Sunday, November 16, 2008

Magnetic resonating with Willy and the Poor Boys

I won’t tell you how much this costs — yet.

I went in for an MRI the other day. Seems that I have telltale signs of impending glaucoma. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been putting in eye drops to bring down my interior eye pressure, but the ophthalmologist has concluded that we may need to be “more aggressive." He’s seeing a “thinning” of my optic nerve just where it goes into the cup at the back of my eye.

I see perfectly well, but there is blindness on my mother’s side of the family. My mother’s cousin, Charles, went blind over the course of two or three months. Charles adjusted to living in a dim, murky world for another 20 years. When visitors came to his house, he instructed them not to move anything. He had everything's place memorized.

I suppose I could carry the blindness gene. They say if you detect glaucoma early enough, though, it is highly treatable.

My ophthalmologist tells me the next step is to prescribe beta blockers, which makes me think of some kind of football formation. “Beta blockers left on three! Hupp, hupp, HUPP!”

The list of “possible” side effects is long but does not include face masking, unnecessary roughness or excessive celebration.

Before bringing in the beta blockers from the bench, the ophthalmologist decided to check to see whether there might be, well, “something else going on.” Hence the MRI, magnetic resonance imaging.

I think he and the massive cylindrical MRI machine may be looking for a brain tumor.

If I have a brain tumor, I’d be surprised. Sure, I have my moments. I left the car keys in the rear door lock the other day and then went mildly ballistic because I couldn’t find them.

And I blank out on names from time to time, but that’s mostly a function of knowing more people than I can absorb — at least namewise. Apologies to all, by the way.

When I was a medical/health reporter in what now seems like another life, I remember the controversy surrounding CT scanners. The problem was that these hugely expensive contraptions got (and still get) an inordinate amount of use. So much so, that the government for a while regulated how many of them could be in a community.

The suspicion is that they are prescribed as diagnostic tools in order to pay them off, and, after that, to make a profit. They also drive up health care costs. The other suspicion is that because they are available and work, they are being used as a defense against medical malpractice suits.

Enter Perry Mason: “You mean, doctor, that you failed to prescribe a CAT scan, which clearly would have alerted you to this horrendous, agonizing disabling disease that will cause $100 million in pain and suffering to my client for the rest of her life?”

You get the picture.

Are MRIs and CAT scans cost-effective? Suffice to say … yes and … no. It depends. What's the value of life or health etc.?

So I show up for the MRI and the young guy in the green scrubs asks what kind of music I would like to listen to.

How’s that?

Seems that I will be slid into this confined tube with earphones on. To be precise, with ear protectors on, because MRI scanners magnetically resonate LOUDLY to produce their 3-D images.

MRI could just as easily stand for Mighty Ruckus Intensifier.

For three minutes you are bombarded with the cacophony of a humongous coffee grinder. Then for five minutes, it’s an industrial-grade vacuum cleaner in serious need of repair. Then for another three-minute session, it’s a jackhammer.

Then its all three at once. It goes on this way for 35 to 40 minutes.

So I’m given a menu of music selections heavily weighed to Rock. Columns of Rock. metal, grunge, soft, classic. “Jazz,” my choice offers on choice. It lists one musician, predictably Wynton Marsalis. Mind, I have nothing against Wynton but why does jazz rise and set on Marsalis for so many in the Post-Reagan generations?

I chose James DePriest and the Oregon Symphony, just to keep things familiar.

* * *

The resonating has begun. The aural assault spins round my head. The jackhammer, grinder, vacuum cleaner reduce the orchestra to a distant whimper. After three minutes, all goes silent.

The technician’s voice comes through the headset. Technician ex machina.

“How are you doing, William?” (He’s reading my name from a chart. “William Frederick Seifert.” I don’t tell him I go by “Rick” because I’m hoping the “William” reference is a one-off.

It isn’t.

“You’re doing great, William.”

Actually, I’m not doing anything but lying on my back with my eyes closed.

“One thing,” I say. “Let’s dump the Oregon Symphony for Credence Clearwater.

“You got it,” he says as if taking an order for a hamburger and fries.

“Willy and the Poor Boys” ride to the rescue.

* * *

I haven’t received the scan results yet, but my guess is that the main thing the 35-minute clamor accomplished was another billing in the radiology department’s books.

“Could you tell me,” I inquired of the receptionist when I checked in, “what all this costs?”

I must have been the first to ask because she had to look it up in the computer.

“$2400 for your partial, head scan,” she said matter of factly.

I wonder whether Medicare pays Credence Clearwater Revival residuals.

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