A war zone. It sounded like a war zone. Sound effects of an AK47 gun amid MRI vibrations and banging noises usually taking place on construction sites. Tinnitus adding an overlay I can miss like never before.
Magnetic resonance imaging is a godsend to ill people. In regards to MS, it gives a clear view on what is physically going wrong inside the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. Add some contrast fluid, and yours can lit up like a Christmas tree, just like mine did this morning. Or so I was told.
Sudden, loud sounds twitches my head involuntarily. The upstairs part of my body locked in a mask, I now realise how Leo felt when he played The Man in the Iron Mask.
Poor King of France.
Having seen the inside of almost every hospital in Dublin the last 12,5 years, systematic desensitisation has taken place each time I had an appointment. It simply seemed that I was destined to review every hospital in Dublin. Ever the perfectionist, I tried to comply.
There were two sets of crutches, two abdominal surgeries, and a fainting spell near the top of the grand staircase in one of the more uptown shops in the middle of Ireland’s busiest street. There was the superbug and the Achilles tendon, the broken tailbone, the possible lung clot, the lost contact lens and the upcoming sleep test. There was also the literal, accidental headbanging after losing my balance at work, when I familiarised myself with the vanilla coloured Dulux paint of the company walls.
It’s perfectly possible that other already forgotten hospital visits will eventually show their existence in my memory, but for now, I think I have enough reasons to believe that at least physically, I’m cursed.
The biggest upset near the end of 2004 and the start of 2005, was how MS arrived on my doorstep. Uninvited, unwanted and unwilling to ever move out.
After four months of continuous misdiagnoses, being proactive when I needed it most by walking into A&E was a checkmate move. I had X-rays, a CAT scan, vascular testing, another round of X-rays and an MRI scan in the space of the first 36 hours. It seemed I had an invisible pull on hospitals, illnesses and large medical devices.
In fact, it seemed as if I had the same strength of the principal magnet of an MRI scanner on hospital environments (the main MRI magnet is strong enough to produce fields 60,000 times the strength of the earth’s natural magnetic field). Leave a piece of metal in your skin so, and you could end up on the ceiling of the MRI tunnel.
Sort of, of course.
Trying to classify MRI sounds is like asking the New York City Ballet to do a thirty minute STOMP dance to the sound of hungry cats on a construction site in full operation, wolf whistles included. In short: a cacophony of gut-wrenching sounds, sounds that oh dear… set off another round of trigeminal neuralgia.
As you can tell, I’ve had many a story to tell the family or to tell friends when they need a laugh. Most “You should write a book about your life in Ireland!” tales originated from hospital visits. Also, because of the twelve-year-long desensitisation, there’s very little doctors have yet to discover inside my body, which means that basically, I share my guts for the glory of the medical establishment.
Today, after my three-tesla MRI scan, I learned a few new sounds that weren’t present during my previous MRI scans. Then again, I could be wrong as I do manage to fall asleep during such checkups. Tesla-T sounds may be as loud as 125 decibels, equivalent to a rock concert or a balloon popping near the ear, but add strong MS fatigue to the mix and your first goal is to try to out-snore the digital competition.
Today though, there was a reversal of my acquired desensitisation. Having an incurable, neurodegenerative illness is nothing compared to what I witnessed in the MRI department: a little girl, barely 3 years old, crying because of an imminent scan. It told me more than any medical or psychology book could teach.
My heart broke. I wanted to leave the hospital thinking that through the eyes of defeat, I could see hope. Instead, it made me feel angry at myself for going on about the myriad of sounds in MRI scans when there’s a far greater hurt going on in the minds of parents caring for their ill children. My only hope today goes out to the little girl and her parents, and to the many others in this world.
Neurologically challenged by MS and personally by her will to succeed, Willeke is a disability awareness advocate seeking to improve neurological/MS services in Ireland. By highlighting difficult issues that come with such a diagnosis, she hopes her tenacity can bring some dignity to people most in need of a modern, inclusive healthcare system that looks after every aspect of life.
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