Not Claustrophobic After All

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Today’s section in The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, Sixth Edition by Edmund J. Bourne, PhD dealt with claustrophobia. This was a section that I was looking forward to, since I’ve been dealing with what I thought was claustrophobia, but after reading the section, I have doubts about that.

My so-called claustrophobia started sometime last year, when I had to have an MRI done of my head. They put me on the table and started to put me in the machine, and I got stuck. (I’ve got a generous belly.) I panicked and yelled out to the technician that I didn’t fit. He was quick to pull me back out, so I wasn’t stuck in the machine but for a few seconds, but for months after that I would have dreams of getting stuck in claustrophobic places and wake up in a cold sweat, gasping for breath.

I’ve noted, however, that I’m not claustrophobic in enclosed places like the car or an airplane. The only real instance that I dealt with it was in the MRI.

I mentioned this to my therapist yesterday and she told me something I suppose I already knew, but needed it pointed out: everyone’s claustrophobic in an MRI. That’s why they invented the open MRI, to be able to service patients that couldn’t otherwise use a regular MRI machine. So she doesn’t think that I’m claustrophobic.

Today I read that section in the book and it made a point of noting that it is very common for people to experience claustrophobia in an MRI. So I’m really starting to believe that I don’t actually have claustrophobia.

Now, I do have a phobia of suffocation. I can only hold my breath for a few seconds before I get panicky about not breathing, and that’s folded into my fear of death. That could run alongside claustrophobia, but in my case, I wasn’t worried that I couldn’t breathe in the MRI, and my subsequent dreams of being in an extremely tight enclosed space dealt more with being trapped than not being able to breathe. The whole thing seems complicated, but at the root I think I just intensely dislike head-first regular MRIs. (I got an open MRI on my head last year and my recent MRI on my knee was feet-first, so I didn’t feel trapped or stuck with my head outside the machine.) Fortunately those are easy enough to avoid – just make sure any head-first MRIs are done in an open machine.

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All Clear

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Went back to the orthopedist today to get the results of the MRI they had done last week. Got there a little early and they saw me a few minutes early as well. As they were bringing me back, the doctor asked if I’d had the MRI results sent over, to which I told him that I got a call yesterday from someone at his office confirming that they had received the results from the radiology lab. Only there weren’t any results in my chart. So the doc asked us to sit tight while he got the results faxed over.

So we waited for probably 15-20 minutes for that process to take place. Things were delayed because of fax problems, but eventually the doc came in and gave us the results.

Exactly what I was expecting. The MRI was normal in every way.

He moved on to options that could be done for pain management, starting with a steroid shot. I told him that my pain was minimal, maybe a 1 except in certain situations like using stairs, where the pain would jump to about a 3. He pulled the steroid shot off the table at that revelation, obviously thinking I was in a lot more pain that I actually was. I explained that my mother’s got arthritis in both knees to the point that she can’t walk and hasn’t been able to for about ten years now, and with that kind of family history I wanted to be safe rather than sorry – any pain is an indication that something’s not right. He said that what’s likely going on is that my kneecap isn’t tracking right in the joint, and that exercises to strengthen my quads would help. He gave me a few exercises to do and told me that if the pain ever spiked to give a call and see about that steroid shot. I told him that I would and he sent me on my way.

Except for the MRI results bobble, they handled me very well, very professionally, and quite quickly. Even though there’s not really much going on in my knee I’m glad that I got it checked out just to be sure.

Tomorrow I start adding squats, wall sits, and leg lifts to my exercise regimen.