Sometimes the past sneaks up and bonks you on the head with a two-by-four and you are left gasping for breath and life.
When I checked in at the clinic there was no warning sign of what lay ahead. Nor was my memory yelling stop.
Maybe because the lady who checked me in had red hair and lots of freckles. Just like me. In fact I couldn’t help looking at all her freckles and wondering who had more. When she asked me to hold out my wrist so she could slip a plastic identification bracelet around it, I joked and asked if that was because they were afraid I might faint and they needed to know who to call?
I wandered back to radiology and changed into a gown. One of those lovely green looking cotton gowns that have faded to nothing more than a few strings with tissue paper fabric from all the washings.
So far no warnings. Maybe because the receptionist had said that there had been great improvements in MRI’s. Maybe because it had also been a busy day and there hadn’t been time to think about the procedure.
Daniel, my technician, came to fetch me from my cubicle and we walked into the large and rather dim radiology room.
He had me take a seat on the long tongue like bed of the machine, joking with me and asking me questions. He velcro-ed a plastic upraised shoulder pad type thing around my right shoulder, saying this was to hold my shoulder in place during the MRI.
I lay down and he placed a squeezable sand pillow in my right hand saying that it would keep my arm in place and give my hand something to do.
That should have been clue number one.
Why did my hand need something to grab onto?
He placed a plastic bulb in my left hand, telling me to squeeze it if I had an emergency
That was clue two, for those counting.
An emergency? That did not sound good. And what kind of emergency was he talking about?
I was going to ask, but he distracted me by asking what kind of music I liked to listen to. Then he was placing ear phones over my ears and telling me he would see me in 20 minutes.
Twenty minutes? It takes that long?
I was beginning to panic a little, and then I remembered what the receptionist had said. Things had changed a lot in the last 20 some years since I had had my last MRI.
I was wondering how much things had changed, when the bed started sliding into the metal tube. Suddenly I realized I had not taken a look at the machine. That I had forgotten what a MRI was like. That I had not prepared myself for this.
It was too late. My bed was sliding inside and unless I screamed out bloody murder and squeezed my panic button, this MRI was going down. And it was going down right now.
My eyes darted around and I realized the tube was about three inches from my face. Gulp. I quickly closed my eyes, knowing there was no way I was going to be able to keep them open and not go crazy with claustrophobia.
Music started blaring in my ears as I felt the bed eaten by the tube. I pulled my arms closed to the sides of my body as the metal sides slid against them.
I am being eaten alive, I thought.
This is what my coffin will feel like, only it will hopefully be softer, I thought.
I can’t do this, I thought.
And then memories of my first MRI rushed into my mind in full blazing color and I knew they had put the wrist band on me, not in case I passed out, but in case I died of fright in the tube.
It was after our terrible car accident. I had a broken back and other injuries and I needed an MRI. Orderlies came to my room, where I had been installed only an hour earlier, and slid me from my hospital bed to the gurney. At radiology they slid me onto the MRI table and strapped me to the table. While inside the whirling machine, I started to feel bile rise and I frantically squeezed the panic button. Up it came. Suddenly I was trying to lift my head and claw myself out of there. By the time the table slid out I was throwing up. I couldn’t sit up because of my back and being strapped to the bed. All I could do was turn my head and throw up on myself.
As I lay there with my eyes squeezed tight enough to give the rest of my face a lift, all I could think about was me panicking, throwing up, and trying to get out of the tube as quickly as possible.
I took some deep breaths and closed my eyes even tighter. Maybe if I didn’t open them, I wouldn’t know I was here. The whirling and clacking of the machine told me otherwise.
Breathe, I told myself.
Lord help me, I repeated over and over.
One song down. Maybe 6 more to go.
Calm down, or you will have to start all over again.
For twenty torturous minutes, I lay there wishing I was anywhere but in a loud whirling and beeping tube. I tried my best not to panic. Tied to not remember my first experience. Tied not to get claustrophobic. Tied to remember that this too shall end. Tied to remember to breathe. Relax.
The machine would stop whirling, and I would think, it’s done, and then it would start beeping so loud my rings were vibrating on my fingers. Actually, my fillings and whole body seemed to be vibrating. Then silence would descend and I could hear the music again. Then the whirling and swooshing would start up.
I remembered stories of people being buried alive. Of people digging up coffins and seeing scratch marks on the lid. Of people being buried with a string on their finger that ran to a bell.
I counted the songs and decided at three minutes a song that only seven songs were necessary.
I told myself to breathe. And chanted, Help me Lord.
I wondered if I would be able to get out if the electricity shut down.
I wondered how long 20 minutes was.
I kept telling myself. just one more song. Hold on for just one more song.
I wondered how quickly I could crawl out backwards. And if I would fall on the floor.
I wondered how long it would take for Daniel to back me out of the machine after I pushed the panic button.
I wondered all sorts of things. None of them serene and pretty. And at regular intervals I kept chanting, Lord, help me.
You probably know I survived because I am writing this. I am happy to say I did not give myself a concussion trying to raise my head and scoot myself out of there.
Eventually I felt the bed moving out. I finally allowed my fingers to relax their petrified grip and my eyes to jump open when the bed stopped moving. I was free at last from the confines of the metal tube. What sweet relief I felt.
I had imagined jumping off and kissing the floor. Or maybe fainting from all the tension and excitement. But I did neither. Which was a little anti-climatic. I instead kept my cool, got dressed. and collapsed in my car. Sitting there for a while until I felt I could safely drive.
I am sure you have had periods of life that felt like this. Where your eyes are squeezed tightly shut and all the what if’s are running through your brain. Where you are holding on for dear life just trying to breathe. Where you feel you are stuck in a whirling metal cage that is eating you alive and killing you with claustrophobia.
You may even be there now.
I am telling you that eventually the whirling and beeping stop and you are allowed to hear again. The darkness will turn to light. Your bed will slide from the tunnel vision prison.
It may not feel like it now as you are holding on for dear life thinking you are being swallowed up by life and its weight. But eventually all rides end.
Remember to breathe. To calm your thoughts. To focus on hope, joy, and grace. To keep your eyes fixed on him, even if all you can say is, Help me Lord. Because while we might feel abandoned, he is there in the tube with us. Helping and calming us. Even when it doesn’t feel like it. Even when we feel alone.
After the MRI when Daniel asked how I had done, I told him that all I could think of was my first MRI and throwing up.
Well you didn’t appear panicked, he said. You did just fine.
I hadn’t done it well or perfectly or even prettily, but I had survived and gotten through.
And that is what you have to do. Don’t worry about doing it right, or perfectly, or knowing all the answers. You are in survival mode, just trying to get through the next 10 minutes. Don’t try to figure it out. Just breathe. You are not expected to have all the answers as you traverse this uncharted territory. You just need to get through the tube. That’s the goal. Because life and light are waiting on the other side.
Thanks for stopping by. Keep remembering what’s important!
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Join the Discussion: How do you keep from panicking when in the dark tubes of life? Any specific tips?