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The Tube of Madness

Stack o' Horsejacks

A few years ago, I was suffering a bout of what the doctors refer to as Hemiparesis. In my particular case, the right side of my body was about 30% paralytic, with the muscular degeneration and tingly weirdness you would expect from such a condition; i.e., enough to make everyday functions uncomfortable, but not enough for unlimited visits by the Stranger.

As part of the diagnosis, a crown-to-waist MRI was requested by the head neurologist on the case. He suspected a slipped disc in my neck or upper back, and wanted to have a look around the works. He was confident, and probably would have preferred vivisection judging by the smug expression and little round glasses he wore, but the fools in the myopic scientific community would have called him mad, mad, so went instead with the MRI.

Elisson describes the process as pleasant, at least to people of his philosophical bent. I cannot say that I enjoyed it. It started innocently enough, with the warnings about being in a gigantic magnet and the effects it could have on your body. Things like ripping a pacemaker right out of your chest, dragging with it the attached heart, still beating as electric jolts continue, the device none the wiser that it is only pumping air.

Before they fed me to this monster, I was allowed to pick some music to listen to during the process. Figuring I would come across as more intellectual, and that Hank Williams probably was not one of the options, I asked for classical music. The headphones they give you obviously can’t be conventional headphones, as those are based on magnetic impulses being transferred along metal cables; the twirling magnets would spin the cables around you, pulling tight until your body was crushed, shooting blood out your ears and nostrils and fingertips as you spun around in circles and nurses screamed and your loved ones banged on the glass until they fainted at the sight of what remained of you.

As I slid into the tube strapped to a table top, I found myself wondering if I had forgotten that I had metallic hip implants, or if the metal fillings I have in a few molars might be ferromagnetic. I could see my teeth getting pulled out of the gums and right through my cheeks, clacking against the tube enclosure, swirling around as they chased the giant magnetic loops that were twirling behind the plastic walls.

The table top locked into place, and everything was quiet. Then the music started. MRI headphones sound different, transferring the music as they do through a long tube, which is attached to little paper cones next to your ears. The result is unsettling; scratchy, distorted carnival music heard from a great distance, distorted by echo. The deep, bone-rattling boom, boom, boom coming from the machinery spinning around you shudders beneath it, out of sync with the music and causing a low-level unease that grows until you’re spending all of your energy not to freak the fuck out.

The whole thing last either thirty minutes or a thousand years, depending on whom you ask. The output was a little animated slideshow that started from the top of my skull and ended at the sacrum, neat cross-sections of all the vile giblets that fill us and keep the meat moving. It showed no blockages to the network cabling, so the neurologist sent me to have an electromyogram. I can only assume this was done as punishment for debunking his original diagnosis.

EMGs are weird, mad-scientist puppetry best left undescribed.


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