Monday, 19 November 2012


Today I went to East Surrey Hospital for my après chemo MRI. It suddenly occurred to me whilst I was in the MRI waiting room, that if you haven't had one before, then the prospect of it must be pretty blimming daunting (& to be honest, it still is fairly horrid even if you have had one before).

So, although I had had an MRI before, it was right at the beginning of this rollercoaster, and to be honest with you, I couldn't really remember what had happened. I thought therefore, it would be a good idea to explain exactly what happens, to try to alleviate some potential fears.

Firstly, what is an MRI? Well, according to Wikipedia, an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is a way of seeing the body's internal structures in extreme detail.

An MRI scanner is a device in which the patient lies within a large, powerful magnet where the magnetic field is used to align the magnetization of some atomic nuclei in the body, and radio frequency fields to systematically alter the alignment of this magnetization. This causes the nuclei to produce a rotating magnetic field detectable by the scanner—and this information is recorded to construct an image of the scanned area of the body. Magnetic field gradients cause nuclei at different locations to rotate at different speeds. By using gradients in different directions 2D images or 3D volumes can be obtained in any arbitrary orientation.
MRI provides good contrast between the different soft tissues of the body, which makes it especially useful in imaging the brain, muscles, the heart, and cancers compared with other medical imaging techniques such as computed tomography (CT) or X-rays. Unlike CT scans or traditional X-rays, MRI does not use ionizing radiation.

To start with, you are sent your MRI appointment letter and given a questionnaire (similar to this one) to fill in.

When you turn up at the MRI department, the image radiographers explain what is going to happen. I was told that I would be inside the MRI for around 20 minutes - but I have read in some cases people can be in the tube for around an hour, so it must vary from person to person.

Then then asked me to strip down to my pants, pop on two gowns, and remove all metal objects. This means you need to take off all jewellery (including your watch) and then put them into a locker.

After that I had to get onto the bed and they told me they were going to put a cannula into a good vein. It took them a while to find one, but they eventually found a good one in my hand. The cannula was put in because I was having what is known as an MRI with contrast, where half way through the scanning I would be flushed with dye. (What the dye basically does is enhance scan images).

I was then led through to the MRI room where the scanner was (East Surrey have this year had a new £750,000 MRI scanner installed which is unique in the UK) & they put a marker (which looked like a cod liver oil capsule!) on the side of my breast.

This is what an MRI scanner looks like:

I was then asked to open my gowns, lie face down on the table (which looks like one of the ones you find in spas when you're having a massage) & position my boobs. The compartments I had to put my boobs into can only be described as feeling like the salad drawers in the fridge!

I then had a huge pair of headphones (no music, just to block out the noise) placed on my head, given a buzzer to squeeze if I felt I needed to, and told to lie very still. This is probably a good point to remind you to use the toilet before you have your MRI as you can't move during it, and needing a wee isn't very conducive to staying still!

I then had a cushion out under my legs which the automatically inflated & asked me to position my arms above my head. The table then automatically moves you backwards into the scanner & it begins. I can't tell you if it was dark or not because I was facing downwards & I kept my eyes shut the whole time. I had to also keep reminding myself to breathe as I found I was holding my breath!

The noises are very loud and sound almost electronic or like computer game sounds. They are also not rhythmic and are different lengths & frequencies, so rather than listen to them, I tried to just block them out by thinking of other things. I found this YouTube video helped prepare me for what it would sound like.

About half way through the MRI radiographers spoke to me, asked if I was okay and then explained I was going to be having a scan which would last about 8 minutes. That happened and then they spoke again & told me they were going to automatically start the dye going in. The dye felt cold up my arm but nothing else. Then I had around another 15 minutes of scans and it was finished.

The table then releases you from the scanner & the radiographers sit you up very slowly (as my legs had gone to sleep). They then took the cannula out of my hand, I got dressed and (after being told to drink lots of water to flush the dye from my system) I was free to go.

The thought of the MRI is definitely worse than being inside it but I'm still very glad it's over and done with.


  1. It's true that the thought of undergoing an MRI scan can be scary, since the machine is large and looks complicated and menacing. But the whole procedure is actually painless and all you have to do is lie there and do some simple tasks.

    Sonja Howard @ (Brian A Jacobs, M.D.)

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