Why are claustrophobia and an MRI such good friends?

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Express Monorail

“Take the sedative an hour before you come in for the procedure.”

I was certain I had heard the doctor say this.

Yet an hour later, I still felt my heart racing.

I squeezed the Son’s hand tightly and heard him whisper, “It’s going to be alright, mom. Just relax.”


I couldn’t remember the last time I felt what that was like.

My thoughts wandered to what had brought me here in the first place.

“I think it’s a meniscal tear, Bella, but I need an MRI to confirm it.”


The acronym alone made me hyperventilate.

“Bella,” I heard the receptionist call my name.

“Please proceed to Room 1.”

Room 1.

It sounded like what Alfred Hitchcock would call the place where strange things happened to unsuspecting victims.

As I hobbled over to Room 1, I felt my hands tremble.

Dear Lord, just how bad of a person had I been in a past life and why was I paying for that woman’s sins?

“Mom, it’s going to be okay. I’m going to be with you the entire time.”

The Son.
My son.

How much good had I done in a past life to deserve such a loyal, beautiful child?

Swallowing hard and stifling the desire to scream for him to get me out of there, I patted his hand and attempted to take another step.

Five seconds later, I was being asked to lay down on a cold, hard surface.

I looked at the ominous tunnel that seemed to whisper, “Come into my lair.”

Again I felt my pulse race.

My breath caught in my throat.

“You can do this, Auntie B. You’re a gladiator!”

I remembered the sweet encouragement my niece had given me the night before.

Laying down on the table, I felt an intense wave of fear settle over my body.

I felt cold.

“These headphones will help with the noise.”

What noise?

Fear continued to forcibly settle on my skin.
In my stomach.
In my chest.

I saw the technician hand the Son a headset.

At least we would be able to communicate through the ordeal.

“This is a panic button, Bella. Press it if you think you can’t finish the MRI.”

Can I press it now?
Can I go home?
Can we forget I was ever here?

Suddenly, the metal slab was being propelled into the tunnel.

Our Father, who art in heaven…

I could hardly remember the words to my favorite prayer.

My face itched.
My feet felt numb.
I wanted to cough.

“Please remain still for the duration of the study.”

The tech’s voice loomed loudly through the headset.

“It’s going to be fine, mom. When we’re done here, we’ll get coffee. Okay?”

I felt tears slowly creep down the sides of my face.

“I’m going to count down, Bella. Hang in there. Three, two, one…”

Boom, boom, boom!

The loud noises sounded like gunshots.

My hands continued to tremble at my side.

100, 99, 98, 97, 96…

I slowly counted back from a hundred.

Why wasn’t the sedative working?

Why didn’t I feel the buzz such a pill is supposed to give?

Pop! Pop! Pop!

“Stay still, mom.”

I heard the Son’s voice through the headset.

I should have known better than to rely on a pill I’d never taken before.

I should have taken a swig from the fancy Cognac bottle the Significant Other kept in his desk.

Bam! Bam! Bam!

When would the noise stop?

Why couldn’t I feel my lower back anymore?

Why did it feel like an elephant was sitting on top of my chest?

“We’re halfway done, Bella. You’re doing great.”

79, 78, 77…

Counting backwards had always worked as a soothing technique.

Why wasn’t it working now?

I had given the tech my Saturday Night Fever CD.

Why weren’t the Bee Gees crooning “Staying Alive” in my ear?

My heart felt like it was going to self-eject at any moment.

Hallowed it be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done…

My brain and heart were on overdrive.

Any moment now, I would go into shock.
Total and absolute system failure.

My end was near.

I would meet my maker in this metal tunnel.

No white light to lead the way or deceased loved ones to take my hand.

And I would be dressed in ratty gray sweatpants and an old pink tee emblazoned with the word “foxy” for all eternity.

“Bella, we’re done.”

“Mom, it’s over.”

The room spun as the Son and the tech helped me to sit up.

I took a deep breath and exhaled.


