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Column - Time comes to a dead stop inside MRI

"Time flies," they say. Well, let me assure you, it doesn't fly inside an MRI; it comes to a dead stop.

MRI is short for a magnetic resonance imaging machine, which resembles something from Stanley Kubrick's great mind-blowing movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Last week, I had to take a "ride" in an MRI. First, the technician had me lie down on a long gurney-like device that resembles the sinister plank they put a victim on just before his head is shoved under the blade of a guillotine. Then he tried, several times, to put an IV tube into my left arm. As always, there was trouble finding a vein. At one point, I let out a howl of pain and barked an expletive not fit for a family newspaper. I told that vampire he's not getting a gold star on HIS chart. He chuckled, showing his big teeth.

Then, before entering the guillotine - whoops, I mean MRI - Count Corpuscle's assistant asked me if I'd like to hear music and what kind.

"Have any Beatles? Any Dylan?"

"Will classic rock do?" Igor asked.

"Sure," I said.

Then my journey into timelessness began. My horizontal body was no sooner in the doughnut hole than, to my amazement, Bob Dylan's Pledging My Time began to play. It was like an injection of a happy drug. But the rush didn't last long. That's because Ol' Needle Sticker would interrupt the songs to give me orders, "Now breathe in, breathe out, then breathe in, now hold it!" He was, he said, taking MRI pictures. Lots of pictures. And it was so exhausting. As I tried mightily to hold my breath for up to 30 seconds at a time, I felt I was suffocating or drowning.

During the picture-taking, the machine would make loud metallic rattling sounds like 27 wrenches dropped into large whirring fan blades. I kept thinking, "This machine's due for repairs; it sounds worse than my car." Then I recalled what the technician had said in another lifetime, the one I was living in before he condemned me to the machine. He'd said they'd made great improvements in MRI machines, all except for the sound. They are, he said, still very loud.

After about 20 photos, at least, Nosferatu said (through the headphones I was wearing) there would be a 12-minute pause. I quivered inside with a jellied panic. Even 30 seconds inside that narrow prison seemed like a miserable eternity. The music, thank goodness, did help; somewhat. I was grooving to John Lennon's Come Together and after that Neil Young's After the Gold Rush, but then I began to feel utterly forgotten.

"Where did the Count go?" I kept wondering. "He must have dashed off to the local Walgreen's to develop the pictures. Or did Dracula decide to take a nap? What if he doesn't wake up and I die in this contraption?"

I was too shy to yell out, "Hey, you! Is there anybody out there?"

Then a long Led Zeppelin song began. Brilliant. But it was filled with eerie, anxiety-riddled sounds. Actually, come to think of it, the perfect soundtrack for a life sentence inside an MRI.

Finally, finally, at long last, I heard The Voice telling me to take another breath and hold it. Just then the MRI made a violent rumbling commotion, along with the wrench-clanking, so loud I thought the machine was going to launch me into orbit.

About two years after I entered the MRI, they freed me. My body was numb from not moving. I glanced in a mirror, shocked that I hadn't aged much. I grabbed my watch and kept checking it, unconvinced my "ride" had been only 30 minutes. But I was so relieved to be free again, I told Vlad the Impaler I'd give him a gold star on his chart, after all, just for releasing me from his ghoulish clutches.

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Dennis Dalman, a former reporter for the Echo Press, is a regular contributing columnist to the Opinion page. He is currently the editor of the St. Joseph Newsleader. He can be reached via e-mail at