The Unheralded Joy of an MRI – by Ecumen blogger Jim Klobuchar

I lunch occasionally with one of my medical friends, who basically avoids hospital talk. But now and then he brings himself up to date on the status of my joints and miscellaneous body parts.

The last conversation got around to one of the most popular miracles of modern medical science  – magnetic resonance imaging. Mercifully called “MRI” in clinical talk. My friend asked if I had tapped into this latest marvel. I said as far as I know I’ve had X-rays galore, but wasn’t sure about MRI.  He defined its remarkable gifts, including its ability to create a magnetic field that enables doctors to scan the body’s tissues from the spine to the brain and to discover whether there are any abnormalities.

I’m not going to implicate my friend the doctor in a call I made to a neurologist’s office a few weeks later. My next birthday, in April, will be my 85th. With no intention to create a documentary of my movements the last few years, I will confess that they have included treks in the Himalayas, workouts on the treadmill, tennis matches, a variety of authorships and races with my wife to the TV surfer when we were confronted with colliding tastes.

Still, the advancing calendar being hard to ignore, ultimately I made an appointment with a neurologist, who asked what I had in mind. “Moments of forgetfulness,” I said. “I came home from a meeting the other day and couldn’t find my billfold. I thought it might have dropped from my pocket where I sat; so I drove back to the meeting room, looked around, tried the parking lot, all the rest. Drove home. Turned the house upside down.”

“And?” he asked.

“The billfold was sitting harmlessly on the seat  of my chair in front of the computer where it had been all the time, same color as the seat.”

“You could have predicted,” he said. I nodded. But I said I was curious, wanted to maximize my later years if that was possible, and all…

He nodded and scheduled me for an MRI brain scan, which I took a few weeks ago.

I arrived early. 6:30 a.m. They had the necessary documentation. The nurse smiled a greeting, handed me the familiar wrap, cleared me of any metal objects, and said there was going to be a  lot of noise inside the tube. She asked, in fact, if I had any serious fear of being confined to tight and noisy places. Having worked for nearly 50 years in a variety of news rooms, I said I could probably deal with it.

So she slid me into the tube, gave me a set of ear phones and asked if I cared to listen to FM radio as a distraction from the noise. I considered this offer but then asked whimsically whether she could upgrade to Mozart instead.

“I have it,” she announced triumphantly.

And so the doors slammed shut, internal noise kicked in and suddenly here was the music of Mozart, and I could scarcely believe what the nurse had dialed in. Beside his operas and symphonies and violin music and a half dozen other forms, Mozart wrote 27 piano concertos. His last – the 27th piano concerto written not long before he died – has been my favorite since I first heard it played by a Japanese woman in concert years ago. The music the nurse had dialed wasn’t the opening but the slow second movement, marked Larghetto by Mozart. A melody neither sad nor gloomy, but tender and wistful and altogether lovely. And one more thing: It’s practically the only Mozart piano concerto that I can play bearing any remote similarity to how it was written.

So I was totally overjoyed and I couldn’t restrain a shout-out to the nurse.

“Can I sing?” I yelled to the nurse.

“No,” she yelled, definitely horrified. “DON’T sing.

In other words, you’ll mess up the magnetos or the pulses or whatever was creating the magnetism flowing through the tube. And now the Mozart had shifted to his violin sonatas. And I had to stop to consider: When I was kid so long ago, what I knew about the equipment available to doctors was pretty much limited to forceps, needles, swabs, scalpels, bed pans, stethoscopes and stomach pumps.

And now, thank God, they were into MRIs, quadruple bi-passes, stents and more. But that wasn’t all. Near the end of the MRI the Mozart disappeared, replaced by a banging and hammering that sounded like a runaway road grader assaulting the walls of my tube. Toss in what sounded like an in-house thunderstorm.

And then silence. The tube door opened to reveal a smiling nurse. She said it was all part of the electronic examination and ultimately the doctors would get a picture.

“But, it’s finished. How’d it go,” she asked.

“Fabulous,” I said. “Thanks for the Mozart and, the rest.”

She led me back to my locker and said I was an excellent patient, but she couldn’t give me a clue.

The results? The neurologist’s office called to schedule a follow up in a few weeks “The preliminaries,” he said, “are not at all bad.”

I told him I handn’t misplaced my billfold in three weeks. He thought that was progress.