Fugazi, circa 199something.

The Modern Rock of Magnetic Resonance Imaging

In preparation for my new course of medication the doctor wanted to map out what exactly was going on in the digestive system, and also rule out any possible infections. The medication I’m going to be taking is known as “immunotherapy.” As I understand it, it compromises the immune system to encourage recovery of intestinal lining via natural bacteria that exist in the upper and lower intestines and related plumbing. Or something to that effect. It’s also made from mouse genes, so thanks, mice who gave up those genes. Having an up-to-date lay of the land eliminates the possibility of making a bad infection worse, and establishes a baseline against which we can measure improvements.

I have experienced three different ways to map the body’s pipes. My layman’s understanding is that Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRIs) provide sufficient image fidelity without the greater expense of CAT scans or methods that require exploratory surgery with anesthetic, such as a colonoscopy. I’d had several MRI procedures before, but I don’t get them that often, so I forget how bizarre they are until I have to get one.

A traditional MRI machine for getting shot into “loud space.”

There are more modern MRI machines, but most traditional ones take images in a relatively tight tube with a giant, donut like structure surrounding it. I assume this structure contains magnets that resonate through the various densities of my body’s tissue to create an image. While the images are generated I lay on a flat surface that is automagically rolled into and out of the tube. If contrast is injected, my IV arm sticks out of the tube at an uncomfortable angle. The medical technicians will do what they can to make me comfortable, but no matter how many pillows or blankets they provide, MRIs are still really loud. Quite loud. So loud that I can clearly hear the rhythmic, booming, grating, and deeply intonated honks, beeps, and zings through the very thick earplugs provided.

If alien spacecraft had giant, broken, purely digital exhaust pipes, it would sound just like an MRI. I’ve closed my eyes and imagined myself as being rolled into the torpedo bay of the Starship Enterprise in the same way that Spock’s lifeless body was in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but with a much more off-putting bagpipe accompaniment. The sounds are deafening and unsettling both in tone and in unpredicatbility. They are highly mechanical, but vary enough to keep my attention and prevent me from dozing off in an already awkward situation. So a lot of songs pop into my head. Songs with robotic, repetitive rhythms, high pitched squeals, and spaced apart, thunderous booms.

I‘ve heard several hundred songs enough times to have them buried in the recesses of my subconscious. Getting through as much of these songs as the shifting bleats and bleeps allow seems to be a decent way for me to pass the time. The songs that pop into my head the most when I’m sitting in an MRI machine are:

Obstacle 1, by Interpol
Hard to Explain, by the Strokes
Learned It, by Girls Against Boys
Going Blind, by the Melvins
Facet Squared, by Fugazi

Now that I look at the list, each song gets increasingly more bleak and frantic.

Because that’s what happens to me during an MRI.