I had triumphed over the metal monster who had held me captive for the past thirty minutes.

Claustrophobia was my kryptonite but still, I had beat it.

“Auntie B., you are a gladiator.”

I smiled as I realized that for the first time today, those words rung true.

Does claustrophobia have the same effect on you?

Note: While some of the inner dialogue written in this post may be humorous, it is not my intention to make fun of anxiety or claustrophobia. Writing this post was my way of dealing with the symptoms of claustrophobia that I felt during a recent MRI study. And I’m afraid the symptoms were all too real. Nevertheless, writing about the experience has allowed me to process the emotions that assaulted me that day and come to terms with my humanity.

59 thoughts on “Why are claustrophobia and an MRI such good friends?

  1. HUGS!

    I’ve only ever had to go through one of those donut shaped MRIs – but just the intial entry made me tense. I think I would truly lose it if I had to have a real MRI.

    And what a wonderful boy you have, Bella. Glad you made it through.

    1. Amber, thank you for the lovely hugs! I feel better already! :) The Son is pretty special. Methinks every mom should have a child like him. hee hee! :)

  2. Bella- I’m so sorry you had to endure that. I’ve never had an MRI to know what it was like, but your post gave me a glimpse. I’m glad writing about it helped you process the feelings. I know I wouldn’t have done well either. I can’t even hold my breath long, I feel like I’m smothering. I can’t imagine being in the tube. Hopefully you won’t have to go in again. You have a good boy… staying with his Momma and giving words of comfort. Sounds like you both need an extra large cup of coffee :)


    1. Sonja, we did indeed have two cups of coffee each! And a panini! ha! The experience was absolutely dreadful. I’m so glad it’s over! The way I wrote this post is more or less what was going on in my mind at the time. Thanks for the hugs and sweet words, lady! :)

  3. If only they’d make it sound and feel more womb-like…warm, soothing water sounds. The loud noises make the already confined space feel like it’s closing in (as you described with great clarity). You really are a gladiator, Bella.

    1. Sahbinah, I agree–warm soothing water sounds would make for an easier experience. However, for me, it’s being enclosed in such a tight space. I had to ask my doctor for a sedative but I really think it was a sugar pill since it had no effect on me whatsoever! ha! Thank you for your kindness, lady! :)

  4. Dear Lady, I don’t know why medical procedures have to be this way and make us feel so humiliated or distressed!. But your sense of humor is a great joy and make me feel so grateful because you share it with us!
    besos y gracias

    1. Mrs. Allnut, I agree! I think medical procedures should take the human factor more into consideration; they shouldn’t have to cause so much distress and anxiety. I’m delighted that you saw the humorous aspect of my writing. I was hoping it would still shine through and thus, not make this too much of a morbid piece! hee hee! Besos! :)

  5. Bella, my dear Bella–I was hyper-ventilating just reading this. I am claustrophobic, too, so I totally felt your panic. If a woman had designed this machine, I’m sure it would have been far more comforting, but still. Really had to believe there was no other way to diagnose you. Are you OK now????? Sending you a big warm virtual hug.

    1. Jann, you make me want to cheer! So true, my friend, so true. Perhaps a woman can modify this hideous machine and make it a bit more nurturing. We can only hope! I asked the specialist if I could be diagnosed with an X-ray or sonogram and unfortunately the answer was no. She was able to confirm that I have a meniscal tear and a cyst that has apparently burst. The liquid has leaked into the muscles and it’s what’s causing the horrific pain I’m enduring. Thank you for the warm hug. It is much appreciated, my friend! :)

  6. I was willingly rolled into a carpet when I was four and have suffered from claustrophobia-like symptoms ever since. I feel your pain!!! You survived! You are my hero! Hugs to you, my friend.

