Today I went and had my head examined. Often people will say to me.
'You need your head examined.'
This isn't usually out of concern, rather appalled disbelief at something I'm about to do or have already done. This however is in response to my doctor’s referral, though I don’t recall him saying that he was going to send me for a MRI scan on my brain, but that I guess is the point. My memory keeps letting me down. When I complain about it, to just about anyone who’ll listen, I get the
'Oh I'm always forgetting things.'
'I know, I know, I have lists for everything now, if it’s not written down it doesn't get done.'
'Don’t worry, it’s all part of getting old, it happens to us all.'
All platitudes that are meant to reassure me, I'm sure, or in many instances themselves. But they probably don’t have a close relative who developed early onset Alzheimer’s.
Frighteningly, as we’re living longer, more of us are succumbing to Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, some have proven genetic relevance, the rest well might but most haven’t been researched enough to be sure. Early onset Alzheimer’s (symptoms obvious before sixty five) is one that can be passed on through the genes to the next generation. Am I the lucky recipient? – That is the question. My mother had Alzheimer’s disease and with hindsight I can trace symptoms back to her early sixties.
I've never been into a hospital on a Sunday morning. I've been given a 9.00am appointment so I've arrived early because I've no idea where the MRI Suite is located but it sounds plush. The downside to business as usual on a Sunday is that it obviously doesn't have a universal application. The reception staff aren't there to tell me which coloured line on the floor I have to follow to get to the MRI Suite. I read the colour coded list on the wall. I need the yellow route. There isn't one. Every other coloured line on the floor, but yellow. I take the lift to Level One. Nope – no yellow. I end up at the Maternity Unit which is a Unit not a Suite – they aren't holding out any illusions about giving birth. I ask a man with a trolley full of sheets and pillow cases.
'Go back down to the main entrance. The yellow route will be on the other side of the reception area.'
It was and I follow the yellow route road to the MRI Suite.
The receptionist is brusque – she’s obviously not a Sunday morning person. Intimidated I shakily hand her the wrong bit of paper and sit down to wait. She calls me back.
'I need the questionnaire you had to fill out. Have you brought it with you?'
With apologies I hand her the form – she softens a little. The form said I had to remove all make-up, I haven’t. I've got concealer on to hide the remnants of Impetigo that’s been eating my face for the last month. There is no way I'm displaying this to the general public – Halloween is over.
I'm invited to the MRI Suite and follow an efficient young lady to a locker where I deposit my bag. I'm wearing a T-shirt and jogging bottoms. The form said nothing metal and I've complied. She asks about the metal but not the make-up. I wonder and worry that my facial make-up will explode the machine. I enter the MRI Suite.
All subdued lighting and a rather fetching, well lit picture on the opposite wall – Field Poppies. The Suite is painted with soft lilac. The machine dominates the room. The efficient young lady asks for my glasses and locker key. I'm now standing by the side of the machine. She gives me ear plugs to put in my ears and places head phones over the ear plugs explaining as she does so that the machine is noisy and there will be music coming through the head set. I now remember that the form said that there would be a choice of music. I'm not asked what music I’d like or whether I’d prefer not to wear the headphones. I would have preferred not to wear the headphones. I need to ask what I have to do if I want to cough as I'm still hanging onto the tail end of a cold. I ask but can’t hear the answer through the ear plugs and headphones. I take the headphones off – I need to know the answer.
'You must try to wait until the machine has a quiet period and then cough. If you can’t wait then you'll just have to cough and they'll have to re-scan you.'
I'm left in no doubt that coughing at the wrong time is frowned upon.
I'm laid out on the table my head cradled between two wedges and my legs draped over a hump for comfort. An American footballer’s type facial cage is placed over my face and the table is pushed into the tunnel of the machine.
I allow my senses to roam around this alien environment. I acknowledge how quickly the brain re-adjusts to a strange set of circumstances. I'm obviously facing the roof of the tunnel but the positioning of mirrors means that I have the illusion that I'm looking straight through the tunnel into the control room where staff are chatting and watching the computer monitors. I acknowledge that this is a clever idea and that my brain has accepted this as a reality so that I don’t feel so closed in. I've been given a buzzer to press if I need help and I'm aware of it under my hands that are resting on my stomach. The machine begins slicing and examining my brain. It is noisy but I would prefer the machine noise to the awful, distorted music coming through the headset. I'm sure I could relax to the rhythmic clunking of the scanner but find it impossible to unclench against the truly terrible sounds coming from the music.
I begin to be transfixed by the staff in the control room, constructing stories around these individuals about whom I know nothing. I see the efficient young lady sneeze twice into her hands. I'm mentally telling her to now clean her hands before touching anything. She ignores my telepathic message. I quietly despair about the lack of basic hygiene in hospitals.
The machine has stopped clunking and is now blaring out a claxon type noise. Seconds pass and it’s still shouting. It’s a warning noise. Has the scanner broken down or overheated? Nobody is moving from their control room. They must be able to hear the warning surely? The efficient young lady is doing her hair and pulling it back into a pony tail. The man suddenly moves from his seat. I feel relieved, I'm sure he’s going to let me out. I feel the table being drawn away from the tunnel, the noise has stopped – it must have been an ‘I've done with this brain’ signal.
Head phones off, ear plugs out and placed into a proffered paper towel. Glasses and locker key handed to me and out of the door. A lady is seated, waiting for her turn.
'Don’t bother with headphones, the music is terrible.'
Is the only advice that I feel she must hear.
I'm disoriented, I need to find the lockers but my total lack of sense of direction has kicked in and I'm confused by the plethora of doors. I start to panic. A lady in a uniform is walking towards me.
'Excuse me I'm looking for the lockers.'
I'm flourishing my locker key. She looks at me quizzically and her eyes move to the right, I follow her eyes. I'm standing next to the lockers.