"There is no pain. The magnetic field and radio waves are not felt."
—Online Medical Encyclopedia on having an MRI
There's a funny swelling on my arm that I noticed this summer on vacation while taking a walk along the lake road with my mom. "Hm, this is funny," kind of thing. Below the elbow.
My naturopath thought it might be a lipoma or a cyst. He said go see someone who can order an MRI. I found an osteopath that is actually! covered! by! my! health! insurance! (United Healthcare). He thought it might be simple swelling from an injury or possibly a sarcoma. I had the MRI today.
Two very nice technicians positioned me on my stomach with my head turned in a way that would be comfortable for an owl but was rather severe for a mere human and told me not to move. This was after much finessing of pillows and towels; they did their best. After the first image was done—I assume it was done because the random knocking and buzzing had stopped—maybe during the second image, my arm began to tingle and spasm. This happened only from the elbow down, the part of me that was inside the smaller tube. The rest of me was crammed inside the larger tube, the one you see when you look at a picture of an MRI machine.
After 40 minutes or so of that, right before I was going to squeeze the panic button and tell them thanks but no thanks because my neck and shoulders were aching so much,the technicians popped my tray out of the MRI oven to give me an injection of gadolinium (look it up and ask if you're going to have it!) before the contrast images. I said "I'm having a weird sensation of tingling and spasms. I can feel the magnetism and it's rather unpleasant."
Nurse: That's probably your arm falling asleep from the awkward position.
Me: No. I don't feel it unless the machine is taking an image. It's the magnetism I'm feeling.
Technician: She's probably right. Some people are sensitive to radiomagnetic fields.
Oh yeah! I forgot! Cell phones, electrical lines, microwaves, all that good stuff that's not really so good, and sometimes we notice its effects! I thought of William Hurt at the end of Altered States, when his arm goes all barmy and primeval, with what appears to be throbbing string cheese spiraling under his skin. It felt like that looked, if you know what I mean.
Nurse: How about this injection? You ready?
Me: Not if this gadolinium stuff is going to make these sensations stronger, because I don't particularly like them.
Technician: That won't happen. The way it was explained to me, it's like a whole lot of little tiny magnets in your tissue, to make a better image.
I reminded myself that I was engaged in a safe and painless process and said well, okay.
I don't know what my bump is yet, but I do know that having an MRI is not necessarily a sensation-free experience. It took quite a bit of googling to find out anything but the "MRIs are Safe and Painless Unless You're a Severe Claustrophobe" School of Radiology.
I searched on MRI and sensitivity, sensations, tingling, radiomagnetic, may experience, I feel sensitive, electromagnetic, etc. Finally I reached various organizations that deal with ElectroSensitivity or Electrical Hypersensitivity.
I'm kind of sensitive to the term sensitive.
Feels like a way of blaming the canary.
My arm still feels weird.
I hope someone else who has experienced the sensations that can accompany the realignment of atoms in the human body will find this and feel a little less alone.
Here's a tune composed with MRI machine sounds as the percussive track
Here are MP3 files of the MRI machine sounds
That last site is for kids but it's better for adults about to have an MRI than the adult sites I looked at, except for the fact that no one mentions possible side effects experienced by those with electromagnetic sensitivity, and maybe they should.