My head gets examined

Even with earplugs, the noise was loud.

Click. Whir. Tic tic tic. Klonk.

I stared up at the plastic contraption holding my head in place and thought: How does anyone have sex in here?

I have a long history of headaches. These range from intense pain that involves in-depth consideration of the plumbing through to low level throbbing that stretches over multiple days. It isn't fun and frankly, I blame my father because he gets all these symptoms too. Normally, I just deal with these since replacing my head with a turnip has yet to become a satisfactory option. However, over the last few months the number of headaches had increased until I felt I was in some kind of pain about half the time. 

My brain for your viewing pleasure.

My brain for your viewing pleasure.

I wasn't particularly worried. I had been working intensively on a book draft in recent months; an occupation that saw me glued to my computer screen even more than usual. I was likely just tired and square-eyed. But the prospect of having to admit to my mother that I'd not seen a doctor eventually drove me to make an appointment with the city's neurology clinic. They put me inside an MRI machine.

Clack. klonk. buzz.

Before disappearing into the MRI tube, patients are requested to remove all jewellery. I'd taken the earrings out of my lobes and removed my belly button bar, but I had a hoop in the top of my ear that required pliers to take out. Was this going to be a problem?

The doctor squinted at the ring. "If it gets hot or you feel a tug, let us know," he told me.

I had visions of my ear being ripped off as it was sucked to the side of the MRI machine wall. 

The MRI only affects metal that is magnetic. It was very likely that the earring in question was stainless steel or titanium; neither of which would be affected within the MRI. But I'd got the hoop 10 years ago in NYC, so who the hell knew what it was made from? I didn't. 

"It anything happens, it'll happen within the first few minutes."

I was going to lose an ear. I just knew it.

10 minutes later and all body parts remained attached and cold. Probably. I tried not to overthink the situation as I listened to the rattle of the machine around me. It was a little like being in a capsule hotel, if your bunk was an extremely snug fit. And head restraints were normal. And your neighbours were drunk robots. OK, it wasn't really that similar but I had a solid 20 minutes without my phone to come up with bizarre analogies. For the record, not even for science would I have sex in here but it has been done [*].

Since my Japanese was at the level of successfully buying groceries, but not discussing head scans, I'd contacted a free medical interpreter association in Sapporo. They were brilliant; making the appointment and attending it with me to translate. We sat side-by-side as the doctor flipped through different layers of my brain on the computer screen.

"All fine," he told me. No tumours, blood vessels not showing any signs of bleeding. Migraines were migraines, headaches were headaches and I could return to cursing the lot of them.

"Oh, just one last thing. You have a cyst in the middle of your brain."

... you what now?!

"It's nothing to worry about."

REALLY?! Because that sure as hell seems like something I should worry about! I turned from my interpreter to the doctor. He looked bored. This was clearly an "FYI" passing comment for him.

"Uh.... should I worry about it later?" I eventually inquired when no more information was coming my way.

The doctor considered the scan, still looking utterly uninterested. "Maybe."


It turned out I had a small pineal cyst. They are not very common, but do show up on a few percent of MRI scans. I guess if you study something in great detail, it's hard not to find some abnormalities. At present, the cyst was too small to do anything with, and it was not the cause of my headaches. Since I now knew about it, I was advised to have a repeat scan in 2 to 3 years. If it did enlarge, then it could be treated relatively easily. 

It was clear I found this news more exciting than my doctor. But then, it wasn't his brain.

"Would you like a picture?" he asked me, gesturing to the scan on the screen. 

"Sure!" I took the printout. It was the proof I needed to stop me getting into trouble with my mother. The shape looked a bit like a pokemon.

[*] OK, I probably would. And I'd blog about it. But it would be challenging.