When they first rolled me into the MRI machine I panicked a little. I knew I probably would, but I was still determined to have the test and to get it over with. In the many weeks moving toward the event, I was asked, several times, "Do you think you will want something to help you relax?" And each time I said no.
One thing I have learned about myself is that I'm not much of a fan of drugs. I don't like the feeling they bring. I like my own reality, as hard as it can be. I was worried about the MRI machine, but I was also very curious and when I walked into the room, I was not disappointed. It looked and felt very futuristic. Like something you might see in an Austin Powers movie. It was a Wow moment, meeting that machine.
The women who were tending to me knew what they were doing and moved fast so as not to give me too much time to think about what was happening, probably. It reminded me of the time I went skydiving. Once they open the door on the plane, everything happens in a hurry, there is no time to think about the reality that you're about to launch your body into thin air. I'm sure it's to lessen the possibility of panic.
So I was in the little hospital jammies and in the room and in the tube before I knew what was happening.
Am I claustrophobic? I think so. The thing that was taking up a lot of real estate in my head that evening was thoughts of being buried alive. Of all the possibilities, that has always been number one on my list of Worst Imaginable Ways to Die.
So of course that was my first thought when they shoved me into the tube.
For those of you not familiar with the procedure, you hold a little squeezy thing in your hand and can alert the technicians at any time to get you the hell out of there. The tube itself is pretty big. You wear headphones so the person on the other end can keep asking you, "Are you OK? How are you doing?" There are ample modes of egress; if you need to get out, you can get out in a hurry.
They rolled me in and I panicked a little. "Are you OK?" came the little voice through the headphones.
"I don't think so," I replied ... "I'm not sure."
The technician gave me the benefit of the doubt, did a good job doing her job by boosting my confidence and we got started on the first in a series of image collections that took about 45 minutes, each with its attendant weird sound, almost like being on a construction site in a big city.
After the panic came the internal efforts to make the panic go away. And by "internal efforts" I mean that the voices in my head started a war with one another. It went a little something like this:
"This sucks! Get me out of here!"
"Hold on a minute, surely there's a way to calm down."
"This is awful! I'm inside a big, bright plastic tube and my head is in some hockey helmet thing and I can't move and I'm going to die!"
"Well you've been talking about how curious you are about death for a pretty long time now, Melissa. Don't wimp out now."
You get the picture.
I called upon my dead friends. All of them. I need you and I need you right now, I told them. Judy was there. Judy Meyerson helps me a lot. She died of lung cancer about 15 years ago, right before her son, Jesse, was going to be Bar Mitzvahed. Also Ruthie. Car accident. On the day we celebrated the opening of the Mettawee School. Howard Dean wore mis-matched socks that day. I know because I was sitting in the front row and he was on the stage. I remember thinking, "He probably had to get up early to get here, so maybe he got dressed in the dark." Stephan. He died a few years ago, also lung issues. Deck, same, dead about a year now. Reid, Deb, Esther, Aunt Catherine, Uncle John, Josh, Helen. I made them all come and fill up that tube space with me.
And they did. Spirits can be very helpful that way.
I knew that if I opened my eyes I would really panic, but of course I wanted to see what was going on, so I opened my eyes. Bright lights, and a very close MRI machine ceiling. Panic.
Here is what worked: I closed my eyes and imagined myself at the beach beside the ocean. I put myself in the most comforting place I could imagine, and in time I grew calm. And my breathing got deeper and I felt the presence of all the people I have loved who have died. And I went deeper and deeper into the experience and pretty soon it was good. And then it was great.
And I recognized, in every single moment, that I had the power to either freak myself out or make myself calm.
I had the power.
Simply by choosing what to think. Nothing changed in my environment. The testing went on, the noises were loud, the lights were bright, the technician was kind, the squeezy thing was in my hand. It was in the choosing what to think that made all the difference.
And in choosing beautiful thoughts, I achieved a sense of calm that I can only describe as complete peace. A nirvana perhaps. I thought of the ocean, the sand, the waves. I felt myself breathing, fully alive. I felt myself floating a little. I didn't want it to end.
I have never been one to meditate. I suck at it. But being in that tube taught me a powerful lesson about the brain's abilities to direct the traffic of our thoughts and emotions. Inside my head inside that machine I was at a fork in the road, in every single moment. I could choose to be terrified, to feel trapped, or I could choose peace. I wanted very much to be an MRI success story; I couldn't imagine not completing what I had come to do. So I harnessed the power of my thoughts and the power of my faith and I made it through. I more than made it through. I came away with a deeper understanding of the potential that exists inside my own head. That I could choose good thoughts over crappy ones, that I could create my reality by choosing to think positively. Our brains are actually hardwired toward negativity and I know this all too well. We humans have a tendency to see the bad, pick out the problems, imagine the worst, bitch about what's not working.
Hold on. I can't really speak for all humans here.
I have a tendency to see the bad, pick out the problems, imagine the worst and bitch about what's not working.
That night, at the hospital "I'm in a big plastic tube and this is really awful and I'll be stuck in here forever!" melted into one of the most profoundly peaceful experiences I have ever had, simply because I was able to reroute my thinking.
Now begins the very hard work of living this new understanding, outside the big plastic tube. Send me some Amens, please.