A Sunday Story: The MRI

Friday afternoon, I had an MRI for my shoulder. I wasn’t dreading it, but I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it, either. My daughter has had three MRIs of her back before (the entire back, not just one section of spine), so I’d witnessed the process although I hadn’t been the direct participant.

My appointment was at 3:10pm, and I was to arrive at 2:40 for check-in and preparation. I got there about 2:30 and checked in at the front desk. After filling out my paperwork, I sat in a chair to pretend to relax with a magazine (sometimes pretending actually makes it happen, so that’s what I was hoping for), and within three minutes, they’d called me back. I was assigned a little dressing room and told to change into scrubs. I could leave my socks and underdiddies on, but the bra had to come off. (<sarcasm>Oh, please, can I keep it on? </sarcasm>) When the technician left me, and I closed the door, I had to choke back tears. Of all the places I could be, this was one place I did not want to spend my Friday afternoon. And I really wanted someone there with me, even though there wasn’t room in the little dressing room, and they wouldn’t be able to come back to the MRI machine with me. But still, I never said I’m always rational. So I took a deep breath and changed, then followed the technician back to the MRI room (with a quick pit stop, just in case – my mother taught me well!).

Very quickly, they gave me Magic Expanding Earplugs and put my shoulder into a contraption that I didn’t get a good look at. They laid me back on a pillow, strapped me down, gave me a panic button, cushioned me on all sides, and hit the button. As I slid back into the tube, and the ceiling was maybe an inch and a half from the tip of my nose, I felt a wave of panic. AAAUUUGGGHHH!!! I DO NOT WANT TO DO THIS!!! I realized that it would be a Very Bad Thing to keep my eyes open during the 30-minute procedure, so I closed them, and felt an immense wave of relief. With my eyes closed, it felt like I was snugly tucked into my bed at home. It was warm and soft and cozy. I focused on my breathing, and took inventory of prayer and meditation practices.

Recite a rosary? No, the prayers are too repetitive – they would set my mind free to think about where I am. Centering prayer? No, again, too much chance of thinking about what’s going on. Okay, something more liturgical. I have Compline memorized, as I pray it every night in the dark silence before going to sleep. It is a short office, nowhere near 30 minutes long, but I knew I could extend it with intercessions. I had found intercessory prayer to be tremendously comforting while my daughter was in the hospital, and I was trying to sleep in the room with her.

So I began: The Lord Almighty grant us a peaceful night, and a perfect end. Amen. Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth. I felt my entire body relax, and by the end of the general confession, before I got to the opening words (O God make speed to save us; O Lord make haste to help us. Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever, Amen) I was entering a meditative trance. Through the psalm, the gospel scripture, the Lord’s Prayer, I was in another place. Yes, I could still hear all the bangs and thunks of the machine around me, but my spirit was somewhere else. I began naming everyone I could think of to whom I have a connection – family members, coworkers, fellow students, fellow members of online communities to which I belong, other bloggers, people I love, and people I have a hard time loving. I did not pray with much specificity for any of them, simply held them up to God, because God knows best what we all need. (Which can be sooooooo annoying, when what I think is best is different from what God thinks is best. That “big picture” view, rather than the me-centered view, really changes things.)

Three different times, they shifted my position in the tube slightly. The first time, I opened my eyes, thinking, “They can’t be done already!” When the movement stopped, I closed them again. The other two times, I barely noticed. At one point, Murphy’s Law kicked in, as it is wont to do, and I had the most incredible itch on the side of my nose. I had to hold in laughter, since you’re not supposed to move in there, because of course an incredible itch will manifest itself when you’re strapped down and can’t scratch it. Then I took a breath, and returned to my intercessions, sinking effortlessly back into that meditative state.

It was a strange meditative state, because the noise did increase my heart rate, and kept my body from relaxing fully. But my mind was much better able to cope with my surroundings than it would have been if I’d insisted on remaining in full conscious control the entire time. I really did “Let go and let God,” and it may have been the first time in my life that I’ve been able to relinquish control in that way. (Heck, it may end up being the only time in my life!) But it certainly made that experience much less unpleasant than it could have been. And when the technicians pulled me out, they said I was one of the best patients they’ve had. That was cool! But they didn’t have a lollipop for me, so I pretended to pout as I said good-bye, which made them smile.

Relieved, I changed back into my clothes and left the building. I was incredibly thirsty, and as my heartbeat slowed back to normal, I desperately coveted chocolate. I met my husband and son in their short interlude between school and laser tag, and we stopped at a coffee shop. Husband had a spring water, son had a decaf cinnamon latte, and I had a clementine juice / sparkling water thing that was very refreshing.

And that’s what I did on my Friday afternoon.


6 thoughts on “A Sunday Story: The MRI

  1. What a fantastic story! Thanks for sharing it.

    I am proud of you and delighted that you listened to the Spirit and loved yourself (and all of us lucky intercessees) so beautifully.


  2. My first MRI was while in the hospital last fall with a very bad infection in my jaw…long story of bad dental procedure…I was so sick and the MRI was very long, an hour of jack hammers pounding while I lay on a too narrow table…at first I thought, what will I do? I am a life long meditator and centering prayer person…but at that moment all I could do was say the Lord’s Prayer, over and over…after awhile the words all blurred together and got mixed up, not ‘cuz I don’t know them, they just did…but it relaxed me and kept me calm.

    I had to have a second MRI a few weeks later to make sure the infection was gone (after 7 weeks of IV antibiotics). Anticipating that one, while standing in the room in that little gown, reduced me to tears as well.

    MRI’s really aren’t bad, but they sure aren’t pleasant, either…and being able to relax body, mind, and spirit, helps to get through the whole thing.

    Thanks for sharing!!


  3. Thank you, Laura! And, um, you’re welcome! 🙂

    I really was amazed at how thoroughly I had been in that other place. Compline is so comforting – the prayers, Psalm 4, the “into Your hands I commend my Spirit” (which was so difficult for me to say for the first, about, oh, YEAR I prayed Compline). I’m lousy at memorizing stuff, but I am SO GLAD I know Compline by heart.


  4. After that, you _deserved_ chocolate. (I capitalized that the first time, since my cat is also named Chocolate; well, you deserve Chocolate-snuggles, too.)

    What version of Compline do you use?


  5. I pray Compline from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. I use Psalm 4, and “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy-laden…” for the gospel lesson.


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