Frankenstein says it'll be okay
June 14, 2008 4:49 AM   Subscribe

Should I have said something to the kid waiting for the MRI at the hospital?

I've got a rare brain tumor and am in the process of getting it treated. Last week that involved a biopsy to determine the exact nature of the tumor. So now I've got a big bald patch and a nice thick scar with big black staples on the top of my head. Needless to say, my modeling career's on hold for the time being.

Yesterday I had to go in for an MRI and was waiting to get my IV hooked up so they could inject the dye. While I'm sitting there, there was a little girl about 10 - 11 years old in the bay next to me behind a curtain getting prepped for an MRI of her own. She was absolutely terrified of the whole process. Her mom was with her and she and the nurse were trying to reassure her.

I really wanted to say something to her to let her know that an MRI is not a big deal and that she'd be just fine. But then I thought about my Frankenstein-like appearance and thought that might just make things worse: some strange guy with staples and all that.

Should I have said something? I don't have kids and I didn't want to make things worse but I really felt bad for her. I'd like to hear from parents in case this situation presents itself again.
posted by Atom12 to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I imagine that the hospital, her doctors and her parents have already talked to her extensively about the procedure.

Also, your big scar may have added additional stress to the situtation.
posted by k8t at 5:02 AM on June 14, 2008

Even without the scar, you probably would have just scared her more.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 5:13 AM on June 14, 2008

Best answer: I'm not a parent but I've had to go through some semi-scary medical procedures when I was that girl's age, and there were much behind-curtain reassurances from parents and nurses in my case as well. From my perspective, your intervention might not have helped much. I think your instinct about your appearance is right: if I were her, and a guy who had clearly been through much worse things than an MRI told me it was no big deal, I'd only think that it's no big deal compared to what I could be in for next. Plus, at a time like that familiarity is very comforting to a kid - a stranger intruding at a time where she feels very vulnerable is not going to be received as reassuring, despite the best intentions.

So, don't feel bad about not saying anything. I think it was a good decision.
posted by AV at 5:15 AM on June 14, 2008

Frankie done good.
posted by flabdablet at 5:24 AM on June 14, 2008

Response by poster: Whew. Glad to hear there's a consensus. Guess I'll save the guest appearances for homes with small children who refuse to eat their vegetables.
posted by Atom12 at 5:25 AM on June 14, 2008 [14 favorites]

I doubt it would have helped her any, even with your normal appearance. I had an MRI done about 2 months ago, and I sincerely hope I never need another one again. If I had known what was involved, I would have seriously considered not going. But it was also my first time in a hospital for anything more than an ultrasound, first time with an IV, first time in hospital clothing, etc. I thought it would be simply sliding into the machine, a quick paper scanner type process, then out again. If somebody had told me 'aw, it'll be nothing' I would have loathed them afterward. I may be a minority in these opinions though.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 5:30 AM on June 14, 2008

Atom12, I just wanted to note--and commend--your compassion and empathy for that little girl in the midst of your own treatment.
posted by mono blanco at 5:57 AM on June 14, 2008 [7 favorites]

Also your sense of humor in trying circumstances.
posted by megatherium at 6:23 AM on June 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

just out of curiosity, what are the staples made out of? i would think metal staples + MRI = bad news bears.
posted by hummercash at 7:40 AM on June 14, 2008

Response by poster: I think titanium. I wondered if I'd shoot off sparks too, but they said it'd be fine yesterday -- that the new ones are MRI-friendly. There weren't any adverse affects that I'm aware of and the guys operating the machine could clearly see them when I went in.

Although today everything I eat tastes like bacon.

I kid, I kid.
posted by Atom12 at 8:17 AM on June 14, 2008

Sounds like to me you followed the unspoken cues you got while waiting that it wasn't the right time to say something. Sometimes I have to remind myself that social interaction is best when it's organic and if I'm not trying to force a comment or conversation to happen.

Don't let this example stop you when you do get the right cues encouraging you to say something some other time. Often there is nothing better than one patient to another about hospital experiences. I'm not a parent so I can't speak from that perspective, but as a nurse I'm often impressed with the comfort patients find when speaking with each other. You know when the moment is right.

Thanks for thinking of that child and best wishes towards your own health. And I know you're joking but I bet you're not a frankensteiny as you think. Maybe it's because I work in the field, and hopefully this doesn't sound ridiculously idealistic, but there's something about the roughness of treatments that by society's definition makes people ugly, but I look at those going through these things and they look beautiful to me. Simply, undeniably beautiful.
posted by dog food sugar at 9:08 AM on June 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

Completely unrelated, and the OP has clearly been through many an MRI in his time, but when I went through my one and only MRI, two things helped.

--The MRI folks gave me earplugs (not great, but helped a little) and one of those little buckwheat-filled eye pillows. I put it on before they shoved me back there. I'm not typically claustrophobic, but I didn't really feel like developing it right then, so the pillow helped relax me a little and not worry about "oh geez, my eyes are going to open accidentally and I'm going to be STRAPPED IN OOOOH NOOOOOOO!" factor.

