First off, it’s loud — louder than you might guess. Imagine that you’re trapped in a broken pachinko machine, and that comes close to the thumping and clicking and buzzing electronic pulses you hear. The noise follows certain rhythms to the point that it occasionally sounds like the intro to some techno song. In fact, I’d be shocked if someone who took a knock to the noggin didn’t later attempt to translate the MRI experience to music. Understanding MRI-matrons about as well as I do ball lightning or parthenogenesis, I can’t imagine why it needs to make so much noise. But I guess if machines make noise in proportion to the importance of the job they perform (working theory), then it measures out that this contraption should be so much louder than my dishwasher. I received earplugs. They didn’t do much.
Upon sliding in on the little corpse platform they make you lie on, you may instantly envision some horrible scenario in which the smocks who run the place forget about you and you spend hours and hours trapped in that thing. That probably won’t happen, but it might. Oh god, what if there were a fire? Or an earthquake?
Itching. Oh, the itching. All over your body, specifically for the spiteful reason that the itches know you are powerless to stop them. The word for this sensation, if you want to be technical about it and you know I do, is formication.
You will be struck with the silliness of spending a chunk of your waking day lying in a strange white tube, unmoving, doing your best to rest but really not resting in any way whatsoever. It will seem all the more surreal when you leave the MRI place and return to work and sit down at your desk as if you’d just run to the store to buy cough drops instead of participating in a scene that would have been science fiction not that long ago. Ridiculous, really.
You may think about alien abductions.
Perhaps for similar reasons, you may also think of the Gravitron. I did. This carnival ride might have been called something else where you experienced it, but it’s that one where you climb inside a UFO-shaped room that spins and the centrifugal force pins you against the wall. Then the spot your in rolls up the wall, and now that I think about it, how did girls not ever get their long hair caught in those rollers? But no matter, you’re on the Gravitron! Whee! You’re twelve and this is what you call fun! Anyway, aside from the limited body movement and the placement on a rolling platform, the MRI machine isn’t much at all like the Gravitron, which is all about a big, open room that moves a lot, so I don’t know why I thought of that, but I did. Hey, do you want to go find a Gravitron and ride around in it? I’ll bet not too many people do both and MRI and a Gravitron spin in the same day, and I want to feel special.
You may hallucinate a little. My mind tends to invent whole little journeys when I meditate, with the flashing lights I see when I close my eyes stretching into pictures and then whole locations with a foreground and a background. I accidentally meditated in the MRI machine, because I closed my eyes — so as not to see death looming above me — and started breathing deeply. This is how I get into a meditative mood, you see, and suddenly I felt the strange sensation of sliding backwards into the machine. Only where there should have been machine — and gears? buttons? mirrors? whatever they put inside these things? — there was dark space, something like a tunnel. I didn’t like the way that felt so I opened my eyes. Having not been able to move, I couldn’t tell you what was actually at the other end of that weird tube. I didn’t take the time to look inside it when I left.
This is what I think you should know.