I was diagnosed with a congenital back condition when I was eighteen. I’d been having more and more pain, and finally I had to undergo a series of tests to determine the problem.
One such test was the dreaded MRI.
To the average observer, it looks like a medical machine. The knocking sounds it makes just come with the territory.
To someone like me, with claustrophobia, it looks like a coffin. The operating noises sound like a countdown to airlessness—and death.
It’s horrible. You can’t imagine the terror—the shortness of breath, the chest constrictions, the mental claws scratching to break free, the frenetic panic kicking your pulse into uncharted (and dangerous) rates.
During the aforementioned test, the technicians pumped music into my casket—er, the machine—and talked to me the entire time to keep me calm. At one point, what felt like days later, one of them said, “Almost done. Just a few minutes more.”
Clearly he didn’t understand the literary device of “coincidence”—a situation in which events happen in an unplanned or unexpected way. Every writer knows not to state something as obvious fact, because the exact opposite will surely follow. (Think every co-ed ever to say, “Come on, it’s totally safe.” only to be gored to death by some crazed serial killing monster.)
In my case, he told me I was almost done. Should never have said it. I don’t think the words were completely out of his mouth when the freaking power went out.
Two things happened simultaneously.
- The techs all begged me not to move, because they hoped to resume the test right where it left off without loss of data.
- I felt the weight of being buried alive settle on my chest, and I screamed at the top of my lungs, “Get me out of here!
They talked me down, managed to keep me from moving. I still don’t know how I didn’t leap out of there. I think the thought of having to endure the test again was the only thing rooting me there.
The power was probably only out for a few seconds, but it felt like an eternity. When the lights flickered, it only got worse. In the dark, I felt oppressed. In the light, I saw the top of the machine right above my nose and knew there was a reason I couldn’t breathe. Cue the hyperventilation.
Next, I heard unintelligible murmurs, then one of the techs spoke through the sound system. “Sorry. We lost everything. We’re going to have to start over.”
I don’t know if you ever tried to wiggle foot-first out of a coffin, but I did it in record time. Kind of torpedo-like, I’m guessing. After bending over and sucking in deep breaths of non-oppressive air, I managed a reply. “Nope. Not happening.”
I didn’t go back in the machine that day, but I eventually made it through the test. Got my diagnosis and a set of physical therapy exercises that didn’t work, so, you know, time and money well spent, and all that.
More importantly, I got a great story that I might one day put in a novel. I’m pretty sure I can write the heck out of a panicked woman in an infernal medical machine.
This post inspired by the WordPress daily prompt: Magnetic.