I needed to have a brain MRI as part of the screening process for the clinical trial. One of the criteria for the trial is that the patient has no more than three "brain mets" (tumors). Colon cancer can metastasize to just about anywhere, sadly, and so I was scheduled for the test at 9:00 PM that first day.
When the time came for my appointment, an escort appeared at my door. She brought me to a place far, far from my room. I tried to pay close attention to where we were going, but we were talking along the way, and so I wasn't sure I would do a great job of remembering. I checked in at the reception area and sat in the waiting room for 40 minutes. Three patients who had arrived after me were called in before me. "What's that about?" I wondered. A tech greeted me and then told me that it would be at least 20 minutes longer because they were over-booked. I knew Pat was waiting in my room for me, but I didn't have my phone to explain why I wasn’t back yet. I decided to try to find my way back to the room so that he wouldn't be left there wondering where I was. Thankfully (and surprisingly) I made my way to the room. Patrick walked back to MRI with me and we waited together until my name was called, then he went to the Safra Lodge* for the night.
As the tech and I passed a blue sensor on the wall, he asked me to "twirl around" in front of it to determine whether or not I had any metal on or in me that would interfere with the MRI. I passed the twirl-test, so we continued on to one of several scan rooms. He positioned me on the table, stuffed earplugs into my ears, and added heavy headphones on top of those. He lowered a cage over my head and asked if I was OK. "Yes." He went to the control room, and soon after, the table I was on slid into the MRI machine. No music this time, just a whole lot of noise. Clunking, whistling, ringing, tapping...all sorts of noises. "Be still Mrs. Ryan," he'd say. I was still. After a lot of being still and listening to loud noises, the tech moved the table back out of the machine and reminded me again, "Don't move." Was I moving? I wasn't moving. He injected my IV (Vein Lady had left it in specifically for this procedure) with contrast and started the process again. This time, however, there was a difference. Something was brushing against my chin. What the heck? I couldn't reach up to swipe it away, and I couldn't move my head to make it fall off. Greaaaaaat. So. "What is it?" I thought, "Could it be a SPIDER?! Oh God, please don't let it be a spider! or a fly! or anything with any number of legs. Or wings! ACK!" So this what-ever-it-is flitted across my chin until the end of the test. Turns out it was a strap from the closure of the apparatus that surrounded my head. Not a spider. Thank Goodness.
It was 10:45 PM when the MRI finished. The tech asked me if I could find my way back.
Me: Yes, I think so.
Him: Are you sure? Everybody's gone now. If you come back here, nobody's gonna hear you.
Me: I'll be OK. [walking toward the wrong door]
Him: This way [pointing to the correct exit]
Me: Right. Thank you. Good night!
Off I went to face the challenge of the mind-boggling, circuitous passageways that lead people who know where they’re going directly to their destinations. For people like me, however, often that is not the immediate result. Yet, I was confident that this time, I could do it with ease. Hadn’t I just traversed this very path only an hour ago? Forward into the cavernous maw of the silent, confusing hospital I went, escort-free. All alone. Not a soul was to be seen or heard anywhere past the sliding doors of the MRI waiting room. Hallway stretched in front of seemingly endless hallway. I navigated mostly according to which paintings I recognized on the walls. I came to a familiar door that I'm certain I was supposed to pass through but! It was now locked! "Oh no!" my brain screamed, "No!" but I wasn't too panicked yet. Instead of wandering around on a floor where my room wasn’t located, I decided to make getting to the third floor my goal. Once there, I was able to follow the signs to “Patient NW” and then sneak quietly back into my darkened room. Success!
My nurse came in shortly afterward and declared, "We couldn't find you." I couldn’t find you either! "Oh,” I said, “MRI was really backed up." I didn’t mention the meandering, doubling-back, circling, and being lost that also happened. Nurses don't need to know everything.
*The Safra Lodge is located on the campus of NIH. Up to four of a patient's family members can stay, free of charge, subject to availability. All guests of the Lodge must be referred by the patient's medical team.