From the Left



Do MRIs Freak You Out? They Used To Scare Me Too, But Then I Learned This

Bonnie Jean Feldkamp on

I didn't know I was claustrophobic until I had to get an MRI of my knee when I was 32. The technician pushed the button that eased me into the tube, and all seemed to be going well, until a few minutes into it I felt my heart rate increase and proceeded to have a full-blown panic attack.

This intense reaction to an MRI is common -- so common that the sheet you fill out prior to testing even has a box to check if you are claustrophobic. Some people have to take medication to help them keep calm and get through it. I coped by avoiding MRIs, and that seemed to be working for me until last year.

I have autoimmune arthritis, and X-rays give physicians limited information about what's happening with my joints. Turns out, I didn't just need one MRI; I needed three. I was in enough pain that I didn't argue.

A lot has changed since my first panicky experience. I didn't ask for medication; instead, I asked for advice. This is what I learned:

(SET BOLD) Close Your Eyes (END BOLD)

This piece of advice came from an MRI technician, and it helped me greatly. Close your eyes before you go in and don't open them again until it's all over and you are out. Keep them shut!

(SET BOLD) Listen to Ambient Music (END BOLD)

The technician may offer you headphones and ask you what kind of music you like. Headphones are nice, but MRIs are loud and the noise is random. It's startling. Like a car alarm, or horror movie security breach. I've also heard it described as sounding like a war zone. It is much louder than anything the technician can pipe through your complimentary headset. For this reason, I don't ask for music; I ask to listen to a thunderstorm. Relaxing like this helps me stay inside my head and focus on lying still.

(SET BOLD) Meditate (END BOLD)


Use the MRI as an opportunity to practice meditating. Focus on your breathing. When people think of meditation, they think of quiet spaces, but the same principles can bring you calm in chaotic or uncomfortable spaces -- such as in the tube of an MRI machine.

If you're not used to meditating or have never done it before, look up a guided meditation on YouTube and practice beforehand. Basically, the goal is to keep your attention trained on your breathing during the MRI. When you feel your mind start to wander or worry, bring it back to your breathing. Talk yourself through it like you are your own best friend. What would you say if this was your child and you were holding their hand? Say those things to yourself. Take deep-reaching belly breaths that expand your abdomen, not your chest, and release each breath slowly.

(SET BOLD) Practice Gratitude (END BOLD)

Remember why the MRI matters. It's to give your doctor the information he or she needs so that you can begin to heal, to feel better or to gain more clarity in a diagnosis. Without this detailed information, you cannot move forward with a care plan that makes sense. Feel that gratitude radiate from within you. Be grateful for your physician, for the technology allotted to you for your care and for the technician doing everything in their power to make you comfortable and obtain proper imaging. You deserve the chance to live comfortably, and the MRI is a tool to help your caregiver help you do this.

I've overcome my fear of the MRI. I know you can, too.


Check out Bonnie's weekly YouTube videos at To find out more about Bonnie Jean Feldkamp and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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