The MRI – 90 minutes in a big magnet

Chris about to be loaded into a GE Signa 1.5 Tesla MRI at UCSF

Personal victory: I spent 90 minutes in a closed GE Signa 1.5 Tesla MRI machine tonight. 90 days ago I couldn’t do a MRI in an open machine, so claustrophobic am I. 6 weeks with cognitive therapist Diane Strachowski, and a little Atavan, and here I am doing a 90-minute study in a closed MRI at UCSF. Woo hoo..big victory pour moi..

[Update: I’ve now done more than 20 MRI studies in a space of two years. Even extreme claustrophobes (like me) really can beat the fear.]


About Chris Gulker

Chris Gulker, a self-described Infuential Blogger, lived in Menlo Park, California with spouse Linda. He passed away in late October 2010.
This entry was posted in All, My Brain, Photos, Technology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to The MRI – 90 minutes in a big magnet

  1. pauldwaite says:

    Crikey, congratulations. That’s a pretty successful 6 weeks work.

    Shame the reward is only 90 minutes in an MRI. Hope you got to go out for ice cream afterwards or something πŸ™‚

  2. gfbird says:

    Congrats, also. Whether that smile has a whiff of Adavan, anticipates the prospect of relaxing for 90 min without confining britches, or more likely is a response to Linda being the photog, success to you all, especially now that you have such a much more detailed view of your functionality. Is there an algorithmic correction for any Adavan influence?

    Seems like I saw somewhere that VR googles, er . . . goggles (brand-influenced typo), are sometimes used to ease confinement anxieties . . . imagine being immersed in a panoramic 3D video of your favorite 90 min dj run on a perfect morning.

    Best results to all . . . πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

  3. cg says:

    Highly recommend cognitive therapy to any who find themselves in the same claustrophobia (or other phobia) straights that I did. 3 months ago, just thinking about an MRi caused a low level panic attack. The cognitive therapy focused on slowly taking baby steps to face the fear, at my own pace – it’s not about analyzing your childhood to find out why you’re panicky. At some point I wll do a sidebar on how this works, in the hopes it may be useful to others.

    The tech at UCSF says claustrophobia is a common problem with closed MRIs – she related how even a tough guy, recently released from prison, began to cry when he saw the 60 cm wide tube of the GE Signa.

    Should note that Hitachi makes an open, .7 Tesla MRI (powerful enough for many studies) that may be easier for many people (Silicon Valley MRI has one locally). GE has an open machine, too, I think. The issue is magnetic field strength: the stronger the field, the better the resolution. Best resolution is to put your head (or whatever body part) in the center of a large superconducting coil.

    Since magnetic fields follow a power law – field drops off by a power of 4 relative to distance, you need to be close to the center of the coil for best field strength, with current technology anyway.

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  5. bruno negri says:

    I went this evening for an mri ,but when they said 45min i refused as i just had to have my elbow scanned , does anyone know how effective a ultrasound is ?

  6. andy brooks says:

    hey way to go i have been in a 90 one to it sucks staring no blinking and nothen to do i would die for some radio or a suduko puzzle. all my life i had mri and cat scans i had about 5000 or far my mom said when i was little 5 a week dame that must of been hard but later i got ice cream ya me



  8. cg says:

    Sounds like you made it through, though. It is a bit scary… congratulations!

  9. doug says:

    I know how you feel. I had no happy meds and I felt like a hotpocket in a microwave oven. The experience sapped my energy. It was an uncomfortable 25 minutes!

  10. jeremy says:

    Had to beg off of one last Monday (GE 1.5). I recognized my own panic coming on. Though I never really had any panic issue in my life. I am going again soon but I am going to get some Valium. I wish I had a few weeks to work up to it but I need it soon.

    For me the addition of a “chest antenna” made y fair small frame feel to large. They had to move me to the far right of center and press me against the side a bit.

    You are a bit of a hero to me. Was your head totally in the MRI ? My had to be almost dead center. 45 minutes.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I had a 30 minute MRI today, wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. The only thing that bothered me was the extremely loud noises that the machine made during scans.

  12. Cindy Joyce says:

    We would like to use the image of “Personal Victory” on a non-profit educational website in a History of Medicine article. Can you provide permission?

    Thank you.

  13. Kim Burt says:

    Well I am glad that you did good. I have had many MRI’s before but never have I had to be pulled out because of a panic attack(like this time), even after the liquid Valium they said should do the trick. So now I am scheduled for another open mri. this one should be fine as my husband gets to sit by my side. OOH medicine is great.
    Everett, WA.

