My First Official MRI: Photos and Video of My Brain

So a while back, I had some blood work done and discovered a few things. First off my cholesterol is a little high. Not dangerously so, but enough that it’s gotten me trying to be better about my meal choices… and trying to exercise on a slightly more frequent basis. I’m going to the gym twice a week, after slipping down from 3x a week. My goal is to try to get to 3-4 times a week.

I’ve also been cutting down a lot on red meat. I’m still very much a carnivore (who am I kidding, I’m an omnivore). But I’m trying to make the times I eat red meat infrequent.

In addition to the cholesterol, I found out that my testosterone levels are a bit low. So I recently met with an endocrinologist named Dr. Layden and we began discussing potential treatments and next steps.

First off, he took more blood for testing (it was more than I’ve ever given at one time). Then he told me that he wanted me to undergo a brain MRI to check my pituitary gland. He said that the check was purely precautionary, and that 99% of the time there’s nothing there. But in some cases, a benign tumor in/near the pituitary could be the culprit.

So… I got to do the MRI thing. For real this time.

I’ve had an MRI before, but it was for my wrist.

// Edit: For those who might wonder what happened to my wrists, I ended up doing nothing. I experience a little discomfort from time to time, but it’s largely gone away to where I don’t notice it at all.

The overall time for my MRI was surprisingly quick. All in all, it was something like 30-45 minutes, but there was a little prep time involved as well. The folks I talked with told me to slot out an hour or so, which was way faster than I thought it would be.

My appointment was for early in the morning (8AM). Which meant that I was showered and out the door fairly early.

Though my wife wasn’t awake, she did leave me a nice note on my way out.

When I checked in at Northwestern, it was all pretty routine. Fill out a few forms and wait. I got handed one of those buzzer devices, like the kind they give you when it’s busy at Olive Garden… and you have to wait around for a table to become available.

When my buzzer went off, I saw a nurse peek out a door. I stepped towards her, told her my name, and off we went.

On walking through that door, it’s hard to describe what happened. It was like an immediate *whoomp* sound, and felt like I had stepped into another world. I know that phrase is used a lot, but it was almost jarring. Through the door, I found myself in a very clean, very bright corridor. The hallway was incredibly wide, and felt very much like a hospital.

There was an older man with tubes in his arms and nose, on his back on a gurney, just sort of hanging out with a nurse. I walked by him, and avoided eye contact because it felt rude. In the waiting area, it felt a bit like a hotel lounge. But once I walked through those doors, there was no question I was inside a hospital.

I was led to a changing area that consisted of some thin lockers and dressing areas with curtains. Imagine a department store dressing room and a high school hallway with lockers and that’s pretty much what this place was.

I was given a pair of socks, and two gowns. One was meant to be put on like a jacket; the other meant to be put on like a smock.

Believe it or not, I actually spent a lot of time trying to figure out which one went in front… and which one went in back. After I left and went to the waiting room, I found myself compulsively checking other patients, to see if I had put on my gowns correctly.

After a brief wait, I got called in and followed a nurse to another room. There, she talked to me about the MRI process and what to expect. One thing she mentioned was that they were going to need to use contrast, which was a substance that would go through my body so they could see it in the scan. To get it in me, they needed to put in an IV.

Immediately… and I mean absolutely immediately on hearing this, I started to sweat. And the nurse could tell. She slowed things down a bit and asked me if I was ok. I said that I was. She asked me Do you faint? and I replied that I hadn’t before. But there was always a first time. She looked at me and said Well, that’s not a good answer.

She gave me a small squeeze ball to hold onto, and I grabbed that thing like I was on a rollercoaster. She laughed and told me to ease up a bit. She drew a bit of blood, which wasn’t too bad. I wasn’t sure where the IV was going, and had fears that they would go in through a vein on the top of my hand, near the knuckles.

I tried looking away, but there was this other dude getting prepped across the room. So in trying not to look at myself getting an IV stuck in me, I caught glimpses of this other guy getting an IV stuck into him.

Ugh. As I write this recap, my left hand feels all weird and wobbly. And I’m sweating a little.

It’s a good thing I’m so scared of needles. Though this means I could never have cut it as a doctor (a lot of my smart, childhood friends went on to become doctors), it also means I would never fall prey to intravenous drugs. Needles and veins? Gross.

So the nurse (who was incredibly kind and patient with me) finished, and I just sort of sat there waiting for the tech to arrive. I asked a few questions about the process and wanted to see if I could get a photo of the actual MRI machine. Unfortunately, all my stuff (camera and iPhone) was in a locker. The small upside was that I asked about getting my scans on a CD, and she told me that was totally possible.

I looked up to see the tech there, and he smiled and waved me towards him. He had overheard me asking for a CD, and he was making a few notes so he’d remember. He introduced himself as Ramsey (when I paused because I thought he said Ramses, he said as in Ramsey Lewis. He was super nice as well.