    1. Oh my goodness, Diane, I shivered at the thought of being rolled into a carpet! I did not endure a traumatic experience during childhood but one of my sisters and my mother are claustrophobic and I understand that this runs in families. I’m very glad to have survived, primarily because this allows me to read such beautiful comments from all of you! Hugs to you, my friend! :)

  7. Wait a minute. You had an MRI and they gave you a sedative? I had an MRI and I didn’t get a sedative! I want my sedative!!!
    Sorry! I’m not trying to make fun of claustrophobia either, just poking some fun at your post. Glad you made it and hope you’ll confirm with us that it was nothing serious :)

    1. Astra, I’m convinced that was no sedative. More like a sugar pill or some other type of placebo. ha! Your comment made me giggle! I think we should be dispensed a sedative before even reading about claustrophobic events! hee hee! I have received a quasi diagnosis and I say quasi because the pain continues. Now she’s had me get some insteps for my shoes and supposedly this will alleviate the pain. I’m not sold on the idea. We shall see! :)

    1. Jodi, thank you for your encouragement! I am so relieved it’s over and I’m praying that I won’t have to have an MRI of my back which is something she had mentioned in a previous assessment. Please send happy thoughts my way so this isn’t so! :)

    1. Kim, thank you for the love, lady. I so appreciate your support. And did I mention I’m tickled pink you like my writing? :)

  8. This is such a well written post. I was there with you every step of the way! MRIs are never fun. I’ve had two and both times it felt like I was being suffocated. I’m glad you’re okay.

  9. I have only ever had one MRI- as a young college student two hours away from home and in the emergency room (and actually completely NOT related to drinking or anything stupid like that). I already have terrible anxiety, so being alone with the MRI was horrifying. I know you felt so much relief when it was over. And your sweatpants and “Foxy” tee will live to see another day :)

    1. Katie, your experience sounds quite dreadful as well! I can’t imagine having to undergo something like this alone and in an ER. I’m so glad you were able to conquer your fear! Yes, the sweatpants and “Foxy” tee are chuckling in the closet as we speak! hee hee! :)

  10. Oh my goodness, Bella. I have only experienced slight claustrophobia once as a teenager. But this story? The way you wrote? I’m trying to calm my heart down! You really have a skill to make me feel what you were feeling. Good for you for getting through it and knowing that you can get through the next hard thing.

    1. Danielle, your comment makes my heart sing. Why? Because I was hoping that I would be able to transmit the fear and panic I felt to my readers. Not to scare them, mind you, but to give all of you the sense of how paralyzing this kind of panic can be. Thank you for your support and kind words, lady! :)

  11. Poor Bella. I’m sorry you had to go through this, but I’m thrilled your son was able to be by your side. You’ve done well, my friend, in raising a caring, loving individual! I’ve never had an MRI, but I’ve heard it isn’t pleasant. Several members of my family suffer from claustrophobia, and an MRI surely isn’t at the top of their “to-do” lists! I hope everything turns out well, though, and that your knee mends soon.

    1. Debbie, I don’t think I would have been able to get through this had the Son not been there. I really don’t. He was my rock that day. I, like you, am such a proud mamma. Thank goodness for raising this young men right! Thank you for your well wishes, my friend. They are very much appreciated! :)

  12. I have no problem with claustrophobia – while I dislike small, confined spaces, I don’t panic in them, I just dislike them. Or seriosuly hate them. :) My mother is completely different, though, and she’s terrified of the possibility she’d have to have an MRI someday, for whatever reason.
    Congrats on surviving your nightmare, and on having such a wonderful son!

    1. Ivana, one of my sisters is like you. She went in for an MRI and didn’t feel a thing. No panic, or anxiety. She told me she almost fell asleep! I wish I had that fortitude! Thank you so much for your support and praise for the Son! We appreciate it! :)

  13. Girlfriend, I hate those $%^& things. And I don’t have claustrophobia. And they never tell you what to expect.

    I hope that coffee afterward had brandy in it.

    PS. Sorry for being missing for so long. Life happens. Thanks for your note. I’ll get back to the blog here shortly!

