Thursday, July 22, 2010


“Hello, I’d like to book an MRI.”

“Okay, when would you like it?”

“How about next Wednesday at 5pm?”

“Okay. What’s your name?”

That’s it? When I call my regular doctor, I don’t get to just choose a day and time. I often have to wait days and days. I also notice that I don’t feel rushed on the phone booking this either, the way I do with the endlessly overworked medical assistants at my doctor’s office-- I always feel guilty bothering them because they are so busy. Here, after the receptionist gets my name, she uses my name. Over and over. Even for someone like me, who teaches customer service techniques in my hotel management classes, it was a bit much.

“My name is Cathy Collis.”

“Okay, Cathy, and have you ever had an MRI before?”


“And Cathy what part of your body do you need to have scanned?”

“My right knee.”

“Have you ever had knee surgery before, Cathy?” And on and on and on. You get the picture. I had to answer a lot of medical questions. She must have used my name 25 times in the phone call.

Today was the day. I drove up and parked the car in the parking lot at Granville and 16th, and choked a bit at the $9.00 parking fee I’d have to pay for an hour and a half of parking. But then I realized that I’m paying $900 for the MRI, so their thinking must be that patients won’t complain: that’s just 1% of that cost of the procedure. I make my way into the building and once again the difference between a private clinic like this and my regular doctor’s office is startling.

Here, the carpet in the entryway is plush. The doors to the clinic are made of really heavy glass, with rounded stainless steel handles. I feel as though I’m walking into a spa. And indeed, that is exactly what it looks like. The walls are painted with a pattern of stripes of various widths in shades of pale blue, cream, taupe, and chocolate brown. The floor is a dark brown bamboo, and is completely free of scratches. There are real oil paintings on the wall. The baseboards are deep and white and not one of them has a scuff or mark of any kind. The ceiling light came from Restoration Hardware, I’m almost sure of it. The chairs are chocolate brown ultrasuede and very, very clean. The magazines on the coffee table are all lined up in rows.

I ask to use the bathroom, which is down the hall. This is easily the nicest medical bathroom I have ever visited – everything is clean and newly tiled, and the paper towel dispenser allows me as many paper towels as I want. Plus, the mirror and lighting make me look tanned and thinner than usual. Perhaps I will move in here.

I’m early, so I decide to look at CMI’s brochure. All the actors on it look quite old. Do I look that old? They also look considerably more well off than I do in my t-shirt, yoga pants and flip flops. The woman’s haircut and colour is expensive and the guy even has a sweater draped over his shoulders with the arms knotted at the neck. They are standing on a dock, at the seaside, presumably having just stumbled off of their private yacht, on their way to get an MRI for fun. They don’t look as if they need it.

Not only is she not overworked, the receptionist begins to make small talk with me about the weather. Then promptly at 5:03, I get called in by the MRI technician. She leads me to a little changing room with a door that locks, which also features flattering lighting and a mirror, with a leather covered bench and hooks for my purse and clothes. I change into my paper gown (Some things never change; everything up to that point had seemed so lush I half expected to be handed a silky lingerie bathrobe instead.) She locks up my things in the little change room. Then we go over to this area that has a door that appears to be an enormous bank vault. I think for a moment that this must be where they keep all the money they charge for these MRIs, but no -- inside is the MRI machine.

It looks like a huge, round, suntanning bed. I climb in as instructed by my technican, who is also named Cathy, and she asks me what radio station I would like to listen to during my procedure, and hands me headphones and a thing that looks like a turkey baster on a cord, and says if I need anything during the MRI I can squeeze the bulbous part to ring for her. And we’re off!

She leaves the room of course, and goes into her little glass cage area. Gently, I slide into the machine just like the patients do on House, although mercifully it is just my legs and not my whole body in there. She starts talking to me on the headphones. “Everything okay, Cathy?”

Yes, of course, I think to myself. I am lying down in a dimly lit, air conditioned room. How stressed out can I get? “Yup.”

“Okay, Cathy,” Again, with the names! “Are you warm enough?”


“Is the music loud enough, Cathy?”

“Yes.” Although I can’t hear it much because you keep interrupting it.

“Okay, we’re going to get started.” She says. And then, a second later, because she forgot to say it before, she comes back on the headphones again and just says “Cathy.” Is it some kind of rule here? The name thing is really over the top, especially since she has the same name as me, which always makes saying it even more awkward.