  14. Sabrina says:

    that’s amazing. i had or i should say attempted to hane an MRI done yesterday. i had no idea what i was getiing myself into. while the doctor was explaining it i was fine. however the moment my head got in, i Freaked! i wass so scared. i cried, i yelled, i screamed, it was so bad i even tried crawling out, but got stuck. it was a horrible really experience for me. i also felt really stupid that i got so scared. i was always known as the “brave” one. for me to get scared shocked all my family and friends. however this MRI is important. so one was or another i have to get it checked. i’m thinking an open MRI? but i’m nervous because i don’t want to freak out again, look stupid again, end up wasting everyones time once agin.

  15. zach says:

    how long do you stay at the hopital?

  16. Zoe says:

    When you say closed MRI did this mean that both ends were closed? like did they shut the door and were in a coffin like tube?? i have to go for an mri but am very clautraphobic, but if one end is open ill probalby be ok.

  17. cg says:

    Zoe – no, MRI machines are not closed at the ends – see MRI photo above. By’closed’ I mean the patient lies in a short tube – with both ends open. ‘Open’ MRI machines are open on the side – but they usually don’t produce the best quality images (and I didn’t find much difference between the two). Relax, count off the seconds, breathe deeply and slowly, and you’ll be just fine…

  18. Janet says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience. My husband attempted to have an MRI done today but after 10 minutes, he asked to be removed from the machine. He’s going to try again tomorrow, and this time he will be taking a mild sedative — Ativan. I hope it works as well for him as it worked for you.

  19. MRI Technologist says:

    I’ve never had an MRI scan before-only CT. I would not like to have an MRI scan done due to the loud noise and I probably would not be able to hold still long enough. i have been praticing in bed listening to an mp3 recording of an MRI. If i required an MRI scan, i’d want a general anaesthetic.

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  22. varatharajan says:

    hai iam mri technesian in tirunel veli ct scan & mri scan centre iam joint in your scan centre plese

  23. CanadianOwl says:

    I had an interesting experience with MRIs this year. In May I was hospitalized for a month with osteomyelitis. While in the hospital I had four MRIs. The first one, no problem. If anything, I was kind of bored. Then for the second, I had a complete meltdown and had to have it rescheduled with Adavan to get me through it. The next two, I made sure that I got the Adavan. Six weeks after getting out of the hospital, I had another MRI. Because it was done on an outpatient basis, they forgot to warn me to get a prescription for Adavan from my doctor. We decided to try it anyway. Just before going in the technician suggested that I try to keep my eyes closed. This turned out to be perfect advice. Only once did I have an anxious moment which I managed to work through.
    I’m pretty sure that I will have more MRIs. I think the next time I will still play it safe and get the drugs, but it is nice to know that I can get through it without them if I have to.


    Vancouver, BC

  24. cristal says:

    I went in yesterday for an MRI, it only took me a couple of seconds before I started to feel panicy. I had one in 1999 and had to ask to get out about 6 times. I had an open one in 2003 which was no problem. If I had known in advance that it was not going to be an open one, I would not have gone. Its like being buried alive. I freaked out. Cant do that one.


  25. Anonymous says:

    MRI really isn’t that big of a deal. It’s a mind set. So if your mind is weak, then you make yourself believe that you can’t do it. Then you blog about it. Then people read this and think “Crap, I can’t do it”. So you start a chain reaction of “claustrophobes” and someone misses an important diagnoses not found by any other modality.

  26. MRI tech says:

    yea i have to agree with the above post. The only thing that annoys me about MRI. Being that i operate one, is that even though we, the techs, are shielded and insulated in the control room, the noise still gets on my nerves. I remember this one tech, a long time ago, got so distracted by the noise that they accidently pressed the ‘quench’ AKA emergency magnet shutdown button. Well long story short the quenching of the magnet cost a ton of money to fix and repair the machine.

  27. Peggy Hill says:

    If you are having the MRI for thyroid check, does the entire body
    have to go in all the way or the head just has to go to the center of
    machine, not ful body

  28. nurul says:

    can we choose by ourself the timing for mri? coz most of above posts have different period of mri scanning..

  29. nervous says:

    Just went for one yestarday. thought it was going to be open so I wasn’t worried or prepared. I have bad clastiphobia already but I’m able to overcome it based on a need to get the job done. This one really has me worked up. What’s better adavan or valium?

    • cg says:

      Atavan is a generic for valium – basically the same thing. Just before you go in, start breathing 3 deep breaths followed by 3 regular ones – each set will burn up about a minute…. count the minutes on your fingers until you hit 30 (or 45or whatever the set time is). Tell the operator you’re claustrophobic and ask for progress updates… it helps in my experience. Good luck!

