… Just kidding! Whang-a-da, Whang-a-da, Whang-a-da, Whang-a-da! And so on, for several thousand years.
Finally, they pulled me out. I was incapable of movement, deaf, and in pain, and yet I was happier at that moment than any I can remember. Then the tech came over and said “Now we just have to change your position so we can put you back in for the last two scans.” I nearly cried. Then she tried to twist my poor shoulder around so that my arm was bent up and over the top of my head, and I did cry. Too late, I tried to say “No, that’s what makes it hurt!” What came out was more like “No, thaaaaaAAAAAARRRRRGGGGHHHHHHHH! *sob*”.
Five more minutes of can-banging, and it was over. I survived. So help me, if they don’t find what’s wrong with me, I’m gonna round up every last doctor, nurse and technician involved in this process at gunpoint, stuff them into garbage cans, and beat the living daylights out of them with a monkey wrench.
My shoulder hurts….