137. A Bad MRI Experience

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"Boy, we just wasted a whole morning," Roy complained over the phone to his middle-aged son. Roy's wife had been scheduled for a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exam, because her shoulder had been bothering her for months. It had gotten to the point where her golf game was suffering—she couldn't break 120 anymore. Her drives, although still down the middle of the fairway, barely went 90 yards. Without the game of golf and the company of her golfing companions, Pat was a depressed woman.

Her doctor had recommended the MRI exam. For a shoulder exam, the patient lies face up on a flat metal "bed." The bed slides into the MRI machine, like a DVD sliding into a DVD player. The patient's nose is barely two inches from the metal ceiling. Many patients who are even slightly claustrophobic become nervous or even hysterical when they are slid into this compartment. The MRI operator has to slide them back out where they can "breathe" again. This happens regularly, even though patients are warned about the tomblike environment.

Pat's doctor had given her a sedative to take half an hour before the exam. He had also told her to wear a sleep mask, which would cover her eyes so that she wouldn't see the ceiling just inches from her face. Pat took the sedative and wore the mask. But as soon as she was slid all the way into the machine, she started screaming. The technician pushed the button to slide her back out. She was hyperventilating.

"Oh, my God! I could feel it! It was like I was being buried alive!" she exclaimed to her husband. "You're such a baby," Roy told her as they walked out of the MRI room.


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