A few days ago I needed to enter a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine for a brain scan. Having been in tighter squeeze spaces as a seafarer, the experience was not disturbing for me, but it may well be worth your while if you are aware of what it is like.
You are required to remove all metals from your body, then lie down on a trolley, with some parts of your body strapped in. All other human beings are then asked to leave the room, you are provided with an emergency alarm button, and the trolley with you onboard slides into a huge tunnel in a machine. The machine then starts making massive sounds and all this is accompanied by a dizzying array of lights inside. Your MRI is being done.
At that juncture, like most other people caught in a problem, I thought that all MRI machines are equal. How wrong I was. And that is what I want to share on one level. You as an educated reader should be aware of what you or your loved ones are going in for when an MRI is prescribed.
More importantly, it also costs a lot of money to get an MRI done, as well as potential risk to people who may not be able to take the entombment, and for your investment plus tension, you expect close to the latest technology. Which, to my amazement, at one of the best hospitals in Delhi, as I found, was not the case - I had been strapped into an MRI machine that could at best have been called "ancient" or at least 20 years old. And without sound cancelling headphones, just some cotton to stick into my ears, and a technician in a hurry.
What all this did to my brain is not known, because when I shared the scan report with friends abroad, the first thing they pointed out was that the MRI Machine used was an out-dated 1.5T machine. The 3T MRI machines are better for imaging small bones, breast MRI, neurological, musculoskeletal MRIs. This is standardised in hospitals abroad. Image quality of any MRI machine depends on the signal and field strength. So obviously, 3T is more powerful in this compared with 1.5T and provides extremely clear and vivid images of the MRI scans.
It was not just what is known as a 1.5T MRI machine, but by the serial number coming in the report, an older 1.5T MRI machine. 1.5T in this case stands for magnetic strength measured in Tesla units.
There is ample material available online which even a layperson can understand on which kind of MRI machine is better for which part of the human body. All I know at this juncture is that I shall need to give a gap of about
10-15 days and then go for another brain scan in a 3T MRI machine.
What should you do?
a) Please find out, in advance, if the part of the body is better imaged in a 1.5T or a 3T MRI machine. This information is available online.
b) Please find out the age, model and basic specs of the MRI machine. Ask the hospital or imaging centre.
c) Please read up on the experience inside and whether sound-cancellation as well as protection from flashing lights is available or not. Many reviews are available online once you have the details provided above.
There are far too many "discount MRI shops" and a whole long line of "referral games" on MRIs going on. Do research the subject a bit beforehand. It's not just the money, but also what the MRI machine pushes out as output, and what the older ones do to your brain.
(Veeresh Malik is an activist from Delhi, who continues to explore several things in life.)