Scared to Death

Got up this morning at 6 am for a scheduled MRI appointment for my wrist. No problem – easy peasy. I’ll just show up have the procedure and get on with rehabbing my wrist. 

If it was just that easy

Here’s what happened:

After checking in and answering a series of questions including if I had any metal piercings on my body or if I’d had a MRI before – both of which I answered yes. The technician asked again if I had any metal on me – yes my belly button ring, I said: the person who booked the appointment with me, checked with the technician and said it was ok.  I would have removed it if I needed to.

Why the belly button ring? It’s from a time in my life when I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and thought being out west in Vancouver would answer those questions. During my vacation for some “bad girl” reason I convinced my friend to get a bellybutton piercing with me. It represents a time in my life before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. A time when my undergrad studies were completed and I had my whole life in front of me. It was endless nights of partying, smoking pot and dreaming about the future.

Back to the MRI – the technician asked if I could take it out – that’s not an option I told her I would need a special tool, which only the professionals have at least that’s what they told me 18 years ago.

After a bit of a lecture for when I have an MRI on my abdomen area (nothing is currently booked?) and the safety concerns it would create, she agreed to wrap it in gauze and hope for the best – “if you feel something burning you just press the button and we will stop the MRI” she says.

Immediately I begin to imagine what it would be like if my belly button began to burn – I imagine a red hot ring frying my bellybutton, blisters, puss, it becomes so fried and swollen, we can’t get the ring out – the works.

Ok “I’m ready” I lie to her.

She gets me up on the bed, sets me up with extra padding because I’m suppose to lie on my side and hold my arm up – completely still for 30 minutes she reminds me – am I going to be ok? “Yes” I lie again – funny thing is in my head I’ve already left the building. Yet I keep thinking to myself, if I fake it I’ll make it.  I’ll just do some Yoga type breathing and get through this. Sill can’t get that imagine of my fried bellybutton out of my head.

After about 5 minutes – which seems like 25 she tells me that they are going to begin. What we haven’t started yet? – Of course I remember about the noise and there hasn’t been any.

My head, shoulders and left arm are totally inside the MRI machine. I’m lying on my left side and I can see the ceiling of the room, the lights and my feet. The door to the room is closed and I have earplugs in as well as a set of earphones, which the technician is speaking to me through. My bellybutton is not inside of the machine.

OK she says we are ready and she’s beginning the 1st one-minute round.  Loud noise begins – similar to what you might expect it to sound like in the belly of a 747.  There are a couple different pitches, one over another and it doesn’t seem that bad – no feeling of burning ring, just a slight uncomfortable feeling of “how the hell am I going to endure this for 30 minutes?”  Ok breathe; look at the red emergency alarm on the ceiling and breathe, again breathe. I’ve loose track of time and suddenly it comes to a stop.

Hey maybe there won’t be a burning ring of fire in my bellybutton because only my top half is actually in the machine. I think optimistically.

I have about 30 seconds while the technician sets up the next round. Peace and quiet. “How am I going to endure this? “

“Here we go” she says – this time it’s 2 minutes,

And then it happens – the bed I’m lying on begins to move (really just an adjustment) and it scares the shit out of me, my heart is pounding so fast I think I’m going to die, my mind is reeling and the noise begins.  My mind thinks “this is it – I’m going to have to go to the emergency to have the ring removed and have some kind of plastic surgery on my bellybutton because its so disfigured – that’s it.”

I breathe, close my eyes, realize she was just adjusting the bed, try to think of something else, which is not working because as I write this I can’t remember what I was thinking other than – just breathe it will be fine – you don’t feel anything hot, it will be over soon. More noise…..more noise, more noise.

Then it stops.  Again peace and quiet, I begin to talk myself off the ledge and rationalize that it won’t be that bad – I can do this, it’s just a loud machine, think of all the downward dogs I’m going to be able to do once the MRI is complete and we can rehab my wrist – then it dawns on my – I’m putting myself though this for my wrist?  Are you kidding?

Stressful events can be a trigger into an episode,

I’m careful now to limit the amount of stress in my life – wherever possible.

“Here we go” she says this time it’s 2.5 minutes.

Again a slight movement, then the noise, I close my eyes, think to myself this is ok, breathe, realize none of that is working, really who am I kidding? Then my mind plays a really mean trick on me. My bellybutton is getting hot I think, I want to move and touch it with my finger to see, but I’m not suppose to move.

Then I begin to panic, I can’t tell reality from imagination. Is my bellybutton getting hot? Who cares, I can’t do this  – and then I do what I think I expected from the beginning but really tried not to go there – I squeezed the button – her voice in my ear

“What’s wrong?

“I think it’s getting hot”

She stops the procedure, helps me up and tells me I can rebook, but be sure to have your bellybutton ring removed.

The she giggles and says:

“Maybe it’s time for an update……… “

Crap……I walked out of there, feeling like a 4 year old, not getting my way and went into the change room and cried.

All the while trying to sort out if I need to commit myself into the psychiatric ward.

Another challenge: any emotion I express that is more than normal in my mind starts me down the path of: is this the beginnings of an episode?

And do I need to commit myself?


I calm myself down, get dressed, wipe the tears from my eyes and walk straight past the admin desk. I’m not rebooking this nightmare I think to myself.

I’ve done a little research on the topic of MRI’s and their effect on those with psychiatric disorders. Here’s a link of safety measures to know about for anyone who has a psychiatric disorder and is planning on getting a MRI.  There are definite warnings and suggestions of how to support those who have a mental health disorder and are going to have a MRI procedure.

There are a couple of things I would do differently next time:

1)    Remove my bellybutton ring

2)    Tell technician I’ve been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder

3)    Take my husband, mom, sister, or friend with me and ask that they be in the same room where I can see them.

4)    Consider using a prescribed drug to relax with – I’d speak to my psychiatrist about this first.

5)    Get eight hours of sleep prior to MRI

Managing this diagnose can be challenging, doing it on your own even more so. Anything you do with a healthcare professional, consider informing them about your mental health just in case there is research out there that can support you and the medical procedure your going through.

Have you had experience with a MRI before? Is there anything we should ask, or know tell prior to having one? What has worked for you?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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