The mobile MRI truck in Beer Sheva

Following the unexpected clean bill of health I received from my “shocking” EMG test a few weeks ago, the search for the cause (and cure) of my sciatica continued last week as I underwent an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) test. My doctor’s suspicion is that I have a problem on the L5 disc of my spine (whatever that means) and only an MRI can determine conclusively the next course of action.

Of course, scheduling an MRI through an Israeli HMO at any time in, say, the same calendar year is a task that even a young David would defer to Goliath. Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem would be glad to book me an appointment, they told me…for April 17 at 4:00 AM.

My crafty wife, however, has learned – through unfortunate experience (securing a doctor to look at our daughter’s knee) – how to work the system and found an innovative solution: I would do my MRI in Beer Sheva at the “mobile MRI.”

Apparently, there is a trailer truck outfitted with an MRI machine that travels around the southern part of the country, parking itself for a week at a time in Beer Sheva, Dimona and Eilat. They had an opening – just one week away from the day we called – at an entirely reasonable time (1:00 PM) rather than in the middle of the night. We booked it and I psyched myself up for a pleasant drive into the metropolis of the desert.

To be sure, the MRI-on-wheels is a fully functioning piece of equipment. I can’t say as much for the nurse who needled my arm to open the infusion port that would pump radioactive “contrast” dye into my veins during the procedure. I had a feeling she wasn’t the most experienced nurse in the Negev as she repeatedly tapped my veins searching for the best one.

When I got to the MRI machine and lay down on the table, the doctor quietly scolded the nurse before turning to me to say that they’d have to open a new vein in my other arm (“just to be sure,” he assured me).

As for the MRI itself, if you’ve never had one, it’s an entirely alien experience. You place your head into a secure brace, don noise-canceling headphones and then lie perfectly still on your back for, in my case, about 25 minutes. Nothing spins on the MRI (unlike a CT scan) but there are a variety of noises – whirs and clicks and clunks – as the machine uses large magnets to look inside the nuclei of my atoms.

I passed the time by trying to match the sounds with intros to songs. One rhythmic beat sounded deceptively like the Beatles’ “Getting Better All the Time”; another clearly had the low-tech industrial warble of a Brian Eno solo composition; a third reminded me of the Steve Reich piece “Different Trains,” which played in Jerusalem last year.

I was in and out in just over an hour – perhaps because this was a “single task” facility, the mobile MRI staff were highly efficient. I was back in Jerusalem in time for a late lunch.

Now that the MRI was taken care of, I called up my HMO to schedule a follow up appointment with the back specialist. Yes, they would be glad to reserve me a slot with the doc. He has time on May 28. At least it was in the same calendar year.

Maybe I should see a back specialist in Beer Sheva too.