As I slid into the MRI cylinder, I remember thinking, This isn’t going to be fun. The tube shaped machine was excruciatingly narrow, with the sloping walls just inches from my face. I had recently dislocated my shoulder and it was time to find out how much damage had been done. The kind technician explained the machine would reveal any damage in the muscles and surrounding tissue and that it was critical I remained perfectly still every moment of the procedure. Then he explained what was to come: three sessions of imaging, each lasting about 20 minutes. It would be loud, so I needed to put the earphones on. Flashes of light were normal. If I felt panicky, I had a button I could press to let him know I needed to come out, but that would stop the machine so we’d have to start all over again if I pushed it.
The first session hadn’t even begun yet and I was already contemplating the possibility of pressing that button. I clutched it with both hands—like a desperate woman holding on to her last ounce of sanity. Knowing that movement was forbidden gave me a deep desire to wiggle something—anything!—for no reason at all. I could feel the walls closing in on my face. I could hear my own breath. The clicking and thumping of the machine was getting louder, the flashes of light more jarring. All of a sudden I felt panic. I’m stuck inside this crazy shrinking tube. What if the button doesn’t work? What if I push it and no one is there to get me out? What if I can’t get enough air in here? What if, what if, what if? I could feel my thoughts getting ready to board the crazy train.1