    1. Okay, the coffee and brandy comment had me chuckling! I’m glad to see you back here again, lady. I have missed you and have sent happy thoughts your way. Please tell me you’re through with surgeries and are back on the mend! I’m looking forward to reading your posts again! Thanks for the love, sister! :)

  14. you are TOTALLY a gladiator, Bella. And yes, I have claustrophobia and get anxiety sometimes even in elevators. It’s horrible, but I just keep my mind thinking other things. :) So glad that you’re OK. I hope you treated yourself to something delish afterwards!

    1. Laura, you are a sweetheart! Would you believe I take elevators as a recommendation that a therapist once gave me as a way to deal with my claustrophobia? But only for one or two floors! And on good days! ha! The Son and I had a delicious breakfast afterward composed of freshly squeezed orange juice, paninis, and coffee! Yum! :)

  15. I don’t think so. I remember feeling odd climbing to the top of the Bell Tower in Canterbury. My hands were sweating and my head started to pound,. Heights I guess. Great description, Bella, I was feeling sick alongside you. Hope all is well.

    1. Brenda, the Signficant Other gets lightheaded with heights as well! I know the symptoms you describe all too well. I’m delighted you liked the description of the process, amiga. Thank you for your concern! :)

  16. Hay, Dios mio! Bella, you had me chuckling at your experience but, Yes, YES! I would be terrified having an MRI done, and dread the day I need one. Congrats on surviving it. I am very claustrophobic and I suspect most of us are. Hope everything’s okay!

    1. Monica lady, I hope you never have to go through an MRI! I hated it so much! Seriously, it is one of the scariest things I’ve ever gone through. Scarier than child birth! I kid you not! I’m smiling that you found the description humorous. I was hoping that would be the case in part. I’ve spent the last week immobilized, with my leg elevated, and taking a mild pain killer. I’m still in a lot of pain, but I’m slowly getting better. Thank you for your concern! :)

    1. Rimly, sweet lady, thank you for your kind words. MRI’s are very scary! I’m so glad it’s behind me. I’ve spent the better part of this week praying I don’t have to have one of my back. For the moment, the doctor wants to wait and see if the pain subsides. Please send happy thoughts my way, my friend! Have a nice weekend! :)

  17. Oh, Bella… I don’t think I have claustrophobia – at least, not to that degree. I am fond of open space, open floor plans, non-restrictive clothing, so perhaps I have claustrophobic tendencies I avoid from a subconscious level. ? I don’t know for sure, but what I do know is I began to take deep, even breaths for you, and focused on bringing in peace and calm. I hope the study resulted in what the doctors needed to know, and the process of healing has begun. xoxo

    1. Ellen, indeed, the healing process has begun. Thank goodness! I didn’t think feeling helpless and dependent on the two men who live with me would be so hard. I’m fiercely independent and my inability to ask for help, according to my doctor, has made a setback in my recovery. However, the Daughter called a week ago and told me she might be coming up for the holidays and the thought of not being able to go out and about breaks my heart. I have started to take this more seriously and have rested for a week. Would you believe I have never felt more tired? But alas, pain is fatiguing. Your happy thoughts have made their way to me and they’ve helped, dear friend! I am now able to stand with the help of crutches! Yay! Hugs for you! :)

  18. Bella, I’m so sorry you had to endure this torture, dear sweet friend, but you were a gladiator! You did it. God and your amazing son were with you – and I’m sure his moral support got you through. Beautiful story, and encouraging too. I must confess that I have a phobia of any medical procedure. Is there a name for that? I know most of the phobia names, but I don’t know off the bat one that sums up a general fear of doctors and needles and medical procedures.
    Never mind, I just looked it up. Here you go. “Iatrophobia – fear of doctors. http://phobias.about.com/od/phobiaslist/a/iatrophobia.htm
    Imagine if I had to have an MRI :-( They’d have to put me in a straight jacket.

