It’s 4:45 a.m. and the halls of the Ottawa General Hospital are empty. I follow the signs past L, M, N and O, to the MRI area on the second floor.
There’s no one at the reception desk with I arrive. There is a manual bell, just like the ones that teachers had on their desk when I was a kid, and a sign that says to “please ring only once”. I do and a woman appears behind the glass window at the counter. She tells me to put on a gown in one of the cubicles and lock my things in a locker.
I wait in my gown in an old vinyl reclining chair set on it’s own in the hallway. I can’t read because the lighting is poor, so I put the chair in the reclining position and try to relax. After about 15 minutes I get up and get another gown, which I wear like a housecoat, because it’s cold in the hallway. I haven’t seen another soul since the receptionist, but I can hear the roar and clank of the MRI machine coming from behind the doorway marked with a huge caution sign.
Finally another woman in a hospital gown comes out of the room and we exchange awkward smiles as she passes by. It’s my turn now and the woman I thought was the receptionist must be doing double duty because she is now the technician that is doing my test. She helps me lay face-up on the long tray-like table with a pillow beneath my knees, and she gives me ear protectors that look like huge stereo headphones.
This is my third MRI and I remember the feeling of claustrophobia from my previous experiences. So I ask for a cloth to put over my eyes so that I can trick my brain into not acknowledging that I’m in a long tube that feels to be just inches from my face. I’m clutching a rubber bulb attached to a tube that I can squeeze if I panic. I wonder just how long it would take for the tray to pull out of the cylinder if I squeeze the bulb. Would an alarm sound? Can I trust that the technician would respond quickly enough before I bump my head and injure myself trying to get out?
I try to practice my yoga breathing and meditation while the tray moves my body slowly within the cylinder, but it’s hard not to picture myself as being trapped in the trunk of a small car in a manufacturing plant, being moved along a noisy assembly line. The technician asks me a few times if I’m doing OK through a speaker in my headphones but, unlike during my first two MRIs, I don’t get the sense that she really cares about the answer.
I suddenly realize that I have no idea what area of my body is being tested. My spine? My lungs? My brain? All of the above? I’m tempted to peak out from beneath the cloth covering my eyes to see where I’m at in the tube, but I’m afraid, and I wouldn’t be able to get my hand up to lift it off anyway.
Finally it’s over. Has it been 15 minutes or 2 hours? I’ve lost all sense of time in the machine. The tray moves out of the tube and, before I know it, I'm dressed and walking down the empty halls and out the front door of the hospital, to find that darkness has turned to light while I’ve been in the building.
I’m grateful that it’s still early enough that the morning traffic hasn’t really started and I’m home before I know it, back in my bed, curled up with my dog, for an extra hour of sleep before I start my day.