|What it felt like...|
When you've just been wired up and slid into an MRI scanning tube (which is, it turns out, for all intents and purposes, very coffin-like), then told you're going to be in there for an hour, is not the time to realise - after 49 years on this Earth - that you are claustrophobic.
That'll teach me to be blasé about medical matters.
I'd been told by St Thomas's Hospital that I was due a scan to check the state of my (repaired) descending aortic aneurysm, and I have to confess I didn't read all the information that came with notification of my MRI appointment, because I'd got it mixed up with with the CT scans I've had quite regularly (where you lie down in a doughnut and the hoop moves over you scanning your body).
At the time I was more concerned about the cannula that would be going in my arm to inject the contrast dye (my poor track record with needles, since my initial extended stay in hospital, is no secret), but I was assured a specialist would be on hand to make it as painless as possible.
As it turned out it took the poor woman four attempts to get the needle into my vein (my veins have a habit of 'moving out the way'), helped immensely by Rachel calming me down and holding my other hand.
But then I was eventually moved into the scanning room and it quickly dawned on me that this wasn't the CT hoop I was being put in.
"It's probably best to close your eyes and think about the treat you're going to give yourself afterwards," the cheery attendant said, trying to put me at ease.
Oh, it'll be okay, I thought, it won't last long and I'm quite used to living inside my own head.
Unfortunately, soon after being slid into the machine, as I was wriggling about to get myself comfortable, my eyes blinked open for a fraction of a second and I realised the top of the tube was about three inches - if that - above my nose.
I tried to think of other things, concentrate on the piped music coming through the headphones as the machine made its deafening roars and beeps as the scan progressed.
Matters weren't helped by the necessity for a heavy metal plate resting on my stomach (I think they said it was this that was actually taking the pictures, it all got a bit jumbled in my pea-brain).
And although I was on my back, my legs were raised by a hard cushion of some kind - presumably to get a better picture of my insides.
After a few minutes, I asked (shouted to) the person running the tests: how much longer?
Usually these things last five or minutes, I thought. "You've been in about 10 minutes and it should last about an hour," the voice replied.
Oh god! I couldn't survive an hour! I tried to mentally grasp at games, scenarios, stories to tell myself, anything to distract from the feeling that I was in a coffin... but there was nothing there.
All I could do was count off the songs that were playing through the headphones, but it just seemed to be going on and on. My legs were starting to twitch, I was getting phantom itches on my face (that I knew I couldn't scratch), my breathing was getting erratic.
In the end I think I managed about 40 minutes before I pressed the panic button (something I've never done before, because I always felt as though this would not only be letting myself down, but also the medical staff... and I might then just have to come back to repeat the scan).
Having been told they probably had enough good images, I was helped out, staggering to the reception area where Rachel was waiting. I desperately needed a hug, my balance was shot from spending all that time on my back, and my mind had shut down completely. It wasn't that I was panicking now about about anything in particular, it was just I couldn't process any coherent thoughts.
Even now, after a good night's sleep - that I wasn't sure I'd be able to get - and sat here at my computer, my mind's still not right, still slightly traumatised by the whole ordeal, trapped in an uncomfortably numb fugue state, between a fear of dying and a fear of living.
I think the writing is helping though... spilling my fears onto the virtual page, shifting the mental block like a brain enema.
Sorry to babble on like this. I just needed to get it out.
All being well, normal service will resume soon.