What a day.
I could not have dreamed up two more different experiences under the same roof. I have had many MRIs, but this time (with the same technician in the same machine) I was—let's just say it—traumatized.
"Wait, let me out!!" I screamed. I had only been in the machine five seconds. The technician rushed back inside and slid me out. My face was covered in tears. "This isn't me," I thought. She put her hand on mine to calm me down. "Can you do this?" she asked. I looked back at the machine, at her, at the room. Same place. How many times is this? What just came over me?
I said, "It's my arms touching the inside of the machine. I feel like I'm being cremated. It's too confined and I want to get OUT."
"Try holding your arms tight to your body so you don't feel the inside of the machine. Then just close your eyes."
I went back in. A voice came over the speaker, "Test starting. Please hold your head completely still for the next thirty minutes."
MRIs are loud, as in LOUD, as in L.O.U.D. I could take this audiological assault on previous MRIs, but this time it was pure torture. To make matters worse, the buzzing in my ears and the top of my head went haywire. "Any moment now, I'm going to have a brain shock," I thought.
My head detonated and I forced myself to remain steady. My toes twisted violently, but I kept my head still. This happened one more time. What can I say? I felt a deep, searing pain in my head and I had to force myself to remain stoic. If not, the test would have to be repeated (which is bad) or cancelled (which is worse). It was brutal. Nasty, nasty.
The technician slid me out of the MRI machine.
"That was horrible," I said. "Totally different from the other times. I can't wait to sit up."
"Stay still," she said. "We're only half done."
She injected dye into my veins and slid me back into the machine for another go. The entire test was repeated. I felt the same sense of being torn apart, tortured. I forced myself to remain completely still and to absorb any painful shocks. If I know the parameters I can take a lot of pain. I had two more shocks before the test was done. Also—and perhaps most notably—an enormous white circle of light exploded in front of my left eye. It didn't actually happen, obviously, but the visual effect was stunning.
Walking me back to the dressing room, the technician stopped. She always recognizes me from the symphony and I like her. Today, she had real tears in her eyes.
She hugged me and said, "I really hope I don't see you in this place again."
I staggered to the neuroscience wing for my EEG. This is in the new part of the hospital. Compared to the the stark, utilitarian corridors of the main building, the new neuroscience wing has a fancy tiled floor, fountains, stylish light fixtures and a large reception area for checking in not unlike that of a resort hotel. Noticing the lit waterfall trickling down one wall I half expected a waitress in a straw skirt to offer me a complimentary drink in a coconut.
The neurological testing suite exuded a quiet, peaceful energy. A Zen hum, if you will. A young technician greeted me and escorted me into a silent room.
"Have a seat on the bed," she said.
I replied, "This looks comfortable. I just had a traumatic experience in the MRI machine. I just want to lie down and sleep."
"Good," she replied softly. "That's all we want you to do."
Her tone of voice suggested immense empathy. I considered that the MRI and EEG could be part of a bad-cop-good-cop routine for interrogation. The MRI was waterboarding. The EEG was wine tasting with the head of the CIA.
I relaxed deeply into the soft bed while she attached twenty-three electrodes to my head.
"What do you do?" she asked. "Symphony," I said. She jumped: "WHAT? Oh ... MY GOD! Wait here!!!"
I wasn't planning on wandering off, but I waited nonetheless.
She came back yanking the arm of another technician. She pointed at me. "Guess who he is? Give up? He plays with the symphony and you always buy tickets to the symphony!"
"Hi," the new lady said.
The new lady left and my technician went back to attaching electrodes. It was tedious work. God bless her.
"Now I'm going to place this strobe light in front of you," she said. "Keep your eyes closed for the duration of the test."
I tried to make myself vulnerable, hoping for a brain shock. Flashing lights have been a serious issue recently.
—Cool effect. Do that again—
—I felt as if I were rising off the bed, traveling into the light. I walked into a shower of photons, into another dimension. My brain felt peaceful, vulnerable, waiting, waiting—
"That's the end of the strobe," she said.
"For the next thirty minutes we want to measure your resting brain waves. Everything calm and quiet. Try to sleep."
I had one tiny blip that could have registered as a brain shock right then, but it was nothing like the huge jolts I had to endure in the MRI room. Not even close. I was so tired. I relaxed into the bed and slept. The technician told me I had a few "interesting dives" during the test.
The neurologist will be reading my test results tomorrow.