Brain tumors suck. Hi, I'm Patrick btw. This is my cancer blog. My "normal" stuff is over here.
Ok, that was a really bad pun on the CSI series in the title, but I just had to do it. I did my trimonthly MRI checkup a couple of days ago. Fortunately, everything was clean again, so yay for living. I think this is a good opportunity to write a blog post about what’s happening at such an event, for those of you who aren’t doing this on a regular basis like us brain tumor patients.
For me, the MRI appointment actually begins some days before it really happens, as I start to get mixed feelings about the day I will be shoved into the good ol’ tube.
On the one hand, there’s of course the fear that this time, something will be out of the ordinary and show up on the scans. With every scan that is made, I get a little calmer because I know the drill and they’ve never found anything but a perfectly good hole in my brain, but there’s always this gut feeling that this “lucky streak” might end this time.
On the other hand, I always feel kind of relieved that I get another scan that hopefully shows me if something is wrong. It gives me the confirmation that the headaches I had in the last months, or any other of the myriad of symptoms a brain tumor patient might have that can also have perfectly harmless explanations, are exactly that, harmless. If there’s something to be worried about, however, I want to know as soon as possible.
So there’s always this mixture of anxiety and looking forward to the next MRI scan, a really weird feeling. Normally I’m pretty relaxed though, as I know I can’t control whatever’ll happen and that I just have to go along with it.
We (as in, my wife and I) always ask for an appointment on either a Friday or a Monday, so we can combine the trip to Heidelberg with something positive, as in visiting her relatives who are living about an hour’s drive from there or taking a short vacation, like we did this time by visiting Prague afterwards for a couple of days. Makes the trip a little bit more fun to look forward to. It’s about a three hour’s drive from Aachen, which is in the very west of Germany and where we live, to Heidelberg. My wife unfortunately has to drive the whole way herself, as I’m still not allowed to drive because of my last epileptic seizure not being older than a year.
In Heidelberg, I first go to the radiology department, where I already have a fixed time for my MRI. I normally wait between 15-45 minutes until I can take the scan. Then, I have to get rid of everything metallic that might magnetize and either destroy the MRI or parts of my body. Seriously, when I asked them about my wedding ring they said I should better not bring it into the MRI for my own safety, and that they’re not so much concerned about it flying around in the MRI but rather about my finger getting crushed if it decides to twist and bend in the strong magnetic field the MRI emits.
A nurse will then stick a needle into my arm that they’ll use to inject the contrast agent later. Afterwards, they put me in the tube with my head fixated, an emergency bell I can ring if I can’t stand it anymore for any reason and some earmuffs to cancel out at least a little bit of the noise the MRI makes when rapidly changing its magnetic fields. In some MRIs you can make them play music over the earmuffs, not so in mine. Apparently it is either not possible with the particular device or they didn’t buy the upgrade, I have no idea.
Anyway, after about 15 minutes of lying perfectly still while trying to close my eyes and doze a little, the worst part comes (at least for me): they inject the contrast agent. They can’t store it above a certain temperature, so it’s always a little cold. It feels like someone is slowly pouring cold water over your upper arm. I also happen to react with a sudden rush of nausea that lasts for about thirty seconds after the injection, making this even more uncomfortable. It’s not so bad that I have to interrupt the whole procedure, it’s just not a particularly nice feeling. The last time I took some Metoclopramide in advance and it wasn’t as bad as normally, but that might just have been a placebo effect. The doctor wasn’t sure if it would even help, but I told her that I’ll take it anyway and that it’d be better than nothing.
When it’s finally over and I get excavated from the depth of the claustrophobia-inducing MRI tube, I directly have an appointment with my oncologist. Before he asks me to come in, he already had a look at the images that were made available to him digitally on their servers. He shows the images to me, going through them layer by layer. This normally happens rather quickly if there’s nothing new to see, and then he has time for any questions I have. Although he’s rather busy, you always have the feeling that you’re the only patient he has to see this day. This is something I’m very grateful for and one of the reasons I chose Heidelberg for my treatment, although they’re rather far from where I live.
When it’s all done, I’m kinda relieved as long as it’s good news and we drive back home (or to whatever destination we picked for a short vacation this time). I also try to drink as much water as possible to get the contrast agent out of my system while on the way. And then I live happily ever after, at least for the next three month until everything repeats again.