Lacking Clarity

I got some scans this week: a full MRI of my brain and spine. It took forever and was hot in the tube, but I wanted to do it in the event that the images revealed anything. For me, this was a follow-up MRI. Like many people with MS, I've been scanned before, and the idea behind a repeat scan was to do an assessment of my lesions. The simple logic behind this kind of annual scanning goes something like

more lesions = more disease activity
fewer lesions = a miracle

Like every other time I've endured an MRI, this time I got home afterwards and looked at my scans. I've found I can usually open the images themselves (one by one) in Photoshop, and most PCs will run the scanning software provided on the disk. Here are a few of my images:

Sitting in my neurologist's office in Chicago last January, I had no problem reading the images. He'd scroll through them on his giant monitor, and they were as legible as any map. But sitting at home on my laptop, scrolling through the images on the disc, everything seemed newly opaque. Did my doc have some special software or something? Was I looking at the wrong images? It was hard to tell.

There are so many things I could say about this experience of submitting to another scan. There is my concern about the cost of maintaining the magnet, the energy used, and the helium it takes to keep the thing cool (details on this info here). There is the fact that my insurance company still hasn't paid for last year's scan. And then there is the question of whether or not any of it is medically necessary. I question, too, the way this form of self-tracking (the scan) can end up seeming more important than the other forms of self-tracking that are seemingly much more subjective (like my journaling). But the thing that I think about the most is just how much these scans lack clarity.

The images themselves lack the visual clarity I was hoping for, in that I find them hard to read and see and ultimately interpret. They also lack clarity when it comes to the course of this disease. More lesions can mean more activity, it's true, but more activity can also not register in the form of visible lesions. Simply put, such scans can be misleading. And it's for that reason that I'm partially kicking myself for getting this recent scan.

A PRACTICAL NOTE: For anyone else with heat sensitivity, note that it can be very hot in the tube of an MRI machine. And it heats up the longer you're in there. Try not wearing the hot gowns they like to put on you. Try asking the tech if you can get a fan directed on you. I got a fan this time around, and it was much better. You might even be able to lie on an ice bed like this one (image links to Amazon; yes this pad is designed for dogs; but I use mine all the time and it's great) while in the tube.


  1. Hard to decide these things; but know that what you decide at the time is what's right at the time. I'm a fan of the subjective account, for sure, but a little mechanical data is sometimes worth the trouble too.

  2. Hey, thanks for the comment! I knew you'd wander over to this blog at some time ... :)