anxiety, COVID-19, Multiple Sclerosis, Not Today MS, pandemic, panic attacks

MRI Panic Attack

***TRIGGER WARNING*** If you have claustrophobia or have never had an MRI, this is not the post for you. I have better posts on MRIs for you (just search MRI in the search bar). This one is not suitable for anyone about to get their first MRI. I don’t want to unnecessarily fill you with anxiety.

Last Friday evening, I had my 8th MRI.

I’ve never had a problem. Not even the first couple when I was in-patient and really didn’t know what was wrong with me or how long I would be in the tube.

I established some MRI routines:

  • Vikki, my favorite MRI tech at my local hospital. I always checked with her to make sure she would be doing my scan.
  • Christian music in my headphones.
  • Blind fold over my eyes.
  • Going in with a list of people to pray for in my mind.
  • Pretending I’m getting some sort of crazy Hollywood spa treatment that is taking years of aging off my face :).
  • And then counting the grinds of the scans to see how high of a number I could get to.

All this worked just fine for me. It also helped that my detailed brain MRI was usually only 30 mins and Vikki would talk to me through the speaker in between each set of pictures. “Okay, Nora, this first set of pictures will take about 8 mins.” “Good job, Nora, this next set will take about 10 mins, you’re doing great.” Etc. It broke up the scan into smaller, more manageable junks in my head even though I stayed in the tube the entire time.

On Friday, several things were different:

  • No Vikki. I had to have an additional scan for another doctor on my care team and this required me to go to another hospital an hour from home.
  • The additional scan was of my pituitary, which meant more stabilizers around my head and neck which didn’t allow room for music or headphones.
  • I was told to prepare myself for being in the tube two whole hours due to the additional scan.
  • The techs had a very difficult time with my IV. Took them two tries and they massively blew out one of my veins. Not their fault, my veins are horrible and I was so busy at work Friday, I know I didn’t drink enough water.
  • Face mask. I’ve never had to have an MRI with a face mask on.
  • They initially forgot to hand me my panic ball. Something I’ve never had to use before, but it brings comfort to know your can squeeze that and let the techs know you need help.
Let’s take a pause here to show our non MS friends what it looks like to get a brain MRI. First, your head is placed in a device like this.
Then you are pushed deep into the MRI machine. This photo is not a great example, but hopefully it will give you an idea. By feeling around, I can tell that I’m pushed into the tube to my knees. I keep the blind fold on to help me not just how far in there I am.

As I said, many things were different on Friday. At first, I was pleased they had gotten my scan down to 55 mins total instead of two hours. But, I wasn’t told I couldn’t have music until they were pushing earplugs in my ears and putting foam stabilizers next to my ears. When they placed the blind fold over my eyes, they also layer it over the top of my face mask. So, my entire head was caged in and immobilized and now my entire face was covered as well. They pushed me in without my panic button and said , “see you in 55 mins.”

Dark.

Suffocating.

Isolation.

No way to call for help.

The machine started. It’s so loud that it vibrates the table.

I only made it 5 seconds before I realized I wasn’t breathing and I couldn’t breathe. I screamed for help, but no one could hear me. I thought, I’m going to die in here… i started kicking… my feet were the only things out of the machine but I waved them as wildly as I could, all while screaming, “STOP, STOP, STOP!!!!!!!!“

God bless, Aaron the MRI tech. I’ve often thought how annoying it must be for them to have to stop the scan, council and coach patients and try and get them to restart. With so much kindness, he pulled me out, put his hand on my shoulder to let me know he was there. He removed my blindfold and told me to take off my mask and breath. We talked and I lay there just breathing for 5 mins. He said,” keep your mask off. No one else is in this room but you and we clean the machine between patients. It will help.” He took the blanket off my feet and said the feeling of air on them would help too. I prayed. I knew I had to have this scan and I didn’t want to put it off another day to wait for a Valium script. I told him I was ready. Blind fold went back on and this time, Aaron handed me my panic button. He said, “I’m just on the other side of the glass. I’ll be right here if you need me.”

In the tube I went for the second time. I was shocked at the difference the cold air on my nose and mouth helped. And uncovering my feet. Still, with no music, it’s hard to pretend you’re getting a spa treatment. I purposely took as deep of breaths as I could. The grinds of the machine started again and sinister whispers of “55 minutes” echoed in my head.

NO. I proclaimed in my head. Not Today. We are going to get through this. God, meet me here.

I prayed for a good scan.

I prayed for Aaron the MRI Tech.

I prayed for my sweet friend, Gayla who just kicked cancer’s butt and was recovering from her final surgery.