--I am at an advantage here as a musician, but I went through as much of the Bach cello suites as I could remember in my head. Scratch that; I hummed. If I made a mistake, I figured it out and started over. It was nice and mathematical, and it was great to concentrate on something else other than the weird rhythm of the sci-fi noises around me. 45 minutes went by fairly easily.

Good luck to anyone who has to go through one!
posted by Madamina at 9:45 AM on June 14, 2008

I will go against the consensus here, I think hearing from you could have been helpful to her. I've never had a brain tumor, but I have had my fair share of scary unpleasant medical trauma.

Fear of the unknown can be very frightening when your imagination runs away with you. Gently and reassuringly hearing exactly what to expect from someone who has been there, done that, and survived can help immensely. Hearing what to expect form the doc, nurse, tech, etc. is suspect, biased information. Also, a reminder that other people have had worse can put things in perspective.

As Vonnegutt said, we are here to help one another get through this thing, whatever it is.
posted by Daddy-O at 9:57 AM on June 14, 2008

And best wishes to you. It helped me to tell myself "All I have to do is make it through today. I will deal with tomorrow tomorrow." My experiences made me a better, stronger person. I am more appreciative of what I have in this life and I don't regret my experiences. I sincerely hope things turn out as well for you.
posted by Daddy-O at 10:03 AM on June 14, 2008

As a parent of two, I'd say you did the right thing. Although at 10-11 she probably would have been fine with it, you always run the risk of a child's imagination; in her mind, she could have made the jump from "I'm scared of this MRI" to "OH NO, what if they find something in my head and do that to me!"
posted by shinynewnick at 1:23 PM on June 14, 2008

I thought it would be simply sliding into the machine, a quick paper scanner type process, then out again. If somebody had told me 'aw, it'll be nothing' I would have loathed them afterward.

Why, what did it involve? I had an MRI a couple of years ago, and it just involved lying still for 40 minutes while it clicked and buzzed. Did you just not expect it to take so long and be so loud?
posted by Freaky at 2:01 PM on June 14, 2008

Why, what did it involve? I had an MRI a couple of years ago, and it just involved lying still for 40 minutes while it clicked and buzzed. Did you just not expect it to take so long and be so loud?

My main issues were the IV for die injection which was totally unexpected, having this thick thing strapped tightly to my chest which was also unexpected, and some claustrophobia with being stuck in the tube. Open at both ends, sure, but all I could see was the top of the tube a few inches from my face, and knowing I couldn't move either without farking up the imaging. Most people seem to be OK with it, but as mentioned, I never want to go through it again.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 2:21 PM on June 14, 2008

Cranial MRI's could do with a little more heads-up, as it were. The claustrophobia and noise are the most remarkable elements, imo, and somewhat comical in a way, given the millions of dollars they cost. I imagine the fact that for most people, the MRI is discerning something potentially awful only adds to the distress. I'm a big fan of a stout dose of Valium before going in.
posted by docpops at 2:51 PM on June 14, 2008

I know a lot about MRIs, have ordered thousands if not tens of thousands of them, and used to wind my own coils for the research magnet I worked with eighteen years or so ago. I lay in that scanner for 8 hours once getting phosphorus spectra taken of my brain meats, so I've been there too.

What I lack, however, is that magical thing that makes kids calm down. If you don't have that you probably shouldn't try to calm down a kid about to go into an MRI scanner. The kid is not rational and you will fail.

docpops, I use Ativan in adults and chloral hydrate for kids. I too am a big fan.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:22 PM on June 14, 2008

...chloral hydrate for kids...

Man, you California folk really are stuck in the 60's; try a little Precedex or something. (I say that with a smile; whatever works in a given situation is OK.)

I take care of kids undergoing MRIs, CT scans, radiation therapy, and similar procedures a couple of times a week or more; they get anything from mild sedation to general anesthesia depending on the specifics of the case. How to interact with them is completely variable depending on many factors. Are the parents/kids outgoing and inclined to talk to strangers? Are they in a setting that addresses the special needs of children? Are they mature for their age? Are they developmentally delayed or otherwise emotionally affected by their disease? Are they there for a single study or are they about to start a prolonged course of treatment? Some of our patients get XRT (x-ray therapy) daily for several weeks, interspersed with lumbar punctures, bone marrow biopsies, MRIs, CT scans, nuclear medicine scans, and on and on; they become "regulars" and get to know other patients pretty well. Most patients just get a single study and maybe an operation and get on with life. In other words, there is no right answer to your question. The best you can do is look at the parents and child and play off of their cues as to whether and how much to interact. Each situation is unique.

I am also a parent who has had their child sedated for a couple of diagnostic procedures; nothing too big and the problem resolved itself. But from that perspective my wife and I were so focused on the task at hand that we didn't really notice or care about the other patients around us; any conversation would have been politely acknowledged but not speaking up would not have been noticed at all. As mentioned above, though, that was specific to our situation; if we were going to be going back for multiple tests and procedures we might have appreciated meeting other patients we would be seeing again.
posted by TedW at 9:12 PM on June 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

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