    1. Debra, I don’t know what I would have done without the Son and the knowledge that God was with me. I seriously don’t know. I’m delighted you liked the post and that you’ve taught me a new word! I had no idea latrophobia existed! Perhaps there’s a name for the phobia of MRI’s! hee hee! Trust me, I was one inch away from the straight jacket! ha! Hugs! :)

  19. Oh dear Bella, so sorry you had to go through the MRI (I didn’t know there were loud booms) and so glad your son was with you. How’s the test results? Hope everything is okay? I have mild panic attacks when I feel crowded in. I’d feel like I can’t breathe. *Throwing in my hugs, too.*

    1. Claudine, the noises made the procedure all the worse. Thank goodness for the headphones that seemed to mute them a bit. The test results were able to confirm the doctor’s initial diagnosis: I have a meniscal tear with an erupted cyst. The liquid from the cyst has gone into the muscle and apparently that’s what caused so much pain. I have been applying “RICE” (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) to my leg and I feel better. I still can’t walk normally but I’m hopeful that I’ll get there eventually. Thank you so much for your warm hugs! They are so appreciated, amiga! :)

    1. Nadine, there’s no doubt in my mind that you are a gladiator! Methinks you can do anything you set your mind to doing! By the way, that last post of yours made my day! :)

    1. Paz, thank you so much for your thoughts, prayers, and that lovely email! I’m glad the Son was with me. He really offered me much comfort and reassurance. Happy Thanksgiving to you! :)

  20. Dear Bella, I’m so sorry you had to go through such a horrific ordeal, but thankful your son was with you to provide guidance and encouragement. I do hope you’re feeling much better and hopefully can put this entire thing behind you. Claustrophobia is a terrible thing to endure, it sounded like one long panic attack to me! I dislike elevators as they tend to make me claustrophobic…

    1. Elizabeth, thank you for your kindness. I’m glad it’s behind me. I knew you would understand just how hard of an ordeal this was. I hope I don’t have to repeat it ever again. Elevators make me claustrophobic too. I rarely take one and if I do, I always have to be in the company of someone. Thank you for your support, friend! :)

    1. Sharon, thank you for your beautiful thoughts and wishes. I am most grateful. I am currently on the mend but if I’m honest, it’s coming along very, very slowly. It can be quite frustrating and I really do not like to rely on the Son and the Significant Other for mundane tasks such as putting on my socks, but sadly, it’s my reality for now. Sigh. I am embracing your healing thoughts tightly and praying life smiles on me again soon! Thank you, friend! :)

  21. I suffer from claustrophobia, Bella and even though you’ve written this in your inimitably humorous style, my heart was pounding when I read this. I could imagine just how scary the experience must have been.
    I think it was the promise of coffee with a very sweet boy that saw you through! ;)
    I hope you’re healing well, dear friend.
    Love to Roxy and you from Pablo and me. ♥

    1. Corinne, I’m delighted you liked the post! I really wanted to capture the anxiety and fear I had felt the day I had the MRI. So if you’re heart was pumping, then that means I was effective and that makes me squeal with satisfaction! hee hee! As always, you are a wise soul–indeed, it was the Son and the promise of coffee that got me through the ordeal. Sending you love back, my friend. Roxy sends Pablo a big smooch! :)

  22. Bella,

    Hugs to you. I’ve been reading your blog for over a year and I agree, “You are a gladiator” or warrior goddess, if you prefer :).

    I have knee issues and have suffered from a torn meniscus, suffered through an MRI, countless bizarre female medical procedures as I have Endometriosis and been operated on 2x. The accompanying terror truly never lessens. For me, it is not claustrophobia but helplessness. Facing one’s fears is always our greatest challenge. I’m glad you got through it. There’s nothing like being sick to make you appreciate your health….


    1. Coco, I shall take warrior goddess, gladiator, or any other empowering name you want to send my way! ha! Lady, you are so right–the terror before, during, and even after these procedures never lessens. I’m frankly sick of it. My nana was right when she said you have everything until your health goes. It’s not until you aren’t fully healthy that you appreciate how important being healthy is. I can see you feel the same way! Hugs! :)

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