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A Ride in MRI

Doc gets a brain scan in a General Electric torpedo tube.

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A Ride in an MRI. . .

           A hospital orderly wheeled me down a long corridor and slammed my gurney through heavy double doors emblazoned with warning placards:   NOTICE!  DANGER!  Magnetic fields!   Armageddon!  Nuclear Holocaust!  High Noise Levels!  Funny Smells!  Geeky and Odd Looking Technicians!  Pity The Fool Who Goes in Here!  Or, something like that - I can't be sure. It all went by so fast.

            And then, there it was: the MRI Machine.

            In the center of a white room was a big white box about the size of your average storage shed. Maybe a storage shed big enough to park a lawn tractor and a few tools but not as big as a one-car garage. Or better yet, it was about as big as a 30 yard dumpster or a 24 ft U-Haul Truck. White walls. White floor. White ceiling. White lab coats. The only thing in the room that wasn't white was the giant red GE logo on the side of big white box.

            A General Electric MRI?

            Back when I was an appliance serviceman, I carried an unproven suspicion the General Electric had a secret agenda in their designs. If one were to take the back covers off a typical electric oven and look at the way the circuit is designed, it is a fairly straightforward layout. Power goes through the clock, a selector switch, the thermostat, a current relay and finally to the heating elements. However, GE ovens seemed to me to be unnecessarily complicated with extra irrelevant relays and clunky, awkward switching devices.

            Once, I had the opportunity to meet a retired electrical engineer who had worked in one of the appliance divisions of GE. I asked him about my 'secret agenda' theory. He shrugged and denied there as any such 'secret agenda'. But, he pointed out the designs could simply be some corporate marketing at work. General Electric could be just using their proprietary designs to support their own manufacturing facilities while increasing the odds of selling a few extra parts over the lifetime of the unit.   Nothing wrong with that, right?

A General Electric MRI?            On the end closest to me was the entrance to the MRI. The mouth. It was a hole in the wall of the box roughly measuring the diameter of an extra-large pizza pie. Into this pie-hole, The Geeky and Odd Looking Technician planned to stuff . . . ME.

            My orderly rolled the gurney to flank the MRI table; a narrow platform on tracks which lead down the throat of the pie-hole. He helped me slide over and then he whisked the gurney out the heavy double doors without a word. That left me alone with the MRI and The Geeky and Odd Looking MRI Technician.

            To be fair, The Geeky and Odd Looking Technician seemed nice enough. He gave me some earplugs, mentioning casually that, "It gets a little loud in there." He asked me to lay on my back and center my cranium inside a sort of iron-maiden head-restraint built into the MRI table. He tucked heavy foam pillows around my head. "These are so you don't move", the Technician explained. "You don't want to move. If you move, the images will be fuzzy and we will have to do it again."

            Then, he lowered a cage down onto my face and secured it to the iron-maiden head-restraint. He clicked some latches and then cinched two straps tight. I felt the cage press into my forehead. "There . . . You're not going anywhere."

            I felt my first tinge of claustrophobia.

            The cage cover over my head provided a view not unlike the world as seen from inside a football helmet - only with more bars in the way. Or maybe, a better description would be a hockey goalie mask without the eye holes. Anyway, it gave me the creeps. Nothing to look at anyway, I told myself. So, I closed my eyes and tried to think of something pleasant to shake off the claustrophobic uneasiness. But, all that came to mind was German U-boats.

            In the movies, there is the familiar scene of a submarine burial at sea where they load the stricken sailor into the torpedo tube, close the cover and screw down a big wheel. The Captain mutters an uncomfortable prayer then gives the order, " Three, Two, One . . .Fire!".

            A few years back, I toured the W.W.II German U-boat U-505 on display at Chicago's museum of Science and Industry. I recall the looking inside one of four long tubes where they would load the torpedoes for firing.   Indeed, it was big enough for a person to fit in a torpedo tube.

            And, now I was strapped to a table with my face in a cage about to be loaded into a very similar looking tube.

            The Geeky and Odd Looking Technician patted me twice on the chest. "I'm going to the control room now. You'll be in here by yourself but I have audio in the control room. If you need anything just say it and I'll hear it. Keep your elbows tight to your sides or they might get caught. . . and don't move."

            If you need anything just say it, I thought. Sure. Considering I am wearing a face cage strapped to a table which has rendered my jaw immovable, I hope he can understand what I mean if I say 'mmph mmm mmm mmm mmm'. . .