I prayed for my children and husband.

I began singing in my head. First it was a song from one of my favorite musicals. I tried to think of any of my favorite worship songs, but it was like I was brain blocked.

I thought about Paul and Silas. In prison. No Bible. No comfort. And yet, they worshipped.

I started to recite every scripture I have ever memorized. This one brought me the most comfort.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1

And this one:

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

I coached myself like I do on long, seemingly impossible runs. Just make it to the next set of sounds. You can do it. See, you did it. Now we just need to make it to the next set. Let’s count this set and see how high we get to. 159! Cool. Now, let’s make it to the time for contrast and you will be almost done.

When the contrast was injected by the IV they had set up earlier, Aaron came over the speaker to say “only 18 more minutes!”

The last 18 mins were the worst.

I started to hyperventilate again, but I focused hard on my breathing. I can’t do this, I said in my head. I followed that up with, you can’t, but God can. Cling tight to Him.

I thought about all of you. I thought about how this would make an interesting story to share with you if I ever got out alive :).

I thought about my MS friend who recently lost her ability to speak. MS is such a thief. I prayed hard for the return of her voice.

I thought about my husband, sitting in the car waiting for me, late on a Friday night. He had texted right before I went back to say “I have yummy treats waiting for you.” How did I get so blessed to have him to do life with? A little known fact about my husband, he gives the absolute BEST hugs. Now, he’s not a hugger of people like I am. If I ever met you in real life, you best believe I would want to hug you! He’s selective with who he hugs. But, for those of us he does hug, it’s the best feeling in the world. I started thinking about his hugs. I imagined he was holding me in the tightest, warmest hug of my life.

That last 18 minutes took forever. Every time a set of grinds would stop I would pray that was the last.

Finally, they did stop. I waited and waited and finally heard the faint sound of Aaron’s voice in the room as he said, “Nora, you’re all done. Now let’s get you out of there.”

I don’t remember much after that. I know I went to the bathroom and called my husband to tell him what door to meet me at with the car. But I do remember asking him to pull into a parking spot and bursting into deep sobs as I asked him to hold me. We sat there for what seemed like an eternity. I was safe. I was loved. I wasn’t alone. I was done with the damn (sorry) MRI machine for another year.

Moral of the story, MS folks are warriors. We put up with A LOT. Long MRIs, multiple needle pokes, spinal taps, neurological exams, expensive medications with horrible side effects. And we go through life with a smile on our face with our “invisible symptoms” and most people don’t know the hell we go through.

Don’t misunderstand. I know it could be much, much worse. I’m thankful all the time that I’m walking through this and not having to watch my kids or my husband be sick. I’m thankful for my ability to run and walk and mental clarity to do my job and volunteer and speak and share joy and hope and Jesus with the world. I know life is so fragile, and I do not take for granted all the blessings I have.

But. Friday was freaking hard.

I have spent the weekend recovering by watching multiple super hero movies with my husband and kids. FYI, I’m 40 and just now discovering that I’m OBSESSED with Marvel movies!!!! I ran two miles with my people yesterday and got groceries and just loved on my family. I needed a no drama, lots of normal kind of day.

Has this ever happened to you? Comment with your MRI freak out story. I would love to hear from you,

7 thoughts on “MRI Panic Attack”

  1. I love you so much. I’m so sorry you had to go through this. Just reading it made me smother. I’m so thankful it’s over for another year. 

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPhone

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t have MRIs anymore because I have cochlear implants, and prior to the implants I did okay with them. However, my worst MRI was just before I was diagnosed with MS. I was 6 or 7 months pregnant. VERY pregnant. They put me in the machine lying on my back, as usual, but I started to hyperventilate right away and hit that panic button. I couldn’t breathe properly because of the baby, so they had me lie on my side and finished the scan that way. So my first scans showing the dozens of lesions on my brain are sideways! Funny story, now. But at the time it was terrifying, of course. I’m so glad you survived this one and loved hearing about your strategies of prayer and worship. MS Strong!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have also had many of these MRIs. I had one that was very similar to this. Panic, flushed and more panicked!! . I’m so thankful that you had Aaron. The gal I was with was REALLY Not as kind. However the others I had – the techs helping are LIFE SAVERS. i hate this for you and I’m glad it’s done!!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Unfortunately I had a similar experience my last MRI.. the mask with the cage around your head and the blindfold did the same thing to me… it was the longest MRI I have ever had 😢 sorry you had this experience, but thankful you could complete it and hopefully not another one for 6 months!
    Nicole Helm

    Liked by 2 people

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