She blamed it all on the Halloween pumpkin sticker some sadist had placed in the chamber, just at eye level. There were other little thumb-size stickers in there, but she had been unable to take her eyes off of the evil pumpkin. The little orange demon had been talking to her, with its blacker than black eyes and one white tooth.
* * * * *
The back pains had gotten to the point where she was tired of complaining about it. She'd gone to an orthopedic surgeon who recommended an MRI both on her neck and lower back. Both could be done at the same time to save time and money. She'd had an MRI done years before, and it hadn't been any big deal. Of course, at that time, she'd wanted a free Valium and had told the technician that she was claustrophobic and needed some medication. The MRI had gone OK, but she had felt like shit the rest of the day, groggy from the drugs she was no longer used to. So, this time, she had decided to just let it ride and was sure it would be fine. It wasn't.
She had to be there first thing in the morning, which was much earlier than she'd gotten used to getting up. No coffee, no cigarette, just waiting in the parking lot for the sun to come up and the office to open. By 7:30, she was in the room with the weird lady who did the MRIs. This lady had eyes that did not express any emotion. And her hair looked weird. It was some sort of strange red, but not a natural red. It certainly did not coordinate well with her blue medical outfit.
"What is your whole name?" the MRI lady asked.
"Do you have any metal in your body? Do you have any partial plates? Do you have a pacemaker? Have you ever gotten metal flakes of any sort in your eyes?" And on and on about metal.
"No, no, no, no...." (What would happen if I did have a metal flake in my eye, she wondered?)
After putting on a very ugly and very large pair of blue pants, she laid down on the table in front of the chamber. The MRI lady told her that they would do her neck first, and put a sort of restraint over her head. "This will take about 20 to 25 minutes. Here are some ear plugs. It will get kinda loud at times. Here is a bulb you can squeeze if you need to talk to me." And she was gone out of the room. Sharon thought, "I can do 20 minutes in this thing. No sweat."
The table moved into the chamber. It wasn't too bad at first. She kept her eyes open and noticed the blue line right down the top of the chamber, as if it were dissecting her body into two equal halves. And she noticed the stickers. They seemed to have a Thanksgiving/Halloween theme. A cornucopia was on one side of the blue line. A half dozen others were a bit further up and further down; she never did really see what they were. But, on the left side of the blue line was a pumpkin. It seemed nice enough at first, but that would change very soon.
As the loud noises began, she tried to close her eyes and drift into a sort of sleep. This was impossible with the noises, and so she tried to count the time to see how much longer it would be. This, too, was impossible. Time didn't seem to exist any more. That's when the panic began.
Some sort of evil thoughts were creeping into her head. Thoughts which had not been considered in many, many years. "I'm getting old, aren't I? I wouldn't be in here if I was young and healthy. How is my life going to end? In pain? In misery? What will I do at the end? Will I put a gun to my head? Will I tie a scarf around my head to stop the splatter of blood, like the guys in The Deer Hunter did in that game of Russian Roulette? . . . . Wait, why am I thinking about this sort of stuff? (Well, doesn't everyone, at one time or another? WAIT . . . NO: THEY DON'T!)"
The MRI lady spoke to her on some sort of intercom. "Ms. Abbot, you moved during that sequence. We will have to do it again. Please try to be perfectly still and try not to swallow."
"How much longer will this take?" she asked in a voice that must have been filled with terror.
"This will take 6 or 7 minutes, IF you can remain still."
"Can you let me out of here for a few minutes before we continue?"
In a very cruel voice, the MRI lady said, "If I let you out, we will have to start from the beginning. Is THAT what you want?"
Sharon heaved a deep sigh. "No, go ahead."
As the noise geared back up, she tried to make her eyes look as far down toward her feet as she could, to see the outside world. This worked for a while, but it began to hurt her eyes, so she looked back at the blue line and the stickers. Closing her eyes seemed to be the worst thing for the "bad thoughts," so she was determined to keep them open. That's when it dawned on her that the rearrangement of her molecules by this cursed machine was causing her brain to do this. This machine was driving her to madness with its mad-scientist rays and beams. Just then, the noise stopped and the MRI lady said, "OK, we're done with that one."
When the table was fully out of the chamber, she sat up, threw the earplugs to the floor and angrily said, "I tell you what. I will see the doctor about this one on my neck, and we can worry about the lower back MRI later." This did not sit well with the automaton lady who was standing by the table. In a clipped voice, she said, "If that's what you want. It's your call."
However, after sitting in the big open room for a minute, Sharon decided she could go ahead and tough it out. The thought of having to come back to this place seemed somehow worse than going ahead and getting it over with. "Oh, I guess not. Let's go ahead and get it over with."
The MRI lady seemed pleased. "This will be easier; you won't have your head restrained. That's the worst part." And within seconds, she was re-ear-plugged and back in the chamber and the now-happy sadistic demon from Hell was out of the room again. The noises started again. And that's when it happened. The voices started.
She could see last week when a little boy was in this same chamber; a small boy with a brain tumor who would not live another year. She could hear his tiny voice saying, "You think it's bad for you. How do you think I felt when I was in here? What do you think was going through my head?" She could hear the voice from a middle-aged man with bone cancer who had been in here only yesterday. "I'm dying and I have two small children to support. My wife doesn't love me any more because she's already planning for when I'm gone. I won't see my children grow up. What do you think I was thinking about when I was lying RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE NOW, less than 24 hours ago?" The voices began to tell her what they were thinking about.
It was that damn pumpkin. It was talking to her. Somehow these voices had been trapped behind that white tooth staring at her, and now they were flowing freely into her head. They grew in strength and she could hear several voices at once, all of them filled with their own particular version of terror and fright. She almost blacked out.
When the MRI lady came in smiling and removed her from the chamber, she said, "OK, it's all over now."
"Yes. Yes it is," Sharon said. She got dressed in a daze and spent the rest of the day in a fog. The next day, she logged onto the internet and discovered that around 30% of people who have MRI's experience panic attacks during the process. She doubted if any of them had experienced a talking pumpkin which changed their lives forever.