How to Survive a Breast MRI

3 years ago

"You can conquer almost any fear if you will only make up your mind to do so. For remember, fear doesn't exist anywhere except in the mind." -- Dale Carnegie

I have had several people ask me about how to get through having a breast MRI done, so here are my suggestions on how to prepare for one. I’m really claustrophobic, so you can imagine my concern when the MRI technician told me that the procedure takes 45 minutes. (Yup, that’s how long it takes to do both breasts.) Here are my recommendations on how to get through it without hyperventilating and having a nervous breakdown.

Image: Liz West via Flickr

  • It's 45 minutes long if you’re getting both breasts checked, so wear socks to keep your feet warm.
  • Don’t wear any metal jewelry. They kept asking me if I had any body piercings (come on, do I really look like I would have a belly button ring?) or metal parts in my body.
  • You have to lay face-down on a cushioned bench-like table which has 2 holes in it where you put your boobs. (No, I’m not kidding.)
  • The technician will try to get you as comfortable as possible because you need to lay still, but she’ll move your arms and boobs around until they’re in the right position and once you’re in it, don’t move.
  • They do the films with and without dye to get a better visual, so you’ll be getting a needle with dye inserted halfway through (I hate needles). It feels cold when they inject the dye, very odd sensation.
  • Ask all of your questions before they start because once you’re in there, it would be tough getting out.
  • If they have the option, ask them to put the headphones with music on you.  You’ll be lying down with your arms in a weird position and won’t be able to do it yourself.
  • You can’t really hear the music that well because the machine is REALLY loud and bangs incessantly the whole time, but with the headphones on, you can count how many songs have played to gauge how long it’s been. It was about 13 songs for the 45 minutes.
  • I had them play "Coffeehouse Music" from Sirius radio, and it was nice when I could hear it over the din of the banging machine.
  • As noted above, the machine is REALLY loud and bangs incessantly the whole time, so just be aware of that going in or it'll scare the heck out of you when it first starts. I actually thought the machine had broken until I realized it was going to continue and was part of the process.
  • Practice deep breathing techniques to calm yourself down when it first starts so you don't move around and mess up the films.
  • Pee before you go in because once you’re in there, there’s no getting out; make a pit stop before you get on the table.

I also called prior to the procedure and asked the technician a lot of questions. I told her that I'm very claustrophobic and that I was worried about being inside the machine; she told me that they would work with me and try to alleviate my concerns as much as possible. I then told the technician who was there on the day of the procedure the same concerns so that she was aware of my worries.

I'm of the mindset that it's not a time to be brave during any of these procedures. I wanted to know that if I had a panic attack while in there, I could flag them down, and someone would know enough to get me out quickly. By the way, they told me they would give me a Valium if I was really nervous. I passed on it, figuring I’d need something stronger such as a Vicodin or Quaalude to get me through it if I was really going to have a bad reaction, LOL.

It wasn’t as bad as I expected. They had a little mirror in front of me, which slanted out towards the room so that I could see the technician in her windowed room in front of me which calmed me down a bit because I knew that if I had a complete meltdown, I could get her attention by waving my hand around or screaming and she’d see me. None of these things happened. It was fine, and I wasn't really as scared as I thought I'd be.

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