            . . . Hey! And what about that part where my elbows get caught? What was that all about?

            Just then, the table started to advance. Like a log into the sawmill, like a salami into the meat slicer, I was strapped to a table moving into the hole. I closed my eyes and tried again to focus on something pleasant. But, again it was German U-boats. All I could visualize was something out of an old Hollywood 'B' movie where the German sailors are always sweaty and talk English with a bad German accent.

an old Hollywood 'B' movie where the German sailors are always sweaty and talk English with a bad German accent            "Bridge to Torpedo Room: Prepare for zee burial at Sea! Load our fallen comrade into zee torpedo tube!"

            "Aye, Herr Captain!"

            "May God have Mercy on his soul".

            My elbows brushed a seam in the wall of the tube as my table moved slowly inside the big white box.. Through my face cage, I became aware of a dim fluorescent lamp on the ceiling of the tube. The table stopped when my head was directly under the light. Wouldn't you know it? I thought. A light at the end of the tunnel. I'll bet some wise-guy design engineer in the MRI division of GE is still laughing about putting a light at the end of the tunnel - the wrong end.

            Click, Click, Click . . . BRAAAAAP!

            Yikes! The Geeky and Odd Looking Technician wasn't exaggerating when he mentioned it would 'get a little loud' ! Even wearing earplugs, I was shocked at the volume of the noise. The sound was crisper and faster than hammering on sheet metal. It was higher pitched and louder than the sound a jackhammer makes. Imagine what it would sound like if someone fired rounds from a machine gun while sitting inside an oil drum.

            Click, Click, Click . . . BRAAAAAP!

            "Torpedo Room To Bridge: Herr Captain!"

            "What's happening down there?"

            "Captain! Someone is firing a machine gun!"

            Click, Click, Click . . . BRAAAAAP!

            "Three clicks and a short burst! What's going on?

            "Loading the ammo belts. Acquiring his target"


            "Everybody down! Can you see where the shots are coming from?"


            "Stay down, I tell ya! He's got to run out of ammo sometime!"

            Click, Click, Click . . . BRAAAAAP!

            "Oh No! He's reloading!

            "Just stay down until the shooting stops! AND DON'T MOVE!"

            "Aye, Herr Captain!"



            "Oh, will it ever stop?"

            "Courage, Mate!   Make Der Fuhrer proud!

            "Aye, Herr Captain!"



            "STAY DOWN AND DON'T MOVE!"

            "Aye, aye"


            Click, Click, Click . . . and silence.

            My table began to move. The light at the end of the tunnel retreated beyond my forehead out of my field of vision. Soon, I felt my shirtsleeves catch on that seam in the wall of the tube as my table moved slowly by. I pulled my elbows close to my side and felt the sleeve fabric release. Finally, I could see a ceiling. I was out of the hole.

            The MRI Technician peered down into my face-cage. What a beautiful sight! Did I say he was 'Geeky?  Odd Looking'? I stand corrected! He started to loosen the straps. "Just keep still a little longer and we'll have you out."

            When the face-cage came off and I could move my jaw, I muttered, " That was SO much fun! Can we go again? Can we?"

            The Intelligent and Handsome Technician smirked, "That's enough for one day. We have to let others have their turn."

            "How did I do? Did I move?"

            "Yah, once. You jumped the first time and I had to start over. But after that, you were fine."

            "How much do you think this is going to cost?"

            "Oh, I can't say for sure. Brain scans are usually between one and two grand."

            I wondered if the price reflected unnecessarily complicated circuits with extra irrelevant relays and clunky, awkward switching devices. "Does GE make a decent MRI?"

            "I guess so. This is the only one I've ever operated so I can't compare. No one has ever asked me that question before."

            "Been running this MRI long?

            "Tomorrow will be my second day", the Technician deadpanned. "Kidding . . . Four years."

            An orderly arrived. He helped me scoot from the MRI table to a gurney and then expertly navigated my gurney out through the heavy double doors.

            While the orderly pushed my gurney down the corridor, I asked, "Have you ever been in an MRI?"

            "No, I haven't", he replied. "And I don't think I want to. People say it's kinda scary and really loud"

            "Yeah. I thought it was like sharing a torpedo tube with a machine gunner."

            "Huh. That's a pretty good one. I'll have to remember that."

            Back in the hospital, the Physician on Duty stopped by my bed.

            "Well, we have received the results of your brain scan. They came back negative."

            "Anything going on inside my skull?"

            "Nope. Not a thing."

            . . . But, we already knew that.



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