Anyone will tell you: this is not supposed to happen. Hospital machines don't malfunction, and no one but a direct descendant of Joseph Mengele would ever design a machine that you lie inside like a corn dog that offers no escape hatch in case of malfunction.
Nobody likes an MRI machine. It is not natural to be happy, or even okay with being in a space that encloses you all all sides. In fact, it is so unnatural that they must mask your senses with things like fans blowing on your face, and big fat headphones playing Jimmy Buffet, or worse -- Nickelback-- to help you think you are somewhere else for 45 minutes. Some people even take drugs (given to them by doctors) in order to manage their time in one of those curvy, coffin shaped copy machines. I should have.
I showed up on a windy Friday night to have an MRI of my neck. Since I was in eye-crossing pain, I had nothing better to do that evening. I sat in the faux Tuscan waiting room and watched the path of Tropical storm Fay beat a path to my city's doorstep on a television that was nicer than the one at my house. Masochistic weather reporters were getting whipped by the wind and rain, saying things like, "Be careful!" "It may be more dangerous than it looks," and "Anything can happen," and I should have heeded their warnings.
The heavy, lead-encased wooden door creaked open and Lurch's mother, with an open folder in her hands, called my name.
She asked me to strip naked, even though she would be taking films of my neck, which is located very high up on my body. I think this was her way of kicking up her Friday night, because when I came out in a little speckled gown, knock-kneed and shivering, she smirked behind her folder.
She asked me some questions very slowly, as if she thought I was mentally impaired, or she herself were in some sort of special work program. She asked questions about numbness, tingling, movement, and accidents, and she explained how things would go, while I stood shivering with my buttocks hanging out of the back of the gown for no real reason, since, again, she was about to take pictures of my neck.
"First, we are going to take some images of you. It is important to not breathe or swallow during the cycles, as the machine is very sensitive. Then, after we do about a half hour, I'm going to inject some radioactive dye into your body and we'll take some more images. You don't have any kidney disease, do you, because this dye is known to cause death in people with certain types of kidney problems."
My chilly shivering turned to trembles of fear.
"Hop right up," she said as she patted a long tray with a sheet on it. Within 45 seconds she had expertly locked my neck in a plastic and foam neck holder with what I think were Rollerblade lock mechanisms, and I was unable to move my head at all. She also strapped my arms to my sides so, you guessed it, I wouldn't claw my way out of the tube, which is what I was already thinking of doing. She then stuffed foam ear plugs into my ears and shoved a turkey baster bulb up into one of my clenched fists. Once the earplugs had expanded in my ear canals and I couldn't hear anything, she started giving me instructions.
"Squeeze the bulb if you need to come out at any point during the procedure."
"The test takes about an hour."
The woman left the room and I started to hear mechanical noises. My buttocks clenched as the tray slid slowly into the coffin tube. I kept my eyes closed until the tray stopped moving, then took a peek.
My face was so close to the top end of the coffin tube that if I had one more inch of tongue, I could have licked it. My own breath on my hot face made me grateful that I had brushed my teeth. Then a fan started blowing fresh air against my face.
The machine started to buzz and click and hum, and I closed my eyes and began to enact my MRI Sanity Plan -- I started visualizing my entire life in detail, from the first moment I could remember. The magnetic pull of the machine started to do strange things to the images I saw underneath my eyelids. I was all the way into my first day of Kindergarten, where I was smelling my long, brand new cable knee socks and Buster Brown shoes, when the humming stopped and started and stopped again. I opened my eyes and saw that it was completely dark in the windowless room.
"Surely, she'll come for me," I thought. I couldn't hear anything because of the earplugs, and I couldn't move my arms to unstrap my neck and slide myself out.
The only sound I heard was the ringing in my own ears and after a few moments, my heart pounding in my chest. I started to count my heartbeats. After about three hundred heartbeats, the woman came back in and shouted something at me that I couldn't hear. She gave me a thumbs up and an "OK" sign, then left again.
The lights flickered, then went out, then flickered. The machine began to hum and vibrate, then....nothing.
I waited, thinking, "No one would leave someone stuck in an MRI machine. Right?" My heartbeat answered me. I began to squeeze the turkey baster bulb over and over.
The woman came back in and shrieked, "Look, I'm rebooting the whole system. If we stop now, we'll lose everything and you'll have to come back again. Can you hang in there five more minutes?"
I shrieked back, "YES!" and closed my eyes to wait. I will not freak out I will not freak out I will not freak out I will not freak out, and when I did not, I realized that I wasn't in danger and it wasn't so bad. All it took was a little mental control to stay put --simply stay put and not move -- which brought me to one of my favorite child-rearing themes -- raising children who have self--discipline.
How do we raise children who are able to discipline themselves, to put their needs before their desires and become the kind of adults who don't freak out?
We make them wait for rewards. We let natural consequences happen - -a far better teacher than a nagging mother or father. We model self discipline by saying aloud things like, "I'm really going to enjoy reading my book once I've finished the dishes." We don't bail them out unless they really need a hand, preferring instead to let them extricate themselves out of little pickles they get into during the course of growing up.
I struggle with self-discipline. I really do. Sometimes I call it "ADD," sometimes I call it "overwork," or "fatigue," and sometimes I call it "laziness." Of all my faults, lack of self-discipline may be my worst one. I struggle, okay, suck at naturally modeling it for my children. I have to fake it much of the time, and do things that aren't natural for me, like finish one book before I start another, or worse -- keep from cussing when I get angry. Strangely, this actually makes me more self-disciplined. Even at my "advanced" age, I can work to improve it in myself, and strive to be a better example. This is so important. I'll say it again: your children are your mirror. What you do, they will copy.
I waited patiently without moving in that MRI machine for 30 more minutes, while the technician worked to reboot the system. It never did work, and I never did freak out. I waited calmly and thought about my life. Somewhere around my 9th grade dance, where I slow danced with a tall, smooth Senior to a Lionel Richie song, the woman and another tech manually slid me out from the machine, and I had to go back another day. But I had a cool story about keeping my cool when I went home that night, even though my neck still hurt and I had a pulled muscle from the uncontrollable buttock clenching.