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The magnetic resonance imaging of tony
May 23, 2001


I'm feeling a bit processed at the moment, having just been zapped by a giant, supercooled magnet. The goal of the project was to find out what was wrong with me, but it also provided some diversion from my otherwise normal day.

After a series of motorized and non-motorized bike accidents, and some imperfect snowboarding, it's no wonder that my lower lumbar vertebrae are messed up. But finding out exactly what the cause is still has some mystery attached to it. So far, I've been to chiropractors, physical therapists, massage therapists and general practitioners, each of which has provided some additional explanations at to what's up. I've also been exposed to a string of x-ray photography and a ct scan. But until today, I haven't been rolled into a giant magnetic cavity and zapped with radio waves tuned to resonate the water molecules throughout my thorax.

It took about twenty minutes. After a short quiz about metal in my body: do you have metal plates in you head? a pacemaker? hearing aids? dentures? metal rods tying bones together? shrapnel? (really) I divested myself of all other metals: phone, coins, keys, gun, mace, belt, etc. I then laid down on an expensive looking conveyer and pulled my pants down to my knees (the zipper).

The nurse gave me ear plugs and warned me that things would be loud. My platform slowly wheeled into the magnetic cavity, where the clicking got progressively louder. I was imagining a parallel with 2001 or tron happening here. Once the energy started, it felt more like tron, with a bit of vietnam sniper fire thrown in on the side. The magnetic field and the energy are designed to fire the protons of your water molecules into a high energy orbit; once they calm down, the emit their own energy waves back. Essentially, you turn into a neon tube, except the energy you emit, disappointingly, doesn't cause you to light up at all. And the nurse was right. It was very loud indeed.

And it causes you to heat up. In fact, its a bit like a tanning bed: you get internally warmed to the point of feeling a little sick. However, in the case of mri, you don't develop a tan afterwards. And rather than costing $30 for a month of sessions, it costs $1000 for a single session. Plus you have a much longer waiting list.

Most of the cost comes from the expense of the equipment: a massive general electric electromagnet, a silicon graphics octane workstation with a 20" flatscreen monitor to run it, and related photographic gear. Plus, they have to truck in liquid nitrogen to keep the thing cool enough. A chilly 452.4 degrees below zero, actually, in order to keep the windings of the mysteriously clicking magnet super conductive enough to generate a 1-2 tesla magnetic field. With that sort of magnet, pens and keys become projectile weapons, explaining the metal quiz and frisk earlier.

All in all, given the price, I can't recommend mri unless you really need it. Save your money and go to a movie instead.

More information on mri, being a magnet and tron:

buy me buy me buy me buy me buy me

How to be a people magnet
Musculoskeletal mri
Mri: basic principles and applications
Handbook of medical imaging

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