Tag Archives: Brain

MRI Brain Scan: a crash-bang-bang course

It’s the 23rd. It is a positive start”, I think when the receptionist said the date. 23 is my lucky number. I completed most of the paperwork the previous week when I dropped off my oncologist’s referral letter. A few more dotted lines call for my signature. I don’t know how many MRI scans I have had; today’s might be 6th. However, the last one in March was the most important. The one labelled, “all clear”.

How do I approach a brain scan? Like everyone, I suppose I my own ways. Each person will bring specific fears, unique routine and mental preparation before facing the tunnel. Earlier today my rituals consisted of the things under my control. Having a shave, dressing in my favourite light orange and white shirt, wearing comfortable jeans, putting on my trial running shoes that make me feel grounded, a call to confirm the appointment time and leaving enough time to arrive early. Nothing out of the ordinary, but it is the ordinary and familiarity that bring comfort.

I arrive at the hospital 15 minutes early. I don’t carry anxious thoughts with me, never been a great advocate of worry. But I sense the tension in my back and shoulders. It’s not possible to ditch all the anxiety. It tends to sneak in when you are not looking. Anneén arrives before I reach the main entrance. I told her she did not have to come, but it is a great comfort to have her with me. Knowing she will wait in the reception area when it’s all done. It is oddly quiet when we slowly criss-cross through the hospital passages. Most of it was renovated recently and signs warning of wet paint still serve as decorations. “They could have done with a bit of colour” we agree. No one else waits in the reception area. The school and university holidays provide a nice change from the usual hustle and bustle.

When called, I know the drill. I leave my outer layers of safety behind and emerge from the change locker in a faded peach colour garment. A further breakdown of any aesthetic possibility comes in the form of my long black running socks sticking out from underneath. Comfort? Yes. Sexy? Definitely not! I wait for a few minutes underneath signs and arrows that directs towards different scan options. A cleaner slowly sweeps the floor area surrounding me. I feel a need to focus on something. Unfortunately the small Beavers and Butthead cartoon on the notice board is too small to make out the writing.

Luckily the bad joke requires little time as it is 8:45 and the MRI scanner waits. Lying down on the flat surface is the easy part and fairly comfortable. The radiographer knows about my previous scan experiences, so she shiftily hands me the earplugs (to reduce the noise) and place two sheets of white foamy stuff both sides of my face. She moves my head slightly to the left and gently pressed down on my chin to position my head correctly. The small rubber bubble is placed into my hand, in case I need to call for help. It provides some security, as I used it on a previous occasion when the claustrophobia got to me. Finally she covers me with a blanket for both physical and emotional warmth. All I need is music to relax, but it is not available as I am not allowed any metal (not the musical type) or earphones in the tunnel due to the strong magnetic fields.

You can open your eyes if you want to”, she says as I slide into the tunnel. “There is no way”, I replied louder in my head than in words. I made that mistake once before. I don’t like narrow spaces. I admit that I don’t like being out of control either – especially about my physical space. I can feel my elbows being slightly pushed inwards by the sides of the MRI’s tunnel. For a moment I am aware that the blanket is slightly pulled back on the sides due to inwards movement. “I am covered like corpse”. I don’t know where the thought came from, but I was ready for it. “I am here because I am alive”, I counter-argue. “I am here being I want to remain healthy and value life”. And so my process in my head starts to manage the crowded space and mechanical noise.

  • I start with thoughts. Focussing on being alive. The people who matters for me. I am doing this for them and me. What I know. For example, I had no symptoms or strange behaviour (as far as I know at least!). What is important (staying healthy)
  • Visualise memories and beautiful images. Seeing my daughters jump on the “bungee trampolines” the previous day. Looking out over the sun covered vineyards with snow covered mountain peaks behind.
  • Letting go of these images and thoughts and let them flow away like thick honey.
  • Slowing down my breathing. Being aware of my breath, rather than the lack of space around me.
  • Comparing the mechanical noises with sounds I know. I hear a large mechanical bee, a dentist drill, an electrical mosquito, a loud air-pressured drill. A hammer against a water pipe.
  • Physical sensation (such as an itch that I can scratch) indicates to me that I am alive.