Suddenly the noise is really loud. Loud like an alarm telling you to get out of a building. It is startling and I start to panic and breathe a little faster and then I remember that I’m not supposed to move at all. What about breathing? Of course, I am sure it is fine if I breathe, they can’t expect me not to breathe for 25 minutes, for god’s sakes, but it is just so expensive, and I don’t want to come out at the end of this thing and have them tell me “It didn’t work because you breathed. That will be an extra $900 please.”

The noise goes off after a few minutes and she checks on me again. “Everything okay, Cathy?”

“Yes.” Although I realize it is just now that I can hear the music again. They can’t possibly have expected me to hear the radio over the sound of that machine.

This same routine goes on for 25 minutes. Sometimes the machine sounds more like the beginning of a punk metal song and other times it sounds like a horrible alarm. And just lying there, you can’t help but start to think of a few things, for example, why is this machine so huge? It is just taking an image of my leg. Shouldn’t something this big and loud also be able to fix my leg? When I think of all the technology in my iphone, and how small it is, it makes me wonder what kind of technology is in this enormous thing? The letters on the front of the machine, right above my face, spell out the unfortunate brand name of “SEIMEN” and each of the letters is as big as my iphone.

The front sides of the MRI machine also have some kind of buttons that light up. I can’t turn and look at them though, since I’m terrified of moving. The lights seem a bit much. Couldn’t they have gone with a machine without lighted buttons and knocked 50 bucks off the price? Since I can’t see them, I have to imagine what the buttons say. Perhaps “Cancer”. And “More cancer.” Maybe there’s a button that says “your knee will be fine if you push this.” If only I had peripheral vision like a horse. I’d push that button in a heartbeat.

And this is the crux of the whole thing, really. I feel guilty as hell paying for an MRI instead of waiting for my turn with the free medical system. I know that at my regular doctor’s office not only does no one use my name, but the floor has 30 year old linoleum and ugly wooden benches with orange knit upholstery that wouldn’t look out of place in a 1978 campervan. The baseboards there are rubber and the lighting is hideous and fluorescent and dreadfully unflattering. There are no tasteful oil paintings but freebee posters explaining your anatomy. But I believe in it. I want to be like everyone else and be able to walk in there without paying. But I will do anything to fix my knee so I can play again. I am old and cannot wait years to play soccer. It is my thing. You must have a thing too, right? So please don’t judge me.


  1. Posting thumbsup halfway through since this literaly made me laugh out loud (LLOL?).

    "This is easily the nicest medical bathroom I have ever visited.... Plus, the mirror and lighting make me look tanned and thinner than usual. Perhaps I will move in here."

  2. No juding, except to say we should have negotiated a two for one deal: your knee and my ankle for $1500?

    Fingers crossed. Wishing for the best possible outcome for you (and for increased posts during your sideline time)

  3. Dear lady with american sensibilities and feelings of entitlement buying your way past obstacles with filthy lucre(not that I'm judging)

    you cut to the front of the line with your money and suburban entitlements did you?

    I wonder about those poor proles without sufficient means that have to wait and wait..and wait. They probably won't be able to eat until their wait is over.. with full bladders (again, no judging, just wondering.. :)

    I know a lot of people say that, that you should call them by their name after they introduce themselves because it helps set it in your memory and supposedly it gives people some kind of orgasmic glow at personal service or some such....

    but everytime I meet someone and they ask me for my name (like say at a hotel check in or some such) just seems to get weird fast

    young person: Hello Sir. May I have your name please?
    me: "john smith"

    young person: Here you are John, staying for 3 nights are we?
    me: yes I am

    young person: Ok then Johny boy, this shouldn't take but 2 minutes
    me: ok...

    young person: ok it's all set johny, hope everything's ok big j!
    me: ... ???

    all I can think of in my head is.. 2 seconds ago you didn't know me and now you're as familiar as a proctologist geez

    - Man of, if I was a black woman, I would have started shaking my head sideways with a finger raised, yelling "you dont know me!"

  4. Meg: thanks for your kind comments, but GO TO SLEEP. 5am? Yikes.
    Frank: perhaps you should frequent a different class of hotels, one where you are not referred to as "big j". Especially since your name is Frank. Just a suggestion.

  5. the John Smith was just pseudonymical to maintain my mystery woman!! :P

    man suffering overexposure