Tips On Surviving a Scary MRI if You Have Claustrophobia!

MRI Machine

Years ago I had something wrong with my back, so I went to my doctor who told me that I needed an MRI or “Magnetic Resonance Imaging“.

An MRI is a “a noninvasive nuclear procedure for imaging tissues of high fat and water content that cannot be seen with other radiologic techniques. The MRI image gives information about the chemical makeup of tissues, thus making it possible to distinguish normal, cancerous, atherosclerotic, and traumatized tissue masses in the image“.

The MRI machine resembles a huge capsule with a doughnut shaped opening, that you must climb into.

I took my doctor’s advice, and scheduled the MRI on my lunch break, because it was conveniently close to work.

Just as planned, I arrived at the facility and completed the paperwork while I sat in the waiting room.

After a few minutes, a cranky, impatient old lady came to get me and told me to remove all jewelry and any metal objects before entering the MRI room.

Afterwards, we walked into a room with “the capsule” and she very nastily told me to “get in”.

I hesitated, but crawled in.

She could see that I was terrified to be lying in this narrow tube, my heart was racing, but the lady had absolutely no compassion whatsoever!

My Claustrophobia got the best of me, so before she could start the testing, I jumped out and told her to forget it and quickly exited the building!

If you don’t know, Claustrophobia is defined as an “abnormal dread of being in closed or narrow spaces“.

Later that week, I found a location with an open MRI machine and made an appointment.

The MRI tech was nice, humorous, and compassionate!

My husband was allowed to stay in the room with me, which helped. It makes a difference when the techs are compassionate especially if you’re claustrophobic.

Fast forward 10 years…

Years later, my doctor told me that I needed another MRI.


Right after hearing that I needed another MRI, I was at Swedish Hospital for my husband’s colonoscopy.

While I was there, I inquired about their MRI machines.

To my surprise, they revealed that they had just gotten some new wider “MRI machines” that were helpful for individuals with claustrophobia.

Days later, I made an MRI appointment, but asked if it would be OK if I visited the MRI machine a week before the appointment, so it wouldn’t be so stressful.

The nice receptionist told me to come on over and they’d give me a tour.

When I arrived, the friendly tech called me back and was more than happy to show me the machine.

He explained the procedure and told me that the wider machines really do seem to help people with Claustrophobia!

He told me that he would be performing my MRI, which eased my mind!

I must say, exposure therapy was very helpful in this situation!

After our little tour, I went home with complete confidence that I could handle it.

A couple days before the MRI, I didn’t think or talk about it.

I focused on being mindful, which is normally difficult for me. I wasn’t sure if it would help with my upcoming claustrophobia, but I thought I’d give it a try.

On the day of the MRI, we drove to the hospital and I felt OK on the way there.

I puffed my inhaler (I have asthma) and had a couple drops of Rescue Remedy, just in case.

Sedatives can usually be prescribed by the doctor, but I wanted to try the MRI without it.

I completed the usual forms and took a seat in the waiting room.

The tech came for me and asked if I was ready and of course, I wasn’t.

He said my husband was allowed in the room with me.

Knowing about my claustrophobia, the tech was compassionate and did everything in his power to make me feel at ease. For comfort, there were choices included with the MRI:

  • Pillow for Head and under legs (Like a day at the spa)
  • Ear Plugs (Of course I needed these)
  • Headphones (Per my request, Michael McDonald was the music of choice)
  • Wear Your Own Clothes (Very comfy)
  • Warm Blanket (Ahhh, that was nice)
  • Blind Fold (Supposed to help with the Claustrophobia, I didn’t want one)
  • Aromatherapy (Don’t like scents, so I declined)
  • Loved One In the room (Mark wore earplugs too)
  • Panic Button (if they need to stop the scan)

My feet were taped together so I could stay pigeon toed, for a better viewing of my hip.

At that point, I didn’t think I’d be able to do it.  He slid me in to the tunnel and the claustrophobia set in. Oh no…

I stuck my left arm out of the capsule so my husband could hold my hand.

He put on his earplugs and never let go the entire time, which I was thankful for.

My heart was pounding!

The tech went behind the glass, and spoke to me through my headphones.

He told me to stay still before he started.

I closed my eyes and was on my way.

They ran six scans, 2 1/2 long minutes each.

They run the scans in sections because if for some reason one scan messed up, they wouldn’t have to repeat all six.

To hear about my experience, watch the video below, sound effects and all!

I should’ve had the tech turn the music louder because during one of the last scans, I had a full blown anxiety attack!

The MRI noise was unbearable. I thought about pushing the panic button, but kept saying to myself, just 2 more minutes!

Then I heard the magic two words “you’re done”!

What a relief!

It’s a miracle, what a sense of accomplishment!

If you were able to successfully make it through an MRI with Claustrophobia, please share your tips!

TOPIC: Tips On Surviving a Scary MRI if You Have Claustrophobia!

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  1. Tammie Houston

    I fear that my grandmother may be suffering from dementia which is why we want to get her to take an MRI scan so we can know for sure. Unfortunately, she’s always been scared of tight places and would probably be too scared to try one. This article will be a huge help for us. I’ll definitely have to try your suggestions and get her a blindfold and earplugs so that she won’t notice she’s under an MRI scan. Hopefully, she won’t panic while under the scan so that we can get conclusive results and give her the treatments she needs.

    • Kim Gonzales

      Hi Tammie, thanks for the comment and good luck with Grandma!

  2. Kim

    Gee…thanks Kathy! I hope it helps people!

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