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It does not feel like “about 25 minutes”, but after a short silence the radiographer returns and injects my arm with contrast dye. This makes certain tissues and blood vessels show up with greater detail on the scan. I move back inside with less tension for the last 15 minutes. I allow my senses more freedom to explore the experience. Mumford and Sons are still playing “After the Storm” in my mind when I exit the scanner’s tunnel. I am set free.

2013-09-23 12.11.21_resizedIt is 3 hours later and we are sitting at the neurosurgeon’s office. I am aware of the results CD in my hand. The CD is light, but the engraved information carries a different weight. Martin greets us as he walked passed. He needs to quickly go to the ward, but will be with us on time. On his return, Martin opens the scan result on his computer. There two brains, both mine, on display. One from the March scan. The other from this morning. They look similar. Martin shows the left frontal area where the operation took place. I dark area indicates where the tumour and some brain tissue were removed. Nothing else shows up. The scan is almost identical to that done in March. I am clean. No cancer growth or tumour cells are visible.

Once more I am set free.

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Filed under My Brain Tumour and I, This thing called life

Going Back West

[Cue Music]

Going back west
Yes I know I’ll make out alright
Going back west
Where my music’s playing all night
Going back west (going back west)
I think I’ll do alright

I have always fallen back onto music. In times when words fail or when my fingers don’t find the keypad, the CD shelves are reassuring close-by. Glancing at of them now, there are obviously some embarrassing choices I have made (I blame the 80’s), but also some dear favourites that have been with me in times of uncertainty or heartache. Pulp, Eddie Vedder, Leonard Cohen, Alanis Morisette, Bob Dylan, Mumford and Sons, Bruce Springsteen, The Cure, INXS, The Cranberries, etc. etc. are all tuning their instruments and warming their vocals for that moment to intervene in our reality that are completely unfamiliar to them. And yes, there are (private) moments that even Boney M is called on stage for some kickass inspiration. Today is such a day. Going Back West is the song the doctor ordered.

It really is just not flowing. Words are somewhere else. Maybe it is just not a word day. It is probably because I am heading back to hospital later today. It is nothing overly serious, just not the type of thing that make you want to smell the flowers, write poetry or paint still lives. I would rather find a little sunny corner to hide away in. Someplace quiet and safe, where all is well and my good medical colleagues are playing with their children. The operation is nothing as major as the craniotomy I had before (when the tumour was removed). The issue at hand (head?) is that the swelling did not subside over the past 2 weeks. This indicates that the pressure monitor that was connected probably left a little “leak” that needs to be repaired. Unfortunately this can only be done through opening the wound again and getting underneath the bone structure of the skull. The good news (and yes, there is some) is that I would probably be home again tomorrow.

So the journey continues and the things we learn along the way mount up. For example, we met an oncologist yesterday to talk about radiotherapy and chemotherapy. This is the next process following the surgery to “blast” any cancerous cells that could not be removed. These cells are such small molecules that technology during surgery can’t pick them up and therefore it always require some follow up intervention(s) to deal with what is left. What we did not know is that radiotherapy would be 5 sessions per week for 6 weeks once I am physically well enough. Although these would be short sessions (each session lasts for about 10 to 15 minutes), it is thinking about all the practicalities and how to manage all of this. The word “time” comes to mind, as does the word “work” (given that I am still officially on “sick leave”). I know, I know, don’t rush ahead! Get well first! Priority is your health. It is just such a different and new place where we are that these words and ideas take some getting use to!

I need to go pack something. Will speak soon – promise. Hopefully words will be at hand to describe how things have developed. If not words, I will get some pictures, lyrics. Which reminds me of this one I took last weekend at Babylonstoren. I think these are the sunny places I would love to hide away at on days like today!

Image

Going back west
Yes I know I’ll make out alright
Going back west
Where my music’s playing all night
Going back west (going back west)
I think I’ll do alright

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Filed under This thing called life