‘Otto goes beep-bup’, or the merry, noisy, brain vibrating trip of an MRI


When my middle son was learning to read, he consumed book after book after book. Soon, we ran out of easy to access chapter books that were interesting and yet not too ‘mature’ in subject for his racing mind.

Enter the astonishing Annapolis Royal Library librarian. She provided BOXES of books for my guy! By the time the week was up we could take them back (all read) and get another box full.

One of the chapbooks P loved had a robot named Otto, who, when thinking, said “Beep,Bup”.

I never insert myself into an MRI machine without thinking of Otto.

It’s a fascinating experience. You are told to remove all metal from your body (joint replacements are okay to leave in) and then asked all sorts of gruesome-imagination-inspiring questions. Like: do you have any metal shards in your eyes? Have you ever been shot? Any shrapnel? Do you eat paper clips? Iron filings? What about forgotten bits of surgical equipment?

Of course, these questions are all about keeping metal bits from self-extracting from your body as soon as you enter the room with the MRI magnet tube. (Unlike how it is portrayed on TV, the MRI magnet is ALWAYS on. Turning it off would require hours of resetting.)

In the hallway outside, there are photos of people trapped headfirst in the tube in an office chair, or stabbed through the head with an IV pole, just to make you feel more comfortable about the whole experience.

So, clad in only your cotton undies and, if you are lucky, comfy socks, and rewrapped in scrubs, you shuffle with no little trepidation into the room with the magnet…

I will draw a curtain across the lying on the rolling table, the strapping on of the headpiece and the positioning a mere 3 inches (if that) from the top of the tube – it’s not recommended for those with claustrophobia, though they have good drugs for that. I close my eyes and think of England…

So, in you are eased, and the concert begins- all the beep-bups you expect from an Otto.

I thought the noises were from magnets spinning around in the tube (they are loud enough they give you earplugs)(note to self: bring them home for the next movie visit), but the very helpful lass running everything explained that the magnet is the whole tube. The noises are from the machine shooting radio waves at your brain (or other body part), which flips the polarity in the water in your cells in relation to the magnet. The waves are caught in a coil. When the polarity flips for an instant, and flips back, they are able to capture an image of your cells. In my case, images of brain tissue, which I hope is not spattered with the lesions of MS.

Or really it is all magic. I honestly don’t understand it, but the helpful people at Wikipedia might…


I asked the technician if it was possible to feel the shifting of cells contents. I swore I could feel a tug on my teeth, a wobbling in my head, a build-up of heat.

Nope, she said. Then she admitted that there sometimes was heat caused by the pounding and shifting, but ‘most people can’t feel it.’

I knew I was a sensitive orchid of a person! I swear I could feel my watery brain cells dancing. Or maybe it was just the vibration in the tube- it’s kindof like one of those movie theatres that whip your seat up and down and around. With sound.

Fortunately, unlike in those movies, no water was sprayed into my face.


The table you lie on is hard. It can be chilly. I’ve had MRIs of my brain where no one has helped make the process easier, and my body reacted by leaping about until everyone involved was exasperated.

This time I was able to position myself comfortably, and spent the hour figuring out a chapter for my book and some ideas for an art commission. And maybe having a wee kip.

Now the wait to find out if my brain is self-destructing or holding its own.

That’s when I could really use a robot like Otto around to make a comforting ‘Beep-bup.’

Assuming it isn’t a trash-talking robot, like this one…


1 thought on “‘Otto goes beep-bup’, or the merry, noisy, brain vibrating trip of an MRI

  1. Dolly Hei

    Thanks, DA, for this explanation of what’s happening with an MRI. I’ve had a couple or three myself and am always interested in those noises. I usually count the repetitions as a way of distracted myself from where in hell I am – I’m a counter by nature and use the idiosyncrasy as mental protection. I have dozed a bit in one or another of the processes, also, which is proof of my sleep talent – comes in so handy in travel situations. I hope your results are as positive as you need them to be Keep on beep-buping. xoxox DA


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