So I recently wrote that I haven’t been very well lately and had to go to an opthamologist after an optician appointment, which then referred me for an MRI. Having the MRI is to rule out more serious reasons why there is some pressure, why I’m getting headaches and why my optic nerve is bulging – otherwise known as Papilledema. There’s no way to put it but I completely freaked out at the mention of having an MRI because despite not having any real serious symptoms, what if something is picked up. I haven’t got my results yet but I’ll write up an update when I do. I wanted to write this blog post sharing my experience of having a brain scan because it’s quite an intimidating thought and hopefully my experience of what happened will help put your mind to rest if you need to have one. I know that these procedures can vary from trust to trust so our experience might not be exactly the same but I always find knowing something in advance helps me to control some of my anxiety and fears.
One thing I was worried about was having an MRI as a fat person who is currently avoiding weighing herself because it triggers binge eating episodes. I had already weighed myself recently for a referral for weight management help through my GP so I didn’t have to have that done again thankfully. Interestingly off topic – I started my mission to be anti diet two years ago and I have not put on weight during that time whereas during my time of constant dieting on and off I was down, down and then up and up and up. I think if I had carried on dieting I would have been much heavier. I am the biggest I’ve been but I’m no bigger now I am no longer dieting. So anti dieting absolutely helps you to stop putting on weight.
My opthamology appointment was at my local hospital which is partnered with two larger hospitals within the trust so I knew the referral would be for one of those. Logistically, being a non-driver, I knew this was going to cause a bit of an issue and I was told the wait for an MRI was around a month to six weeks or so. On Tuesday morning I got a call from the trust informing me of availability the very next day at 9am. Thankfully my mum was able to have the kids and Adam was able to drive me to the appoinment. I spoke to a lot of friends and my support network online to try and get a feel for what to expect. There’s nothing like the complete unexpected to raise my anxiety to a high point and I spent a lot of Tuesday feeling scared. I don’t think I managed to eat much that day either. However, in hindsight, I’m really glad I had such an early morning appointment and it was so last minute because I didn’t have enough time to really let the anxiety build and by 10am the next day I was back in the car on my way home.
Having an MRI scan can be a pretty scary thing, and I knew I’d find keeping so still really difficult because of my potential ADHD – I am always chewing my tongue, moving my facial features, biting my lip ring, like I’m always moving some part of my body and I was so scared that moving my eyes slightly, blinking and breathing was going to prevent the scan from getting the images that were needed. I will say that even though I didn’t find it easy, I did cope with it, I did get it done and if I had to go for one again I would be able to manage – that fear of the unknown is gone and that has helped. Of course I am still anxious about the results but I am trying to be quite optimisitic. Below is my experience of having an MRI scan in Hampshire and what to expect when having an MRI brain scan.
What to wear for an MRI
I was googling all sorts of weird questions – even down to should I wear deodarant or not because that has aluminium in it. There was no list of what I should/should not wear, I just knew no metal but didn’t really consider cosmetics. I took my lipring out of course and then just wore a plain cotton tshirt, leggings, socks and trainers. I didn’t wear a bra but I changed into one after the scan because I don’t feel comfortable without one being very top heavy. I didn’t have to chane into a gown, I kept my shoes and socks on – really reassuring for my sensory issues as I can’t have bare feet. A lot of people said the rooms are really cold but I found it to be a little on the warm side – however this could have been my anxiety. I had to wear a non-metal mask whilst in the machine because of COVID and that was something I didn’t anticipate and was concerned about. Think comfy, loose clothing like loungewear but make sure there are no zips, metal buttons or anything like that. I personally chose to avoid Lyrcra too.
Having an MRI at Basingstoke Candover Clinic
The clinic is situated at the back of Basingstoke hospital and has limited parking. Adam dropped me off outside and came back to collect me when I was done. I walked into the main reception and it was very nice. I remember just thinking it’s very nice here. There were toilets just inside and then a short walk down the hall to the MRI department. When I walked into the reception for the MRI department I burst into tears which, to be fair, is a very ‘me’ thing to do. The receptionist was really calm and reassured me whilst I filled in my paperwork and then it was a short wait for the MRI scanning technician person – I don’t know what they are called – radiologist? who came to get me and lead me through to a private changing room. As I said I didn’t have to change my clothes into a gown but it did have a locker where I could put my bag before going into the scanning room. The staff, whose names I cannot remember, but they were male and very calm people, were really good with me and just reassured me to do my best when I mentioned I was nervous and struggled staying still.
Going into the MRI room I swapped my mask for a metal free one and placed the locker key down on a side bed before walking over to the machine. I was helped to lay down and given noise reducing headphones to block out the noise of the scanner and they played a radio station for me which, whilst I couldn’t hear it most of the time, was helpful. When you have a scan of your brain they cushion your head to help support it and keep you very still and then there is a cage that locks into place over your face. This was really difficult to cope with however, there was a mirror right above my eyes that looked out into the room where I could see the people operating the scanner and that did help with the claustrophobia. I was only about half way in the scanner with my head in the centre and the rest of my body from the tummy down was outside. I had a pillow under my legs for support and to be honest I was relatively comfortable.
When inside the MRI machine I could hear a tanoy sort of thing come on when the person doing my scan would tell me what is going on. I asked if he would count me down every so often to help so every ten minutes he would tell me how long was left which I found really, really helpful. I was told the scan would take around 30 minutes providing they could complete all the scans and get the images. I was again asked to stay as still as possible and to keep my eyes open looking in the mirror above or to just close my eyes. I was also giving a squeezey ball buzzer which I could press at anytime to ask to be removed from the scan. Having something to hold was actually really helpful for me and I didn’t feel the need to use the buzzer at any point but it’s reasurring to know that it can be stopped if needed. The MRI machine is really noisy even with the headphones on but it wasn’t actually that bad. At one point the pattern of the machines and vibration sort of felt like a massage and a heavy techno dance sound. It was a bit weird but kind of distracting too. I felt my eyes drifting offcassionally and I would move my gaze up and each time I did that I was worried that I had messed up the scan but as far as I know everything was fine. There were a couple of times I sort of jerked my arms up too when the machine moved slightly it made me jump but I think I managed to keep my head still. I found though after these moments my shoulders would be really tense and it was hard to get them to relax down. I also felt my left hand sort of claw up a bit mimicking my right hand that was clasping the buzzer ball.
During the last ten minutes of the MRI scan I was told there were two long scans, one was about two minutes long and the final one would be six minutes. Just before the six minute scan I was reminded and reassured again. I actually just found myself counting that one down by repeatedly counting to sixty in my head. Just as that scan ended I saw one of the technicians come back into the room through the mirror so that kind of helped me know that I would be coming out soon and I was done. I was then told them would be bringing me out and it was done. Two staff members helped me to sit back up and offered me some water before it was time to get my things and go. There was no inkling as to what the scan showed, I was told the images would be sent to a radiologist and I would know the results within about ten days to two weeks so I’m expecting to hear something at the end of next week or the start of the week after.