Tuesday, December 2, 2008


I had an MRI today on my shoulder. I fell last summer and injured it. Several doctor visits later, my Federal employment health plan Kaiser authorized an MRI to see what's going on inside.

A few years back I had GEHA as my Federal employment health plan. I had a running related leg injury that my doctor prescribed an MRI for to see what was going on inside. GEHA administrators, who had never examined me, declined the MRI and said in effect, Thanks for being healthy due to running and thereby saving us a ton of money but good luck with your recurrent running injury, and your doctor's diagnosis recommendation is DENIED. Go to blazes GEHA.

This morning I paid a $75 co-pay for the MRI. The nurse who took me in asked if Dr. C had told me anything about the MRI.

"No," I said.


"Why, would I not show up for it if he did?"

"Well, we're going to inject dye into your shoulder socket. It sounds more horrible than it is. Dr. C is notorious for thinking patients won't show up if they know what's going to happen. But we can eliminate 99.9% of the pain. The doctor will be injecting pain medicine constantly as he inserts the needle."

The shoulder socket, she said. Not shoulder. Inject. Needle. I instantly started worrying about that 0.1%.

An MRI is a 2-step process, at least the one I underwent. They inject dye and take X-rays. Then they put you in the narrow cylinder and take images. I'll tell you about that in the next post.

As I was laying on the table, Doctor A came in and told me a joke to set me at ease. I immediately became suspicious. The following conversation ensued between him and the nurse as I lay there, sweating bullets.

"Why is the cone needle here? I need the bevel-needle".

"I thought you were injecting a lot of dye so I laid out the cone needle."

"Yes but I need the bevel-needle because we have to slide the point into the socket. A cone needle will get stuck when it hits the ball. But a bevel-needle will slide off the bone and slip under the cartilage, all the way into the socket."

The fingers of my free hand which was resting across my chest were drumming furiously as I listened to this. I was staring straight up, focusing on a ceiling light. I think at the time they were marking my shoulder with a bulls-eye for where they wanted to insert the needle. An X-ray machine was directly over my bum shoulder.

When they tell you there won't be any "pain," they always warn you that you'll feel "pressure." Twice I experienced a sudden sensation akin to an electrical jolt as the needle slid into my shoulder socket. I can't say that it was agonizing.

But that was all. As I waited for the other shoe to drop, they bounced the bevel-needle off the ball and into the socket, injected the dye, took their multiple X-rays and announced that it was done. The needle was back out! This doctor was good. I was giddy with relief. I felt like kissing him.

Then they told me that I was immediately going to the resonating chamber to be inserted into the full body narrow cylinder. They asked me yet again, Was I claustrophobic? Hmm.


Anne said...

I've had several MRIs in the last few years due to injuries, running and otherwise. I freaked when they asked about being claustrophobic too, but it wasn't as bad as I expected. They even had a tipped mirror so you could see the opening if you were brave enough to open your eyes. Hope that phase went as well as your dye insertion.

Susan said...

Oh gosh! I am on the edge of my seat! My MRI did not involve needles... just having to lie there and wonder...

Petraruns said...

That sounds scary. how are you feeling now?

Don said...

"told me a joke to set me at ease. I immediately became suspicious ..."

Born skeptic :-)

Lindsay said...

I've been reading your blog on and off for a little while - Just thought I'd say congrats on getting through this! I had the same procedure done on my shoulder over the summer. Needles have never bothered me, but that one scared me at first. Once I zoned out, it was kind of a cool feeling. My doctor kept asking me if I wanted to watch the needle going in on his screen... I just wanted to lay there and focus on breathing. :)