: October 10th, 2014 :
The calm before the storm.
Sometimes you just know something big is on its way. You take a look at the restful blue waters and know that a storm is brewing just over the horizon, just out of sight.
And you know it’ll soon be on its way toward the shore on which you stand.
This is how I felt before going to my MRE; I had done my first colonoscopy and endoscopy just a few weeks prior, and I knew the storm was soon on its way. I knew that the storm of diagnosis was coming and that I was without an umbrella as I had no idea what the results would say.
I wasn’t sure if the storm would be a dark thunderstorm or a beautiful one with a rainbow; I just knew that my MRE would hurry it along.
What Even Is An MRE?
An MRE is very similar to an MRI. Like an MRI, you get placed in a small tube, listen to the voice of the technician through the speakers, and inhale and exhale for what seems like eternity.
Where the two differ is while an MRI is magnetic resonance imaging, an MRE is magnetic resonance elastography. This means that the technology measures the elasticity of the patient’s body tissues. This is crucial when examining a patient with IBD because it can identify any abnormal thickening of the walls of the large and small intestines.
Doesn’t sound so bad right? Just lying in a cozy cylinder and letting the machinery check your intestines? I concur.
But, much like a colonoscopy, it’s not the procedure that’s dreaded—it’s the prep work.
Here’s How the Preparation Went for Me:
Upon arriving at the imaging center, I was led into the waiting room and I given a tall glass of milk.
Wait, no, not milk! (Though it did have an uncanny similarity to thick, spoiled milk).
It was a white, pudgy, creamy concoction that did not look like my drink of choice. And then the technician said that I had to chug it in fifteen minutes! Eww! Not only do I have to drink it, but I’m being timed to make sure I drink it quickly enough?!
The technician then dropped a bomb: I had to drink four of them in an hour—one per every fifteen minutes!
He said it was called Barium Sulfate and that it dyes your intestines; this helps the technicians during imaging so they can identify bowel from non-bowel structures and so they can more easily view intestinal inflammation.
I’m glad my mom came with me because she encouraged me to continue drinking the concoction. (And, boy, did I need some encouragement!)
It was weird because though the drink was creamy, textured granules passed over my tongue when making its way toward my esophagus. Simply put, it was not pleasant.
I successfully downed the eight-ounce glass in about ten minutes. Overall, it wasn’t too bad, but I’d rather not do it again. But of course I knew I had to.
The technician came back out with my second glass; again, I only had fifteen minutes to swallow it all. This one was a little harder to get down. Since it was so thick, I could feel it settle in my stomach and just chill there. This made my pace for the second one a little slower, as my brain said, “Stop! Don’t drink any more until we digest what’s in there!”
But I wanted my MRE because I wanted results, so I ignored my brain and forced it down.
Third round! By now my tongue hated me, my stomach despised me, and I felt ridiculously full and sluggish. My mom continued to encourage me to keep sipping and reminded me that this nasty drink could not compare to the torture my ulcerative colitis symptoms put me through.
So I kept drinking.
By the time the technician brought out the fourth and final glass, my stomach was not only stuffed to the brim, but it felt as if it actually might reject the substance if I drank any more.
As he handed me this fourth glass, he informed me that the bathroom was right next to me in case I needed it. “Not everyone can keep it down,” he said.
Well that’s encouraging, I thought to myself. And though I did run to the bathroom a few minutes later, it wasn’t because I couldn’t hold the Barium down; it was because drinking so much liquid had filled my bladder to the brim. I went to the restroom three times within five minutes.
The MRE Itself
After the third bathroom stop, the technician had me change into my medical gown and then led me down the hallway to the MRE room. As I followed him down the hallway, I walk-waddled as my bladder was already full again.
He had me lie on my back and he stressed the importance of how remaining perfectly still; if I moved, it would mess up the images and he’d have to reposition me into the exact same position. So I remained frozen as he slid me into the tube.
Inside the tube was dim and loud. Ticks, rattles, beeps, and boops flooded my ears along with the recorded voice that instructed me when to inhale, exhale, and how long to hold my breath.
This process really wasn’t bad. The part that made it uncomfortable was how incredibly full my bladder was. This got worse when halfway through the technician repositioned me onto my stomach! Now I had pressure on my bladder and I legitimately thought I was going to pee my pants inside the tube.
I suffered through roughly thirty more minutes lying in this position, giving my bladder the workout of its life.
Top it all off, once the MRE was finally complete and I was sitting on the bed taking my earplugs out, the technician tried to compress a smile and said, “Jenna, your bladder was very full!”
OMG! I had no idea they could see my levels of pee as they took images of my intestines! Awkward.
I forces a laughed and replied, “Yeah I barely made it!”
I don’t think I have to tell you that I sprinted out of the that room to the nearest toilet.
To be honest, I wasn’t ready for this MRE in the sense that I had absolutely no idea what to expect or how to prepare. If you or someone you know has one coming up, take a look at this infographic for tips and pointers!
Though I may not have been prepared, this MRE was the calm before the storm. I knew that getting these images in addition to my recent colonoscopy would give my gastroenterologist enough data to usher in the storm of diagnosis. And I was ready for that. I didn’t know what kind of storm it would be—I just knew I was ready to get out of this desert.
If you too are in a dry spell of pre-diagnosis, take heart. Know that every test, every procedure, every x-ray that you do—no matter how painful or gross or uncomfortable—will give your doctor more necessary information to form the diagnosis.
Pre-diagnosis testing is not fun, but I encourage you to try to put it into the perspective that no testing can be as painful as IBD symptoms, as gross as barely making it to the toilet in time, or as uncomfortable as not having answers.
Take your testing head on!
Embrace the calm before the storm.
In The Comical Colon’s Facebook group, let’s start a conversation:
I’d love to hear your stories of inspiration during your pre-diagnosis desert. What tests or procedures did you have to do in order to welcome the storm of diagnosis? IBD affects each patient differently, which is kinda cool because it makes our stories unique and special! Feel free to share your story and join me in encouraging others in the midst of their IBD journeys!
I truly believe the way to bridge this disease type’s chasm of alienation, fear, being misunderstood, etc. is to connect and talk about it. Let’s work together and discuss our fears, our trials, our triumphs; let’s learn to find the comical in the deepest, darkest crevices of our guts!