Inside the room, I tried again to see if I could get a photo of the machine. Or better yet, me on the machine. I asked Ramsey if he had a cellphone on him and he told me they weren’t allowed. Dang!

The MRI machine is what you imagine, and matched what you’ve seen from the movies. It looked to be a large donut with a plank the size of a diving board extending out of it. I laid down and settled my head into a thing that was meant to hold it in place.

Ramsey told me there would be several scans. Some would be quick and a matter of 5 minutes or so. Others would be a bit longer. He told me to try not to move, and to stay as still as possible.

Once I was on my back, he added in a few things around my head. It felt like a helmet, sort of. My visibility was cut down to where I could only see a little bit above me. And for some reason, there was a reflective mirror on the thing, which let me sort of see my mouth. I say sort of because I had my glasses off, and I’m blind as a bat without them.

I forgot to mention – Ramsey placed a pair of headphones over my ears, before locking me in. Apparently, I could listen to music while the scans were happening. Bonus!

He asked me what radio station I’d like to listen to, and I asked him what station he thought I might request. He declined to answer, and I just told him NPR.

After I was all tucked in, he slid me into the machine. I’m pretty sure now that I’m not too claustrophobic. I can see how some people have a hard time with MRIs. On being slid into the machine, I felt my arms brush against the side of the thing. I remember thinking Oh wow, that’s kind of tight.

Once inside, the whole process was pretty tame. Relaxing in a ways. There was a lot of noise and buzzing, but nothing that I would classify as uncomfortable. I mostly kept my eyes closed, as I wanted to move as little as possible. I was aware of the smallest movements, even swallowing… and tried to actively do as little as I could.

Here’s one of the scans of my brain. I’m sad to say that Liz pointed out my small roll of neck fat in this image. Boo.

Neck roll aside, my face looks incredibly, incredibly fat. What’s up with that?

Rear view. Not sure what those bright spots on the sides are. They look like headphones, almost.

I’d say that for about 60% of the procedure, the noise of the machine drowned out the music/talking from the radio. I’m not sure exactly what was on NPR, but they were playing a lot of music (I expected news and current events).

One song that I remember was Melissa, by the Allman Brothers. It was softly muffled by the machine, and as I was inside the MRI… it sounded like a robot trying to sing along to the song. But all it could manage was one very large, very loud note over and over again. Like a buzzer.

The nurse told me that the contrast wouldn’t be added into my body until the very last procedure. So I knew that, when it happened, I would be close to the end. With about 10-15 minutes left, Ramsey came by to attach the contrast to my IV. I’m very glad at this point I couldn’t move my head and see anything.

The nurse warned me that it might feel cold, as it entered my body. Of course, I immediately imagined the scene from The Matrix where Neo is unplugged for the first time (and that liquid metal stuff slowly spreads over his entire body). I was also warned that if I felt itchy, or felt “weird” in any way… to immediately let the tech know. I had a small squeeze thing in my hand which, on squeezing, would stop the entire procedure.

Some people are apparently allergic to this contrast thing, so I prepared for some kind of weird icy sensation. To my surprise, I felt absolutely nothing. Another ten minutes or so I was done and, also like Neo, unplugged and removed from the machine.

To close things out, here’s a bit of video from my MRI. It’s actually super creepy, as there are several moments where you see my eyes pop up and then seemingly melt.

I just got a message from Dr. Layden, and found out both my blood tests and MRI were normal. So all’s well on that front.

The process of getting a brain MRI is an interesting physical procedure, but it has some slight philosophical undertones that go along with it. Someone else is peering inside your head, to see if they can find something wrong in there. They’re looking for something bad, and it’s something you yourself aren’t even sure of. It could be inside you, it could not. You have no idea.

Overall, I had an extremely pleasant experience with the staff at Northwestern. Everyone I spoke with and who helped me were incredibly patient, and incredibly kind. Getting an MRI isn’t a rough thing at all, and the hardest part for me was actually the IV. The MRI scan itself was fine.

It’s a small relief to know that all’s well in the room upstairs. And it’s good to know my brain is healthy and perfectly normal.

Well, medically speaking anyways.

Overnight Sleep Study, Northwestern
Seeing A Side Of Me I’ve Never Seen Before: Visiting The Ear/Nose/Throat Doc, Northwestern
Visiting Chicago Dizziness And Hearing
Wrist Injury: Visiting The Chicago Center For Surgery Of The Hand
Getting An MRI For The First Time
Images From My Wrist MRI
Wrist MRI Results: Options And Decisions

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Great post. Brave retelling of your MRI and really liked that video looking inside your head. Also love the idea of your brain writing about itself.

    Jon Stuyvesant Reply

  2. Hey, thanks for this write up! I found it on Google. I’m going for my first ever MRI this morning – they’re making sure my migraines are nothing worse than, well, a migraine and I really appreciate being able to read your account of what happened so I can be a little more prepared.

    Laura Burke Reply

    • I hope that you have a similar experience – routine and uneventful. Good luck, Laura.

      avoision Reply

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