Don’t even think about yawning

When you have an hour to do nothing but lie still and stare at the grey plastic less than an inch above your nose, you would imagine you would take the opportunity to think.

To think, perhaps, of the pictures that – right now – must be appearing on the radiographer’s computer screen as you’re lying there with the MRI machine clicking and chugging and beeping around you.

To think things like the fact they can see, right now, if my tumour has grown. That they already know what I have to wait another two weeks to find out.

You’d think you’d use the time to think about what’s happened over the last year. This being the third MRI, it would be an opportunity to take stock of the changes, the seizure activity, to really consider the chances that the tumour is stable given everything that has happened since New Year.

Lying there, you’d imagine, would be a good time to think about your children and your wife, perhaps even sneak a thought or two about cycling. And how it could all change if those pictures, the ones appearing right now, line by slow line on the radiographers’ screen, show a deep and more intense white, or a larger splodge, than the last time I had to come and lie here thinking these things.

You would think lying there would offer an opportunity to consider your mortality: the amazing progress medicine has made, yet how a tumour like mine remains incurable and inoperable, oddly annoying, yet relieving too in its inactivity.

As the radiographers come in to stick a needle into my arm and pump in a painfully cool dye, you’d think it would prompt thoughts of what they’ve just seen, whether they’re crowded around the screen in the room next door with calm satisfaction that nothing much has changed, or each sharing a stomach flutter of sadness: knowing what my doctor will have to break to me in a couple of week’s time.

An hour is a long time. A lot of time to think about these things.

Yet as I lay there, I thought none of this. I thought I would, but I didn’t.

Instead I thought: I hope I’m keeping still enough for them. I thought: is that injection going to hurt when they stick the needle in?

Shit, did I just move in the middle of a scan? How can I keep still, when trying to keep still is exactly the thing that’s most likely to make me move. Can I yawn? No, for god’s sake, don’t think about yawning.

Bugger, it’s cold in here. I wish I’d brought an extra layer. Great, now I’m shivering. Can they see that on the screen? Have I just buggered up another scan? If so, I’ll have to lie here even longer, trying not to shiver.

Ow, there goes the needle. Strange how the cold travels up the arm, into the shoulder. Ignore it, don’t flinch, keep still.

She said this scan would last two minutes, but I’m sure the buzzing has been ten at least. Can I wiggle my fingers, or is that not allowed? Why is it taking so long? My back hurts now, if I could just move one millimetre I’d get relief.

And why are they playing that awful music? Is that part of their plan to make you ignore the whirring and clicking, or just someone’s favourite track on a loop?

Am I moving my head? No, I just think I am. When I concentrate, I know I’m keeping it still.

They’ll be finished any time soon. Try counting down the minutes. Eyes open. I can see them moving about in the periphery. Wait, is watching them making me turn my head? OK, eyes closed. Now, I’ve lost count.

Just stay still.

Then they roll me out. The radiographer clumsily removes the needle from my vein, and sadistically rips the medical tape from my hairy arm. I feel the blood run into the pit of my elbow.

It’s over and I sit up.

“You did great,” he says. “We got some really good images.”

Good images.

That’s when I start to think. To think the things I thought I’d think when I was in there, with an hour to do nothing but lie there, think and keep still.


  1. I wish I could remember why I didn’t keep in touch with you after CAAT. I wish I could feel sure I contributed positively to your work at CAAT. I wish I could show you what a great bloke you are – I hope and trust others are doing that though (your wife sounds awesome!).
    I’d like you to know that ever since my time at CAAT I have held two memories in my head connected to you and both have meant a lot to me.
    One is something you once said, when I was feeling and being cynical about what little effect protests seem to have and you philosophised about the importance of simply taking a stand, and asked me to imagine what the world would be like if nobody objected, if we all just stayed at home and did nothing because our actions weren’t having an obvious impact.
    I was emotionally and politically a stroppy teenager while you were a thoughtful, intelligent, and wise grown-up, despite being about the same age as me (I think?!?).
    The other memory is of a postcard you had above your desk which said something about men bearing arms/weapons being accepted while men loving each other not so much.
    Of course I have many other good memories, it’s just that these two particularly stand out for some reason.
    I learnt so much from you. Thanks to this blog I continue to learn and be inspired. Thank you so much Gideon. I am keeping everything crossed for the MRI results and hope you are having lots of moments of joy in the meantime. From a still crazy, still stroppy, teenaged 38 year old who used to volunteer at CAAT many moons ago and who still has a lot to learn!

  2. I have to say mri’s really aren’t that bad and the people giving the injections are usually very good at it. She apologised for the coldness of the dye but I couldn’t feel it. I always try and remember that it’s only as annoying as trying to lay still while sunbathing. I didn’t get any music in my headphones this time. I always seem to hit the ten minute ad break on the radio anyway if I do get some music. I have always been a techno fan and feel that would be the most appropriate mri music, as it would just blend in with all the bleeping and industrial sounds of the machine. But yes Gideon you’re right mainly you just bloody concentrate on staying still. Good luck on your results.

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