The letter came with two other forms. It came
with a safety leaflet and also a leaflet which explains what an MRI scan is.
When I read through the safety form I was relieved to find that none of it applied to
me. I could say no to all the questions about heart disease or diabetes.
It made it very clear that I was going into a big magnet and anything metal on me would
cause trouble. The safety form is vital to a patient having
a scan. This machine is a large magnet and can cause problems if you go in there if you
have some metal we don’t know about. I have come sometimes by car but it’s a
busy hospital and although there are big car parks sometimes it can be hard to find a space
near where you’re going. So if I can I come by public transport or on my bike.
They send you a clear map and it’s straightforward to find out where you’re going although
it seems a very big site. I found it best when looking for reception to go to the main
entrance to the hospital and then to ask in the first reception point which is a guide
to the whole hospital – each department has its own reception and you can end up queuing
in the wrong reception queue If you’ve chosen the wrong department.
First of all I had to confirm my identity. They ask your name, date of birth, address
and your GP which reassures me that I’m always being dealt with from my notes and
about my condition. My first priority when accompanying a patient
to the scanner is to get them comfortable with that environment, to make them feel as
though they understand everything about the procedure and take away any feelings they
may have that could be causing them problems. Before you enter the scanner they take you
to a cubicle and ask you to take off your shoes – in my case I took my trousers off
as I was wearing jeans with metal studs and a belt.
So I was in my shirt and underwear and then I was given a hospital gown. I didn’t need
to wear a gown – I chose to wear one. I think that if you come in your own clothes that
you feel comfortable in which have no metal in them then it’s perfectly ok to stay in
what’s comfortable for you. They then collect your things together and
put them in a safe locked cubicle. I felt that anything you bring to the hospital is
safely looked after while you’re having the MRI scan.
For the kind of MRI scan I’ve had I had to have a contrast dye put into my arm. I
was worried about this the first time but I realised the radiographers doing this many
times day in, day out get very skilled at it.
They hook up the cannula to the machine that injects the dye. It’s not painful and you’re
hardly aware of it once they’ve inserted the tube that gives the dye.
Patients sometimes need an injection because of two reasons: firstly, to slow down the
bowel if pictures of the bowel are being taken; secondly, it gives a different type of picture
– information you don’t get from a normal scan by having that injection.
When you go into the room where the scanner is there is a long bed with a pillow on it
and they lower that down so that it’s easy to sit on and swing your legs around and they
show you where to lie. You’re probably going to be in there for
20-30 minutes so they want to know you are comfortable because you have to stay still
for some of the time while you’re in the scanner.
When you’re prepared for going in the scanner and lying on the rolling bed you’re given
a bulb to hold in your hand which is your way of communicating with the radiographers
in the control room. If anything happens or you’re uncomfortable or you want to talk
to them you have immediate connection with the control room and they can get you out
of there within seconds. There are two things that you have at your
disposal: a microphone in the scanner – it’s not excellent – and we also give the patient
a buzzer so they can get in touch with us immediately by squeezing that buzzer during
the scan. I was a bit apprehensive about how narrow
the tube is that you go into. It’s open at the bottom end and at the top end so you’re
not shut in. If you relax and realise that that’s all there is – there are no moving
parts, you just have to lie there – I found it wasn’t a problem and I just closed my
eyes and felt like I was lying on a bed anywhere. The noise when you’re in the scanner is
a kind of banging sound. It is a bit like a road drill but not so high pitched. It does
sound like someone is trying to get in and banging on the outside of the scanner.
It’s the cooling of the magnets that’s going on. So once you understand that then
you relax. You aren’t nearly as aware of the noise as I thought you would be because
they put ear protectors on your ears that muffles the sound and you can also listen
to music. The radiographers are also talking to you. So once you relax about the sound
you are less and less aware of it and it’s not a problem.
When you’re having a scan the machine needs you to keep still so that the pictures aren’t
blurry but that doesn’t mean you have to be absolutely rigid all the way through. The
radiographer is taking several scans of you and these happen in batches of two and five
minutes – in between them you can make yourself comfortable.
I’ve learnt that it’s important while the scan is going on to stay still but you
don’t have to completely still for 30 minutes. The radiographer will say we’re now going
for a two-minute scan and you hear the machine start but then you’re careful to stay still
and that’s fine so there is no problem. When you come out of the scanner in the control
room the machine is collecting all the data that has been generated about you. The results
from the machine are then seen by a radiologist who interprets what he or she sees on the
screen. It often also goes to other experts who meet and decide the meaning of all the
information they collected about you. Although I felt I wanted the answer straight
away I thought it’s worth being a bit patient until they have gathered all the information
and thought about what they can recommend for you to do.
The results of the scans go to a radiologist to look at, they then write a report that
gets sent to the referring consultant. I think the best piece of advice I can give to any
patient is to ask as many questions as you need. Make sure you understand everything
that’s going on around you and then relax and enjoy the procedure.
I found that when I was offered an MRI scan it produced a lot of really important information
about my condition. So if your doctor invites you for an MRI scan I would strongly recommend
going along and having the scan. It’s slightly uncomfortable but that is nothing compared
to what a brilliant way it is for doctors to find out about your condition and to choose
the right treatment for you.