A week after I was supposed to be called to schedule an MRI, I finally got scheduled and had three studies done of my left leg last night (one of the knee, and two of the calf, one with and one without contrast).
The leg has been feeling better. I'd describe the knee as feeling "weird" more than feeling in pain. The calf is still tender and painful when you poke or press the area with the fluid pocket, but it no longer feels like an intense charley-horse. The skin infection appears to be gone, but my PCP is having me do another 10 days of antibiotics just to be 100% sure, since I don't seem to be having any side effects from them anyway.
The MRI facility has changed since I last had one, about 15 years ago. Then, the machine was in a trailer affixed to the side of the building, now they've built and addition to the hospital and the MRI machine is in the building proper, with it's own little waiting room, changing room, etc. A smaller space, but much better integrated into the hospital. The machine is also smaller as well, with what feels like a much shorter tube and plenty of space on either side of it. Overall, it had a nicer ambiance than before (and we all pride our hospitals on ambiance, right?).
Unfortunately, this MRI trip was much, much more painful than the last one. They have to immobilize the body part they are scanning to get good results, which can be uncomfortable or downright scary to some folks. I have no problem with lying still, as long as I'm comfortable. When they immobilized my head and neck 15 years ago, there was no problem. I was fine. When they immobilized my knee and had me flat on by back for the first test, there was a problem.
15 minutes of being flat on my back without being able to move was painful. The time after that until the end of the test was excruciating. I was listening to music over headphones, so I was coping with "OK, I can deal with this until the end of the song" on a song-by-song basis. Fortunately, I was about a minute into "Freebird" when they said there were just two more images at about 2:30 minutes each and they could let me out. Then it became the rather fun game of "Which will be done first, Freebird or the test?" The test ended first.
After they let me up to walk around a bit, we figured a way to prop my back up so I wasn't flat on my back for the calf studies. I had a wedge under my lower back, and pillows propped up enough to support my head. That was much, much, much more comfortable. However, the immobilizing equipment for the leg and calf was more confining than the knee, and pushed down on my knee joint as well. And the test ran longer, too. As such, while my back wasn't hurting, my leg was in major pain. I've passed kidney stones with less pain. Halfway through the test, I noticed two things: (a) the screen on the front of the MRI machine that I could see had a count-down timer for each image, and (b) the MRI tech would say "two minutes", the machine would kerchunk, kerchunk, buzz-buzz-buzz as they do, and about 20 seconds later the count-down timer would turn on, reading "02:50", counting down. The MRI tech, she lies! But at least I had an idea of how long each imaging would last.
To make matters worse, Pandora stopped about half way through the test, taking the music away from me. The 2nd-to-last song it played was "American Pie", which would have been ironically great for a last song (right before the music died), but alas, there was another.
When the first leg study was done, and they pulled me out of the machine, they wanted to leave me strapped down and give me the contrast injection and stick me back in. If they let me up, they'd have to re-seek landmarks, and it would take longer. If I could just hold out for another 20 minutes... I had them let me up. Bending the knee that had been forced straight (or over-extended) for so long was briefly even more painful, but being able to sit with my hips and knee bent was worth it. While I rested, they did an MRI of someone else rather than keep them waiting. That may have extended my rest, but I'm not complaining.
They didn't stick me in the machine to give me the contrast injection. They worked on that while still imaging the other guy. I got to sit in a comfortable chair while they finally got my vein on the third attempt (after calling in a floor supervisor nurse to do the third attempt, as the MRI techs are only allowed two). So I got to wait as long as possible before they put me back on the rack.
The study with contrast was mercifully fast. They only needed three or four images (each about 3 minutes long), and it didn't take them long to find their way-points for them.
The leg hurts more today than it did yesterday before the tests, so I think I'm still recovering from the trauma.
I have a followup with the orthopedist on Monday.
- MRI and leg pain