Returning to the Stoke on Trent Hospital, I was not directed to my regular haunt of sub-wait 6. No, this time, my rendezvous was with a new department, home to the giant mechanical doughnut of destiny – the MRI machine.
The ritual started as per usual – shedding my mortal garments in exchange for the timeless fashion statement of hospital gowns. The socks and underwear, however, were permitted to stay – a minor victory in the battle for dignity.
The twist in the tale was the introduction of not one but two hospital gowns. The first one, a classic, worn the usual way – proudly displaying my perky bottom. OK, OK, my old, saggy, wrinkly arse. The second one was worn like a regular shirt, thereby covering the exposed rear. I pondered the inefficiency – why not just one full-length gown like a robe? But then, hospital logistics are beyond my pay grade.
Just to pause a minute, here’s a crash course on how the MRI machine works. Imagine a gigantic doughnut with an insatiable appetite for metal, armed with a strong magnetic field and radio waves, all designed to create detailed imagery of your body’s interiors. When you’re inside the doughnut, your body’s protons – yes, you’re a collection of tiny magnets – align with the magnetic field. Then, the machine sends short, energetic bursts of radio waves, stirring up the proton party. As the radio waves cease, the protons regroup, releasing radio signals which are promptly picked up by receivers. It’s a lot like a game of cosmic pinball with your protons, the result of which is a detailed peek inside your body.
A white-coat-clad individual, whose exact job title remained a mystery, quizzed me with a keen interest in my possible metal possessions. The reason is the MRI machine’s magnet could turn any metallic objects in your body into an episode of ‘Alien vs Predator’ – essentially ripping them out and causing mayhem. Shrapnel, certain medical implants, and even the odd forgotten metal splinter could be unceremoniously evicted if they fell into the wrong magnetic camp. You may be wondering about the tantalum markers in my eye. If you weren’t wondering, do try and keep up. Yes, they are made of metal, but they’re non-magnetic, so they are immune to the super magnet’s charms.
Having confirmed that my body was not a host to any rebel metallic pieces, I signed a form absolving the NHS of any blame if an unexpected piece of shrapnel decided to stage an escape act mid-scan.
Dressed in my green uniform, I waited to be summoned into the frigid lair of the medical doughnut. I was handed earplugs and headphones (serving dual purposes of cutting the noise and keeping me connected with the scanning team) before being asked to recline on a sliding bed. The invitation to ‘relax’ was akin to asking your partner to stay calm during an argument – noble in intention but ineffective in practice.
Next came the conveyor-belt journey into the metallic tube – just about clearing my nose. Cyrano de Bergerac would’ve found this challenging, and if you’re claustrophobic, even without a sizable proboscis, it’s not the ideal relaxation spot.
The cacophony of the machine justified the earplugs. It felt like the world’s most obnoxious alarm clock, only without the option of hitting snooze. I suspect the initial short buzz was a test run – probably to check if any previously undiscovered metal was about to re-enact a scene from a gruesome horror movie. Thankfully, no hidden metal decided to make a grand entrance that day, sever an artery on the way out, and flood the doughnut with blood as one would the torpedo tubes in a submarine.
The scanning team on the other end of my headphone line informed me that the process was about to begin. I took a deep breath, mentally preparing myself for the orchestra of strange, loud noises.
Each sound was unique – there was a high-pitched whirring followed by a rhythmic clanging. And just when I thought I’d gotten used to the peculiar concert, a noise like a jackhammer on steroids would burst forth. Even through my earplugs and headphones, it sounded like a construction site gone rogue.
One particular frequency vibrated my gold wedding ring, and another higher-pitched one started warming my internal organs at an alarming rate before abating and letting them cool again.
I was asked to hold my breath a few times – not that holding your breath is ever a relaxing experience, but try doing that while trapped inside a gigantic magnet with a monstrous orchestra playing. I bet even Houdini would have found the proposition challenging.
Despite all the noise and awkward discomfort, I did find a strange rhythm to the process. It became almost meditative in a weird, cacophonous way. I imagined myself as the DJ of this outlandish rave, crafting ethereal beats from the sounds of magnetic resonance.
But the symphony of sounds was not the only quirky thing about this procedure. I was enclosed in a tube with barely enough room to wriggle my toes; my midsection cocooned by a weird cage contraption. It was designed to zero in on my liver, but I couldn’t help but feel like a piece of human sushi rolled into a metallic nori sheet.
Finally, the noises ceased, the bed slowly rolled out of the doughnut, and I saw the scanning team, their eyes glued to the monitors. A sense of relief washed over me as I realised that the ordeal was over.
As I gingerly sat up, the white-coat-clad individual returned, offering me a smile that seemed to say, “Congratulations, you survived the magnetic doughnut.” The headphones and earplugs were taken away, and I was guided back to the changing room to retrieve my clothes.
As I dressed, I couldn’t help but appreciate the strange marvel that is the MRI machine – a monstrous yet ingenious blend of physics, technology, and a dash of discomfort, all aimed at getting a deeper understanding of our bodies.
All I had to do now was flip that coin again and wait for the results.