The MRI was booked before the sleep study. I was warned that it would be loud, time-consuming and possibly make me feel claustrophobic. I was told to bring music.
The night before the test I got ready for bed by relaxing in the bath. I usually have a hard time sleeping the night before a doctor’s appointment or a test, and a warm bath does help, even though it gives me time and space to dwell on the possibility of bad results.
That night, I spent an hour deciding what music to bring. It had to be relaxing but not boring.
As I sat in the bath, thinking about MS, I listened to Foo Fighter’s acoustic album. It was perfect – calming and a little dark at the same time. It became my MRI theme music.
When I arrived at the hospital the next morning, I was absolutely positive that my mystery would soon be solved. I was convinced that I had MS and that this test would show lesions on my brain. The thought created both anxiety and peace inside of my mind and heart. It would suck, but this stage would be over soon, I assumed.
The MRI technician was in her twenties. Well, I thought she was the technician until she told me that she was the assistant. She took my CD and then showed me into the room. It was a huge white room empty except for the daunting machine, which is basically an examination table with a large tunnel at one end.
I got to keep all of my clothes on - a nice change of pace from the many other tests I had taken up to that point. Patients have to get naked too much as far as I’m concerned.
The assistant positioned me on the bed, lined my head up to the tunnel and went back to her room, where she could watch the images and control the machine. She started my CD as she told me not to move.
When the tunnel moved over my head, the machine started to make an obnoxious banging noise that was only subtly obscured by my music. (Next time I'll bring Alexisonfire.) I stayed very still during the hour-long scan, afraid even to breathe too hard in case it blurred the pictures of my brain.
To keep myself occupied, I imagined that my thoughts and feelings could light up different parts of my brain for the picture, and I went through a range of emotions from sad to angry to happy by thinking of people, places and days that made me feel one way or the other.
The songs played one after the other, getting closer to the end of the album as I regulated my movement. After staying still for a while, my body wanted to twitch and scratch itches and stretch, but I ignored it. I took three or four shallow breaths, and then allowed myself a deeper one, but never a full lung and gut breath, just in case.
I didn’t want to give anyone any reason to doubt the results. I wanted those lesions to be clear.
The worst part of any test, for me, is once it’s complete and I face the person who knows the results, but is unable to tell me what is wrong with me. Over the course of several years, every smile I saw contained to the lips, every twitch at the corner of a mouth, every gleam in an eye became a sign that the test was either negative or positive.
This test was a big one, and I wanted to know right away if I had MS or not. I tried to read her face as she handed my CD back. Is there any pity in that smile? Is she looking at somebody who may be crippled in a few years?
I couldn’t tell.