First Person: The fire down below

Bob Seger kept me company in the MRI machine

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About a year ago, my doctor recommended that I have an MRI of the abdominal area. I had heard MRI horror stories from others … “worst experience I ever had” … “hell on earth” … “I thought I would be deaf and could not hear for two days” … “like being buried alive” … “be sure to wear three pairs of underpants.”

One friend made an urgent call especially to alert me; she did not say why and I was afraid to ask. “Take some of my Xanax,” urged another. For me, maybe a few donuts, but never drugs or drink. “Nothing by mouth after midnight” warned the instruction sheet.

Well, the patient waiting area was pleasant enough, although the well-stocked snack machine in the hall was a siren beckoning to me. A very sweet yet somehow bored-looking nurse gave me a clipboard to fill out with the usual info. She sat down next to me and leaned in.

“I need to ask you some questions. Have you ever been shot?” she began. “How many tattoos do you have? Do you have any shrapnel, metal fragments or bullet fragments lodged in your body? How many piercings do you have and where are they located?”

I fingered the lobes of my ears, each with one single hole. “Why my ears, of course” I answered. “Well, um, er …” she probed gently. She then, red-faced, began to rattle off just exactly where people these days get pierced.

Let me tell you here that one day, sick at home with a bad cold, I had seen a show on MTV about some modern piercing practices, got about half-way through before the Nyquil kicked in and was, mercifully, spared the rest.

“What kind of people come in here?” I wanted to shriek. Then I thought to myself, “What about the people you run into … even the ones you know or think you know?”

A psychiatrist friend had once told me that you never knew just exactly who was next to you in church, on the bus or pinching a melon at the grocery. I was, as my grandmother used to put it, “really getting myself worked up.”

My head was spinning, not helped by the fact that it was 3 in the afternoon and I had not had nourishment for 15 hours.

“I will come out and get you soon,” said the nurse.

Why had she not asked me about how many pairs of underpants I was wearing?

Then, at that very moment, the door opened and in walked not one but three people I would describe as card-carrying Hell’s Angels. Now I understood all the mysterious questions.

They immediately changed the TV to some cable channel where tow-truck operators were fighting and swearing while trying to repossess cars, the volume very loud. I had my first Holy Communion all-plastic rosary, metal-free, in my pants pocket, held in securely by multiple undies. I wriggled it out and clutched it in my fist.

“Come in, Mrs. Parker. Time for your test,” chirped the nurse.

I tried to give her a winking side glance at those tattooed, no doubt shrapnel-filled people across from me, but she ignored me. My antennae were up.

I had seen several Oprah shows about what she named the “gift of fear.” Well, I thought that if we both ended up bound with duct tape and stuffed in a closet with our socks in our mouths, it would be her fault for ignoring me and Oprah.

The nurse helped me climb onto the test table and rolled me into position. I felt like a turtle on its back with all the extra padding in my pants. She bundled me up in a warm soft blankie and tucked me in. Then she asked what kind of music I would like to listen to — classical, polka, country or classic rock. “Classic rock, please,” I requested, and she placed small ear buds into my ears.

Bob Seger began to sing to me! I had once been a huge Bob Seger fan but over the years had forgotten about him somehow, and now here he was with me getting an MRI.

First up, “Understanding.” A click and then the soft voice of the nurse saying, “Be sure not to move.”

Next up was “The Fire Down Below.” Perfect for an MRI! Near the end he sang, “One! Two! Three! Fo!” and I started to wiggle my toes to the beat.

“Mrs. Parker, please do not move.”

“OK,” but I was really wantin’ to boogie. It was almost uncontrollable. So hard to hold still. Maybe, I thought, I could do a little shoulder dancing. The test was not for my head, was it?

Then the soft voice (remember Hal in “2001: A Space Odyssey?”): “Mrs. Parker …”

“OK,” I shouted over the clanging of the MRI machine. “But it is really hard not to rock to Bob Seger. He takes me back to …”

“Hold still, you can boogie later. And please no need to shout.”

How was I ever going to get through “Katmandu?”

“Well, Sue,” I said to myself, “just do a little dancing in your head.” I envisioned myself at a club, wearing hip-hugger jeans and a tie-dyed camisole. My long hair was damp from dancing. I smelled that beery smell you find in every bar or club of a certain age. And a whiff of patchouli. I had on long, swinging earrings and multiple bracelets that jangled. If I had to guess, I would say it was 1972.

Click, click, click. Bob had stopped singing to me.

“Mrs. Parker, you are all done.”

I felt sad as I emerged from the MRI tube. I enjoyed the cocooning and forgot about the folks in the waiting room.

“I am so sorry I could not stay still … it was that music.”

Not to worry, reassured the nurse. “It is hard for us not to jam in the control room if we listen in. But it’s the polka people who really cause us problems.”

“I bet,” I said and waddled right over to Barnes and Noble to get Bob’s greatest hits.

Hearing him again got me on a high for days, unless it was, as my grandmother used to say, from all those electro beams.  What a trip.

Susan Parker is a writer living in Ligonier (

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