You think getting an MRI is easy? well, guess again

Posted 12/7/23

I went through a washing machine. Well, actually it was an MRI, but it could have been a washing machine.

I share the experience because those familiar with the machine will hopefully get a …

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You think getting an MRI is easy? well, guess again


I went through a washing machine. Well, actually it was an MRI, but it could have been a washing machine.

I share the experience because those familiar with the machine will hopefully get a chuckle and those who haven’t will have a clue of what to expect.

Showing my age, I can remember way back when magnetic resonating imaging (MRI) arrived as the latest development in medical scanning equipment. It was extremely costly, about $1 million, and there weren’t many of them. The cost was a deterrent. Naturally, every hospital wanted to be on the cutting edge of the new technology, to proclaim they could perform MRIs. But the Department of Health was concerned whether the machines could be a financial millstone and hospitals were required to gain DOH approval.

The folks at Kent - after all the state’s second largest hospital – thought they should have an MRI. Of course, the folks in Providence that had an MRI thought otherwise. When Kent finally got its machine, they made a big deal of it. The media turned out to hear how it would revolutionize the diagnosis of everything from head injuries to back pain. The media got to take camera shots of the tubular device that a patient would be rolled in and out of like a pizza in an oven. And, I believe, a technician demonstrated the procedure although the MRI wasn’t operating.

MRI machines have come a long way since and it seems docs prescribe MRIs for just about any ailment. I was to discover otherwise when I told my primary physician of my back pain. I made it clear I wasn’t referring to anyone being a pain in my back, which surely would have been a lot easier to remedy. That was close to a year ago and I was under the illusion docs could fix me up pretty quickly. What I learned, however, is that while the cost of an MRI has declined, Blue Cross and Blue Shield – my insurer – doesn’t approve them willy nilly. First, I went for X-rays and after that multiple physical therapy sessions at Papa PT that helped and where I met some nice people.  My doc made another MRI request and when that was denied, he appealed. Nothing happened.  Weeks passed and finally I started making calls. When I called a couple of friends in the General Assembly, the ball rolled quickly and my MRI was approved. My wife, Carol, justifiably questioned what happens to all those people who don’t have connections? Maybe they should call their legislators, too.

But I was still a ways from getting an MRI. Armed with the approval letter, my doc suggested I call RI Medical Imaging and make an appointment.  What I learned is that a lot of people are looking to get an MRI. I felt lucky to get an opening on a Saturday at 11 a.m. in East Greenwich. The day before the scheduled event, I received a voice mail that they had to cancel because the machine was down. I signed up for 8 a.m. the following Sunday, feeling grateful that I was able to get an appointment.

It proved to be a great time for a MRI. With only four cars in the East Greenwich medical parking lot, I wondered if in fact they would be open. I was greeted with a cheery “good morning” and handed a sheath of questions I had already answered online and on the phone.

Samantha showed me to a row of cubicles with privacy curtains and a locker where I was to leave my clothes with the exception of underwear and socks. A teal short-sleeved shirt and matching pants were waiting for me on a bench. A minute or two later I was shown into a “control room” that looked out on the MRI machine.

I picked classical as the genre of music before ear plugs were placed in each ear and a set of ear phones over that. I stretched out on the roiling bed face up; told not to move; a ball with a button was placed on my chest which I was to use if I needed help and rolled into a brightly lit tube. The roof of the tube was maybe four inches from my nose. What would happen if I sneezed? I didn’t find out.  I was asked if I was okay. I asked to have the piano concerto turned down, which they did.

Then the washing cycle started, not that I was jostled. Rather, there was a series of tumbling and rattling sounds that drowned out the concerto. I relaxed, eyes closed, imagining how I would color this experience. Blue patterns drifted into view. The thumping stopped. I detected the movement of devices below me that I was to learn was an adjustment to gain another perspective of the same area.

Was I going into the rinse cycle?

This sequence of throbbing noises – at one point akin to a beeping car alarm, only it was more of a fog horn – was repeated several times before I heard in my ear phones “only two more.”  I must be ready for the spin cycle, I thought.

Indeed, that what it was. In five minutes I was rolled out and free to return to my cubicle. But, of course, I had questions. Amazingly, the imaging center is open seven days a week and as many as 20 MRIs are conducted daily. And this is only one center.  I would have lingered to learn more, but Samantha was ushering me out  and as I returned to my cubicle, Gary, dressed in the same uniform I was wearing – undoubtedly having answered all the questions I had about steel parts in your body – was ready to be put through the washing machine.

side up, MRI, medical


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