Would you want to know what was going on inside your body and risk discovering a serious health problem, even if you were perfectly healthy? Is it better to know, or is ignorance really bliss?
Finding out is a very real option for many people nowadays, as long as they're happy to sacrifice their vacation money to foot the bill. We live in a world now where you can pretty much undergo any diagnostic procedure you want. Scans and tests previously reserved for medical emergencies only are now available in many private health clinics. Hypochondriacs beware!
For me, it was through my role as TV host, and sometimes guinea pig, that led me to ponder the question of whether I'd want to know if something was wrong with me.
After a decade being in front of the camera as a correspondent and news anchor in the UK, I have discovered a new meaning for extreme close-up because now I am allowing cameras to go inside my body. Thankfully they are small endoscopes otherwise I'd be in hospital for a whole other set of reasons.
So, when asked if I'd have a full body MRI scan, my initial reaction was a breezy "Yes of course. How fascinating to literally see inside my body." An MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) produces thousands of images of organs, soft tissues and bones using a powerful magnetic field and radio frequency pulses. A piece of cake, right? I just need to lie down and chill out for a while in a spacey looking machine. Hold on, what was I getting into? Did I really want to know? Especially then.
In October, my mum, a healthy 61-year-old, had a stroke caused by a brain aneurysm. It was sudden, unexpected and devastating. We were told she was brain dead and wouldn't survive. We shut down filming and I rushed back to Scotland to be with her. I had to say goodbye to her in the most crude and public manner: me on a cell phone in a busy airport with travellers bustling by, my mum unconscious with a phone being held to her ear. Thankfully my goodbye wasn't necessary because she made a miraculous recovery, and I'm extraordinarily grateful that she survived and is now thriving as she recuperates.
Her aneurysm was a shot across my bow. There's a chance I could develop a pocket of blood in my brain and I had just agreed to an MRI. Did I want to know if there was a ticking time bomb inside of me? I cautiously reiterated my "yes." Partially because I hoped that if they found something, it could be dealt with, but I also did it because I believe in the benefits of giving a personal perspective on major medical procedures.
Before you get near the scanner you have to check for metals (the magnetic pull which is 20,000 times stronger than the earth's magnetic field, will violently rip out any forgotten shards or metal stitches) and the noise of the MRI is absolutely overwhelming. Cross a jackhammer with bad techno beat and the loudest woodpecker known to man and you can kind of imagine the repetitive beeping, droning and banging. I eventually found it vaguely hypnotic. If it wasn't for the Italian opera being piped in through my earphones I don't know if I could have endured the 90 minute procedure. It was emotionally, and surprisingly physically, exhausting.
It is without doubt an incredibly useful diagnostic tool that saves lives, and the images are mind blowing. But MRIs can also open up Pandora's Box, as I discovered. Something sinister-looking did show on the scan, but it wasn't what I expected.
And this wasn't the only test I underwent. I saw the blood pumping in my heart, surprise fractures in my nose and things I'd rather have not seen in my colon. It's been an emotional but rewarding experience, and ultimately I hope that by undergoing these tests myself in front of TV cameras, others will know what to expect should they or a loved one have to, or choose to, undergo scopes or scans in the future.
Now that I've closed my Pandora's Box of testing, I would not encourage anyone to have an MRI, unless they have symptoms or their doctor believes medical family history makes it important. My mother's aneurysm was a valid motivation for me to have an MRI because there often are no symptoms or warnings. In the future though, I intend to remain blissfully ignorant.
Isla Traquair is an investigative journalist and host of buy.o.logic on OWN Canada Tuesdays 9.30pm ET/6.30pm PT Repeats Sundays 1:30pm & 6:30pm ET/10:30am & 3:30pm PT
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