The old saying goes: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” After my experience in the MRI machine from hell, I knew I would have to get this test done. However, according to TRA medical imaging, it’s estimated that 30 percent of the general public may experience claustrophobic symptoms and/or anxiety reactions during an MRI exam, so I am not alone on this issue. So how would I get my MRI done? I called my case manger, Pam, and explained what had happened. Again, Pam diligently went to work and found a place where I could have an open MRI and then sent me to where I needed to go. Not really knowing what an open MRI was, I started looking into it. What I found wasn’t too concerning, so my anxiety for the test decreased.
For those who don’t know what an open MRI is, the setup is similar to a regular MRI, but instead of having your whole body wrapped up like some kind of burrito, there are no sides to the machine — only a huge oval magnet that you lie under.
The day of the test came, and of course, my wife, now eight months pregnant, came along to give me some moral support. Not being at Madigan, I wasn’t sure what kind of service I would receive. My assumption was that it would be radically different from treatment on post, which to date has been remarkably above reproach.
Still having some anxiety about the test, I sat in the lobby waiting and thinking about how terrible the last test had been. In the waiting the room there was a big flat-screen television, which happened to be playing a movie with scenes of crashing waves and beautiful nature. I guess this was to calm people down and take their minds off the tests, but instead, it annoyed me to no end. My name was called, and like usual, I was thinking about something and therefore was distracted as if on a different planet, so she had to call my name twice. I got up, turned around, kissed my wife, and said sarcastically, “Wouldn’t it be great if I came out healed?” She replied smiling, “Now that would be something to write about.” Led by the technician, I walked away. I went into the little changing room and put on my outfit for the test. On the bench in the changing room was a list of songs that I could choose from for my test. This was nice; I could listen to music and take my mind off things.
I walked in the room, and this time the monster in front of me was just like the picture I had seen on the Internet. However, I quickly found out some things were slightly different. The technician explained to me what was going to happen. She said I was going to take several tests and that during the test a needle would insert some goop into my system so they could see brain activity. I got on the table and lay down.
Everything was OK, but then out of the blue the technician came over and placed a face mask on me. It was basically like a radio device of sorts. As soon as she put it on, things got ugly. The number one rule for me is if I can’t move my head or I feel trapped I start to panic, and after about five minutes I did. I asked politely, “Is there anyway I can do this without this face mask?” She looked at me and said, “You should have asked for some drugs to knock you out.” I laughed and replied, “Uh, that wasn’t the question I asked, ma’am?” She walked over to the table, coming close to my face mask. I looked through the football-like bars, and the look on her face was like she was saying, “Ha, ha, you’re all strapped in, and you can’t get out.” And then, almost as if in a kindergarten teacher’s voice she asked quietly, “Do you need someone in here while you take the test?” I responded in the same quiet manner, “Yeah that would be great.” She smiled and then went to the lobby to get my wife. While she was gone I started to move a little and then a lot. My body was telling me to find a way out; it was a weird, uncomfortable feeling. After a second I started to take some deep breaths. While doing that, out of nowhere came this voice. The technician’s loud, god-like voice came over the sound system, “Sorry, your wife is pregnant; she can’t come in.” I replied, “Oh yeah, well, let’s get it done.”
I made it through the test, but barely. I was getting close to calling it quits, but I knew that by doing that I would just be causing trouble for myself and for those who were trying relentlessly to get me help.
Last week I finished the article giving folks the title of my next article, but due to the volume of e-mails over the week giving me advice about getting an open MRI, I thought I would share this experience with you.
In the past few weeks I believe there has been a change in my care, and my wife and I are very pleased. The stresses that culminated from the neglect in the mental health program dealt with some serious problems. These problems were not just my problems, and the stresses overflowed and were affecting my very pregnant wife.
The one thing that I want the mental health professionals to know is that when you mistreat the service member a ripple affect is felt in the service member’s family. Men in combat have spent many months away from their families, and when they come back there is a lot of fixing to do, and stresses are high. The chance of problems occurring after the honeymoon stage is over is almost a guarantee. Men will come home and think that they’re right in the head or that they’re strong enough to deal with what is going through their heads. Some men can fix their problems on their own, but almost more often than not the issue will evolve and grow. The hype and the adrenaline will wear off. It always does. Reality will sink in, and there they will be someday, sitting in a chair, and they may break down. I have seen it. Some of the hardest men I know have cried their eyes out and asked why these things are happening and why they can’t stop them. Sooner or later, their only fix is non-prescribed medicine: beer, fast cars or loose, immoral women — whatever takes the issues away for the moment. Some men have seen things that they can’t even describe, and when they describe it, they seem to instantly go back. When a man finally admits he has issues and takes that step forward, knowing damn well that there is a good chance that he is going to lose creditability or possibly his career, it is imperative that every mental health professional know that a good percentage of the men who are in front of you just didn’t wake up and come into your office. It took them a lot of time and possibly encouragement from loved ones. I often tell my wife that I wish I could get all of the health professionals in an auditorium and discriminate to them a census of what service members feel when going into care. The one thing you don’t want to do is treat us all the same, because we know what it feels like to be treated like s***, and for once we want to be treated right and be given the respect we deserve. For all you know, what you say may save a life. We did our job fighting for our country away from our families. There is no damn reason we should be fighting another war on our own soil. I suggest, in a professional, respectful manner, that when you put your badge on in the morning that you read it and live by the slogan that is in small print.