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What I Thought MRI Stood For When I Went To The Neurology Clinic


Tube O Madness

MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging, although while I was lying in the tube I told myself in stood for Manly, Regal, and Intensely-Intelligently-Irresistible, and that only he who was possessed of those qualities could be invited into the dim, cramped tube of majesty.


Last Friday I got an MRI. It was my first one. I’d heard all the horror stories about how awful the procedure was. In fact, I once flirted with the idea of writing a horror story about a woman getting trapped in an MRI tube after an earthquake. And then rats came in and started nibbling on her toes. At the time I had never seen an MRI machine and never got around to writing anything in any event.

Either way, the machine looks at your brain, then people look at those images, then they say things like, “Hmm…Josh, we’re seeing irrefutable evidence (an inordinate amount of green in the brain scan) that you are too well-endowed to be human. What planet were you born on? Level with us. I meant level with us Sir.”

The conclusion of a 10 year Tourette’s study

Here’s why I was there. 10 years ago a desperate, twitchy young Lothario agreed to participate in a Tourette’s study being conducted by a geneticist. He agreed because he still believed that until every avenue was explored, he could not give up. Wait, no, that’s what his mother believed.

That study comprised him answering lots of revealing questions such as:

  • Have you ever been afraid or uncomfortable to use contractions in your speech or writing?  (no)
  • Have you ever burned the clothing you were wearing after walking by a cemetery? (NO/What the hell?)

When the inane survey ended, 10 years ago, the geneticist looked at the boy over the rims of his thick glasses and asked if that had helped.


10 years later

The conclusion of the study called for people called “remitters”–people with Tourette’s that had experienced drastic improvements in the 10 years since. Like me. Because I was no longer on horrible pills, because I was of age, because I had agreed to the original study, and because I am constantly increasing my awesomeness by orders of magnitude, I fit the bill and agreed to do it.

I was hoping that since I have cured my Tourette’s Syndrome I could also get some visual validation of the fact from an MRI. I’m still not sure if this will be possible.

I was told during the intake that what they now look for has something to do with the spacing of certain structures in the brain that are associated with Tourette’s. Axons? I can’t remember. I was actually a little distracted because the neurologist who was interviewing me had mild Tourette’s (hi Dr. S., you did a great job, I mean that). He was having constant facial tics. I was having zero.

I did it. I thought. Over and over and over (but not in the tic sense). It’s really gone. Am I a neurologist?

I am not. Because only a neurologist could have designed the insane survey I then proceeded to take. It was not insane like the one ten years ago, but I realized once again how inadequate these sorts of tools are, particularly when we’re investigating such absurd disorders that manifest in so many ways, and particularly when questions like this are there:

0-5, with 5 being “Always”

I forget to remember things.

This is poorly worded and means next to nothing. I actually think I would have a harder time using a terrifying contraction in this sentence than in “forgetting to remember” something. But I will try. I cannot. Wait, I shall try again. I cann… I can’t! Now I am drenched in cold sweat. Guess I’ll go burn my clothes as well.

Getting the actual MRI

After changing into a gown that only I could make seductive, I had to get some little plastic glasses taped to my forehead. I was going to have to perform a couple of visual tests, but my eyes are horrible, but my metal glasses couldn’t go in the tube. So I wound up with a pair of Mr. Potato Head-Sized lenses adhered with a piece of tape right between my eyebrows.

I laid down on a bad. They strapped down my chest and feet. I got some headphones with Radiohead on Pandora. “It’s going to be loud in there,” said the aid. “Here’s a squeeze ball in case you panic.” It wasn’t just to squeeze, it would actually signal them.

Then a little mask got lowered over my face and I slid into the tube. I had been absolutely fine up to that moment. No panic. No stress. No tics. And then I started to go in.

It seems that there is one downside to developing massive, manly shoulders–it is the opposite of what you need before getting an MRI. Stick with slumped shoulders, a concave chest, and you should probably be able to encircle your hands around your ribcage all the way if you want to be comfortable.

As I slid in my shoulders got pressed inward, inward, until I felt like they were going to touch each other. My nose was brushing against the glass lens above me, on the other side of which was a computer screen. The whole machine began to whirr, and grind, and vibrate, and beep, and hoot, and so on. It was like being inside a big blender.

My tics were not horrible, but they were much worse than they have been recently. Or at least, the urges to have the tics were. I controlled msyelf, but where shutting off my tics on the fly now resembles the point at which a person learning another language quits translating in their head, I had to consciously apply a lot of effort to sit still and not scream. All my tics in that tube were facial. I was wrinkling my face, squinting my eyes, licking my lips, and squirmin’ like  a worm.

I eventually wrinkled my face so drastically that my stupid little glasses slid down onto one of my eyeballs. This was stupid and annoying and I really thought I might go mad as I tried to perform the opposite movement to get them back up in place. Didn’t happen.

After 30 minutes of unscratchable itches and inscrutable noises, I was handed a button and told to look at the screen. I pressed the button every time I saw a green dot. By the way, I did not need the lenses to see the green dot, so I shouldn’t have worn them to begin with.

In total, I spent 70 minutes in that tube. I truly hope they learn something from it that helps them help someone else. Maybe my son. Maybe they’ll be the ones to see something in the images that leads them to a clue, since there were so few other “remitters” available for the study. What that means is that most of the Tourette’s patients in these most recent 10 years did not make noticeable improvements. This is unacceptable.

Here is some Christmas advice for you–if you can think of anything you would like for a gift, I am fairly certain that it is more enjoyable than an MRI. And I cannot recommend surprising your loved ones with their own trip in the MRI tube either.

I’m talking about the Magnetic Resonance Imaging MRI, in case it isn’t clear. Phew! The more contractions I use, the easier it gets.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Megan Horton December 14, 2010, 6:05 pm

    MRI’s are the worst thing in the world. I have to get several a year. Longest one was four hours. The tube started to get hot after about one hour. I have never felt a wave of panic so strong as when I get into the MRI tube. Getting trapped in one is my worst nightmare.

  • Todd@Phitzone December 15, 2010, 8:01 am

    Had an MRI on my torso a few years ago. That only lasted about 15 minutes, and since my head wasn’t trapped in there with glass poking at my eyeballs, it wasn’t so bad.
    Not knowing a whole lot about Tourette’s, it sounds like stress is a big trigger.
    My three wishes for the world in the New Year:
    1. An end to diabetes.
    2. An end to Tourette’s.
    3. That only terrorists be subjected to being trapped in an MRI machine for hours on end.

  • Big Will December 17, 2010, 12:28 pm

    70 minutes. My, my. Bravo, lad. I was in a tube for about seven minutes after a car crash once. At 276 pounds, I felt like I was being slid into an empty beer can.

    Love the updates, thank you.

    140 pages into Blood Meridian.