  30. S says:

    I don’t have claustrophobia, so when I got the MRI for my knee, the tech had to wake me up when they took me out of the machine. I didn’t take any meds before either.

    So the only thing I can relate the fear of MRIs to is my ridiculous fear of bridges — not heights — just bridges. Thankfully it’s not all bridges, but the ones that are long and high do trigger panic attacks. This includes spaghetti-bowl freeway-ramps occasionally too, depending on how high up they are, and if they curve a lot.

    I’ve desensitized myself to the Galveston Causeway, but the new bridge for Baytown that replaced the tunnel, OMG, I had such a panic attack I truly thought I was at risk for a heart attack or a stroke! I returned through downtown Houston, which was longer and had much more traffic, and then my job didn’t reimburse the addition mileage — I can’t believe they monitored mileage that closely LOL

    The “breathing” exercise I did during an emergency c-section was the only way I was able to get across that bridge in Baytown! I need to find someone willing to drive me back and forth across it a few times to desensitize myself, like I did for Galveston Causeway. Hopefully MRI clinics/labs have pre-op instructions for ways to desensitize claustrophobic people, because from both our experiences, desensitizing does work ^_^

  31. Neil says:

    I’ve had several MRIs, both open and closed. Most recently was two weeks ago. I had to have general anesthesia, however even with that I was somewhat combative (they don’t completely knock you out because there is no anesthesiologist). Between scans the had to add more anesthesia.

    As far as Adavan vs Valium, Adavan is NOT generic Valium. They are two different drugs (although in the same classificaiton). Adavan is Lorazepam, Valium is Diazepam.

  32. Susan says:

    What scares me the most is the coil and the device they put on your head when examining your brain. In case of a fire or something one cannot escape… that’s my phobia! any input, please answer. Thanks.

  33. You should take a look at 70 cm – OPEN BORE MRI. Our facility has the worlds widest and most advanced OPEN 1.5 Tesla MRI with 18 channels of signal. The addiitonal channels increases the speed and clarity of the scans. We also have a special sequence called BLADE which freezes patient motion. And we also offer IV sedation which is 15mg IV valium which has been 100% successful. Anyone who really wants an MRI can have one at our facility in Newark DE. I know you are across the country, but for you next MRIs you would do well to consider 70cm bore MRI scanners.. They are 30 inches in diameter and the widest in the world. The Espree is also the shortest scanner in the world – at just about 1 meter in length it is the shortest and least claustrophobic scanner in the world.

  34. Donna says:

    I am having my 1st MRI this Frid. and b/c I am claustrophobic, my M.D. has recommended that I be given IV sedation as mentioned in the post above. We shall see how it goes!!

  35. H20BUG says:

    I am having my first MRI this week. My doctor ordered a closed one because the open MRI will not give the needed images. I am a little freaked out. She told me I will enter feet first, and I will be able to see light. Hopefully I can avoid the dreaded “coffin” feel. If I lose it I guess they can give me a sedative. I’m driving myself though.

    BTW, I have had IV sedation for minor surgery, and I have also been put “under” general anesthesia. There is a big difference. When they put you under an anestheseologist or nurse anesthesist tubes you, and a machine does your breathing. My body temperature falls and I wake up freezing cold. The patient is closely monitored by the O.R. staff. I doubt there’s enough room in a two-foot tube for all of the equipment. IV sedation just makes you sleepy enough not to care. I cannot imagine a doctor ordering general anethesia for a fear of close spaces. If I start freaking out maybe they’ll give me a heavy dose of Xanax and shove me back thru. I’ll check back later with an update and an estimate from the body shop.

  36. Paul C says:

    Last week, I had an hour long MRI of my neck and head. I started out an hour earlier in a CAT scan which is a smaller machine and had a momentary panic attack. I closed my eyes in the CAT scan and did fine. The MRI which is a deeper machine was freaking me out before I lied down on the table. I successfully made it through an hour in the MRI by having them place a cloth over my eyes before I went into the tunnel and then proceeded to play golf in my head at my favorite course. By the time the hour was over I was four over par and felt that I overcame a lifelong irrational fear. You need to project yourself anywhere but in the MRI.

  37. Marji Morningstar says:

    Had a 90 minute MRI today in a machine exactly like this. Being claustrophobic, I started to panic and nearly bolted more than once. I had a “vise-like” thing on my head and large earphones with a lousy 70s music station playing, but the loud sounds of the MRI were like Chinese water torture in the background. At the half-way point, before they put dye in my veins, I asked if I could go to the bathroom and get a drink, but they told me no! I felt like I’d been run over by a Mac truck when I came out. My husband thought I was going to faint. Hope I never have to do this again, at least not for such a long time!!

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