How Washcloths and Tap Dancing Can Help You Endure an MRI

Laura Yeager

My 86-year-old mother had an MRI yesterday to check to see if she possibly had a mini-stroke. The noise the machine made reminded her of the noise of her father's Ford Model T, and she pretended she was in his car with him, rattling along the road. She said that inventing this internal fantasy based on the sound of the MRI was comforting to her. And then, when the noise changed tempo, she, an avid dancer in an earlier life, imagined she was tap dancing to it. "Oh, I could tap dance to that," she told herself. In her mind's eye, she was flap ball changing and shuffle-hop stepping using the sounds of the technological giant of a machine as her rhythm section.

In short, my mother had a unique way of dealing with MRI fear, and she came through the procedure, which she was nervous about, like a trouper.

As a two-time cancer patient, I've had dozens of scans, many in an enclosed MRI tube. If you have cancer, you too might have to endure these technological check-ups in this loud, tight, possibly fear-inducing space.

How do you survive them in you're a bit claustrophobic and you've never ridden in a Model T Ford or learned how to tap dance?

I have two words for you: wash cloth.

The cloth goes over your eyes. Ask for a wash cloth, and your MRI experience will be much easier than simply closing your eyes while in the tight tube.

This is because no matter how drugged up you make yourself by taking tranquilizers such as Ativan or Valium before you enter the machine, no matter how many times you tell yourself you won't open your eyes once you get in there, you will inevitably peek at your surroundings and this might cause you to break out into a cold, sweaty panic attack.

Why do we peek every time? Because we're curious creatures. Because we just can't stand to lie there and not see what we're actually enduring. Because we can.

But with the wash cloth lightly placed over your face, you can't see where you are, and this makes the process much easier. It’s such a simple fix, but it's a good one, and I'm passing it along to you.

Hospitals have lots of clean, white, soft wash cloths. Just tell your nurse or technician you want one. They will oblige you.

I remember one of my early experiences in an enclosed MRI tube, without a wash cloth over my eyes. The tightness of the tube (much worse than a coffin's close proximity) caused me to emerge from the procedure in hysterics.

Save yourself from going over the edge. Save yourself from a full-blown panic attack.
Get a wash cloth.
Or learn to tap dance.
The choice is yours.
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