Thursday, 10 May 2012


I was lying on my back on a PVC-covered reclining couch, with no trousers and my shirt pulled up round my chest. "All done, you can clean yourself up with these paper towels", she said, briskly.  I slid off, and wiped away improbable quantities of a gel-like substance from my stomach, groin and legs.  It took about half a dozen towels before I was in a dry enough state to get my clothes back on.  It was, I thought of remarking, a bit like waking up after a particularly entertaining dream, aged sixteen, but she was busy putting away various appliances, and our relationship -- so recently so intimate -- was clearly coming to a rapid end.  It seemed inappropriate.

I've had two sets of scans recently.  One to check the circulation in my lower half, to see whether this might be the cause of the painful "shin splints" I've been enduring, and one to see whether some faulty circuitry in my head might be causing the deafness that drives my family nuts ("Sorry, what did you just say?").

The bottom half experience was harmless enough, if slightly reminiscent of the scenes in The Singing Detective when Nurse Mills rubs grease into Marlow's skin.  The nurse had to squeeze electrolytic gel all over my legs, groin and stomach in order to investigate the state of my tubes with what felt like a paperweight.  Apparently I'm very healthy, with a good pulse and no obstructions, which is good to know.

The MRI scan of my head, though, was a different matter altogether. I've had an MRI before, some years ago when they were investigating my tinnitus, so knew what to expect.  Back then, it was rather like being slid head-first into a narrow stainless steel oven; it is definitely not an experience for the claustrophobic.  Knowing this, they would put a panic button in your hand, and there was a periscope mirror inside so you could see a distorted image of outside ("outside" being nothing more comforting, though, than a bleak fluorescent-lit room full of baffling wires and pipes).  Nothing much has changed since.  The scanner is less oven-like, but you still get to clutch a panic button, and you're still slid in like a shell into a cannon, although now there's no periscope -- you just get to stare at a curve of beige moulded plastic a few inches from your nose.

It's the noise, though.  Despite the ear-protectors, nothing can prepare you for the unpleasantness of the noise.  It starts up suddenly, loud and industrial, like a malfunction in a nuclear power plant, and goes on and on and on and on.  The initial "short three minute scan" seems to last forever.  But the full twenty-minute job takes you into psychedelic territory -- you are stuck eternally inside a machine which makes progressively louder and stranger whoops and grinds.  It starts to shake and emit panic-inducing alarm sounds. You are a pigeon sucked inside a jet engine, or a spider inside a vacuum cleaner.  It is hellish, and only borderline tolerable.  I found myself obsessively wondering whether I had, in fact, forgotten about any piercings or shrapnel or dentistry or other metal foreign bodies that might suddenly erupt out of my head, sucked out by the intense magnetic field.

When, finally, it was finished and I was rolled out again, I said something like, "Blimey, that was unpleasant". The technician replied, "Well, we're not here for entertainment!", and I confess I contemplated violence.  But it can't be fun, putting people through that several times a day, so I simply retrieved my metallic impedimenta and got out of there.

If you detect personality changes over the next weeks, you'll know what has happened.  My mind has been rummaged through with a magnet, like a careless customs examination, and I'm still cramming bits back into place.

Closely-observed marbles...
A "through the viewfinder" image (Kodak Duoflex)


Martin said...

Glad all is well down below, so to speak. Have you discovered any chalk marks, left by customs, after emerging from the MRI?

Mike C. said...

Well (and here I go into elderly gent mode, mistaking "How are you?" for a question), it's a bit annoying having the single most likely cause of shin splints eliminated -- from here on in, it begins to look like a case of witchcraft.


Gavin McL said...

I'm glad nothing sinister was found though I can imagine your disappointment in not locating the reason for your shin splints. They are very unpleasant, I have suffered from them before - purely self inflicted though. I got from running. I tried several possible cures and ended up having custom made insoles made after a burly Canadian watched me run on a treadmill using some video technology. He then heated up, ground and manipulated some insoles and handed them over as passed over somewhere north of £100. I wasn't wholly convinced it would work but it has.
I have also endured a MRI scan (mine was to identify the source of my sciatica) I was warned that it was really unpleasant but to be honest it didn't find it too bad and I actually drifted off for awhile. I suspect a youth spent exploring caves and a career spent in engine rooms and construction yards may be a better preparation for a MRI scan than working in a library.
I like the thru the viewfinder look the colours are good


Mike C. said...


I've already had the insoles, though they were off the peg from the NHS, and based on watching me walk up and down a hospital corridor -- not very hi-tech, and pretty ineffective into the bargain.

Amazing -- it seems to me you are possibly ideally and uniquely suited to experiencing MRI as a recreational activity, which probably means you are perfect astronaut material. How do you feel about a trip to Mars?

The TTV thing is fun, but gets boring fairly quickly. It makes more sense to fake it, really, which is easily done by taking one blank white TTV shot and merging it as a layer in Photoshop.


Profligatographer said...

Before going into an MRI, I take a strong tranquilizer (and have someone to drive me home afterwards). That makes it just tolerable.

As for the summer night in a field full of insects (tinnitus), I have grown used to it over the years, and even see value in it for a visual artist, because it is much easier to ignore all the 'aual interference' (people talking) and concentrate on the visual.


Mike C. said...

Thanks, Profligatographer, I feel less of a wimp compared to Gavin, now!

I, too, have also got used to the background tinnitus, a bit like the hiss on an analogue radio, but when it was bad (which, thankfully, it hasn't been for a couple of years now) it was like my ears were "prepared pianos" -- certain frequencies and tones set off weird buzzes and annoying resonances. Listening to music became impossible (unless I was in a John Cage kind of mood), and conversation in some environments quite difficult.

No medical explanation was ever forthcoming, and no remedy ever prescribed -- it just went away. Again, I suspect witchcraft may have been the only satisfactory hypothesis.


eeyorn said...

Glad to hear your circulation checked out OK. As you evidently do a lot of walking, I'd suggest you revisit the insole idea, hopefully with someone who knows what they're talking about. Alternatively, visit someone who knows about 'Alexander technique'.

My sympathies about the tinnatus, my mum used to sffer from it along with Meunieres disease. I thought tinnatus was pretty much untreatable, short of an earole transplant?

I know a few good witches who may be able to help :-)

Mike C. said...


I think the thing is that, like so many things that cause us to waste so many hours in medical waiting rooms, tinnitus is a symptom, not a condition. Doctors can treat a condition, once they've identified it with their Observer's Book of Conditions. The problem is, quite often you don't have an obvious condition.

The great advantage of "alternative" medicine (about which I am deeply sceptical) over "conventional" medicine is that it focusses on treating symptoms. In the end, it has about the same success rate as the GP who says, "Go away, take painkillers, and come back in 2 weeks if it hasn't gone away"...