Undergoing an M.R.I. scan

© Feb. 2011 Paul Cooijmans


Although I myself had pin-pointed it to a disappointed test candidate having made a puppet of me and sticking needles in the right lower leg, knee, buttock, lower back, and one or two other places I can not mention before a family audience, the doctor thought I might have a herniated disk and referred me for a magnetic resonance imaging scan.

A week before the scan I received the invitation, which stated I would be allowed to bring my own music and contained the dress code: pyjama or jogging suit without zippers. Nothing of metal was supposed to go into the giant microwave oven. This made me wonder what to do with my ten amalgam fillings and four crowns, but a search on the Internet suggested these were not magnetizable. I also understood the scanner would be as loud as a discotheque; since however I had never been in the latter, this information was not as useful as intended.

The scan

On my way to the M.R.I. waiting room I overheard two girls walking in the opposite direction. "My eyelid will not stop shaking!" "Haven't they told you not to wear make-up?" "No, the instructions only said to not use mascara! It didn't say anything about liquid eyeliner?!"

When it was my turn I changed into jogging pants and a hooded sweater as made famous by the "Unabomber", and handed the compact disk I had brought - Women and children first by Van Halen - to the M.R.I. assistant. I was then taken to the room containing the machine itself, and invited to lie down on my back. There was a wedge-shaped pillow to keep the legs in a bent position (which helps to keep the lower back straight) and I received a "panic button" on a wire. The assistant said the button was sensitive, and I would have to press it repeatedly in case of panic; pressing just once would be considered a mistake.

Then, headphones were put over my ears and I was shoved into the tunnel with my hands on my belly. My elbows touched the sides. The music started; it sounded rather loud and distorted, and there was something strange about it I could not identify right away. Meanwhile the series of photos began, with different sequences of rhythmically humming sounds which were less loud than expected. In between the series were short pauses, and in one of those I was shoved further into the the microwave cannon. After a few songs I noticed what was wrong: Although both sides of the headphones gave sound, it was the same stereo channel in each case, to wit the one with the bass guitar. The other channel, containing the principal guitar part, was missing! For better understanding, one should know those early Van Halen albums tend to have the main guitar part on one side of the stereo panorama only, and the bass on the other side (except that some guitar solos are on a separate track which goes through the middle).

Undergoing an M.R.I. scan (staged)
Undergoing an M.R.I. scan (staged)

The was unfortunate as that guitar part, which serves as accompaniment of the vocals, is usually the best part of the song. Lay people sometimes incorrectly refer to it as "rhythm guitar" or "chord playing", but in reality it consists mainly of single notes, intervals (two different tones sounding together, often forming a perfect fourth as that is what sounds best in rock music), and an occasional chord (three different tones sounding together), and takes place largely in the baritone to tenor region.

As the otherwise relaxing photo session progressed I clearly got warmer, though not so much that it made me sweat. Halfway Romeo delight - so, after a bit more than fifteen minutes - the music stopped and the assistant pulled me out. I carefully got off the machine and was taken to the dressing room, where the compact disk lay waiting for me already. While changing back into my civilian clothes I noted my face was somewhat red, presumable from being warm.