Thursday, March 24, 2016

Philippa gets an MRI

I'm writing this because when I write things they leave my head. And I need this to leave my head. It's quite long. Don't feel you have to stick with it. 

Today, I had an MRI.

I'm claustrophobic, so this was a worry. So much a worry, in fact, that I was focussing completely on the MRI and not even thinking about what the *results* could mean.

Let's wind back a bit.

Early February, I was showering, I thought I felt something weird. Got out of the shower and did a proper check - nothing. A few days later, again, in the shower - felt something weird. This time I was sure.

I booked a check-up for that afternoon. No problem. I love the French healthcare system.

The gyneco was lovely - that bit where they have to ask *those questions* and it's all very awkward? She was awesome - so she checked me out and said... "It's probably nothing but let's get you a mammogram and sonogram to be sure".

I rang for the appointment and it has to be at a particular point in your cycle if you have a cycle so...

Three weeks later, I have the mammogram / sonogram. Again, the mammogram tech was lovely - that perfect mix of human and practical that means you feel in control of you, if nothing else. And then the sonogram tech said... "It's probably nothing but let's get you an IRM to be sure".

This is how stressed I was - I didn't even realise that IRM = MRI. I've solved way harder anagrams than that in the past (RIP Araucaria). But that's what I was booked in for, three weeks later. The receptionist at the mammogram / sonogram clinic urged me to call the second clinic if I had any questions. She stressed - any questions. At the time, I didn't know what questions I could possibly have, as I didn't really know what was happening.

I looked 'IRM' up on Wikipedia not to read the details but to check the translation. But I kept seeing the word 'claustrophobia'. I started to panic. Then I started to plan. My questions. Practicing lying still. Buying a sleep-mask so I wouldn't be tempted to peek. Calling on all that CBT that I'd had, what, fifteen years ago?, to work through positive scenarios.

Shortly after this, a friend of mine on Facebook (extremely pregnant, with a cold) put up a post: "Spent an hour this morning flat on my back, trying not to cough, wedged in an MRI scanner approx the same size as my bump, as a normal* control for a study looking into fetal brain development."

The word 'wedged' terrified me. As did 'hour'. But the fact that she - an NHS doctor - did this voluntarily, made me less shaky. Also the * was "shush now". 

Which made me laugh. 

The only people I told about this were the friend who came with me for mammogram / sonogram, and Team FFW, one of whom responded (in a long chain of messages about various subjects) "Does it help to know you only go half in and then out again? When I had a CT scan I was really disappointed - I'd always assumed you went all the way through and out the other end like a car wash!...Think we said publish for day of match".

Again, that made me laugh. 

Eventually I rang up - and I should have done it earlier - the woman who answered the phone was a star. I got maybe two questions in when she interrupted me - it's OK. You go in feet first. You lie on your stomach, it's like a massage table. (pause) A really noisy massage table. We give you headphones, you pick the channel.

Ooh, I thought. That sounds less scary.

So. Today was the day. I slept OK last night - it was the previous night I had the inevitable anxiety dream (in which I was having my MRI while on a business trip to Canada, so there was snow - I've never been to Canada, I just have assumptions - and I got lost trying to find the right door, so, standard anxiety dream there). My friend met me at the tram stop and we trammed to St Eloi, talking about a kid's birthday party she'd been to.

We found the right door pretty quickly. They were very nice on reception. Filling in the questionnaire, I had to check one translation with my friend. And the conversion rate of stone to kg. Winged it on my height in cm.

When the technician came to take me through, she heard I'd been talking to my friend in English. Asked me, very slowly and carefully, can you understand what I'm saying? Yes, I said. I can understand more than I can say, and if I don't understand, I'll ask. You might have to...I waved my arms around to represent 'explaining things in roundabout ways'. OK, she said, that happens with the French people too. And smiled.

I had the injection for the contrast solution - again, I'd been so worried about the MRI I hadn't thought to check about that, I'd assumed it was localised, but no, in my arm - and was led through. And - and here a bit of serendipity, perhaps - I had to leave my glasses in the prep room. I can't see shit without my glasses. So I never really saw the machine.

In the machine room, it was as I'd been told. Lie face down - and this was when I realised something that I hadn't before; when I rang up, I didn't give my name, I'm not 100% sure I mentioned what part of me was to be scanned, but it didn't matter - because this place specialises in that. Only that. Their table is specifically designed for that.

Like I say, I love the French healthcare system.

This was the one nasty moment. When I put my face into the space in the 'massage table', the table was covered with paper, and this had been hollowed under the face-space. The space was restricting, I couldn't keep my head down. I managed to say 'c'est claustrophobe' and immediately both technicians reached into the space and broke the paper so it wouldn't be restricting. I still couldn't keep my head down, the memory made me panic - the second technician said 'you can put your head to the side'.

I took off the headphones, said I didn't want music, and felt much more comfortable. "It's very loud", said the technician, looking worried. "This is OK," I said, lying down, face sideways.

And it was. I did peek. But like I said, I can't see shit without my glasses so it was just white. And the noise? It's loud, yes. But I spent ten-fifteen years going to ATP, genuinely, I own CDs that sound just like that. The middle-eight was particularly inventive.

So that was it. The drip was taken out and I got dressed and went back to the waiting room, and my friend. And then we waited. An older woman was called out to speak to the doctor and when she came back into the waiting room she just gave the \o/ gesture and her friend hugged her and it was awesome. My friend and I talked about global politics and interior decoration and military deployment and how cool midwives are, and I started to get a bit worried that it was taking so long for them to call me in to speak to the doctor about my results.

Turns out they'd just forgotten I was there.

So, eventually, my post-MRI consultation wasn't a formal meeting in a doctor's office but a quick chat in the dark review room, where the doctor said "rien de suspecte".

I have to go back in six months for another MRI to compare with this one, but the most difficult thing there will be aligning the window for the appointment with my slightly capricious cycle. I'm OK. For now. And won't be as scared next time.

My complete and utter love to my friend Caroline for being with me through this (and the last clinic visit). Not being alone was so important.

So, friends - tits or balls, check yourselves. And if something seems weird, get checked out. 

Here endeth the over-serious.