Confronting Being Electrocuted by an MRI

By: Loolwa Khazzoom, Founder, Dancing with Pain

July 29th, 2009 • Patient AdvocacyPrint Print

Here’s the letter I sent right after the MRI incident three years ago:

On Friday August 25, at 5:30 pm, I came in for an MRI at your facility. I have had several MRIs in the past, including at your facility, with no complications. This time, however, I received multiple shocks to my upper buttox/low back area. The first time, I was taken by surprise and was very frightened.

I yelled for the technician to stop, but realizing she didn’t hear me, flailed my legs around until she stopped the magnetic imaging process. She pulled me out of the machine, and I told her what happened. She said she didn’t know what it could be, that people only said they felt vibrations, but not shocks. She then put a towel underneath me, above the area where I was getting shocks, and sent me back into the machine.

She started off with a test run, but it was a different sound than the sound made in the four minute test to follow. The test run was fine, but as soon as the longer test started (with the very loud, quick noises), I began getting shocked again. Since it was muffled somewhat by the towel, I figured I’d try to endure it and get through at least the first four minutes.

But after a couple of minutes, my body began intensely spasming in the area  where I was getting shocked. I started to worry that the shocks may be more than an annoyance – that they may actually be dangerous to my health. So by around the third minute, I began flailing my legs again, to indicate I wanted to stop the test.

The technician next put a pillow under my back, to buffer the area that was getting shocked, and sent me back into the machine. I received very vivid, intense shocks and jerked my legs around again to be pulled out. I then told the technician that something is very wrong with the machine, and that I didn’t want to continue the test.

I also expressed concern about what was happening and asked why the machine was shocking me. She said she didn’t know and advised me to contact you on Monday, “to find out what happened. He knows everything about the machine,” she said, “He’ll know what it is.” She asked me if I was still in pain, and I informed her that I was fine — that the pain stopped when the shocks stopped.

By the time I had gathered my belongings and left the facilities, however, I felt sore in the area where I’d been shocked. In addition, as I biked home, I noticed feeling very strange throughout my body. By the time I got home, the pain around where I’d been shocked was intense, and I had to sit with an ice pack on that spot. In addition, my left ear felt a shallow/deadened sensation; my jaw felt tight; and I I felt mildly nauseous and slightly dizzy.

I was very frightened about what had happened to me. My mother called the facilities on my behalf and asked to speak with you. We were told the representative would try to reach you.

I called the doctor on call at the office of my primary care physician and told him the situation. He advised me that although he is not a specialist and couldn’t tell me exactly what had happened, electric currents run through the MRI machine; so I probably received mild level shocks that aggravated my system. He assured me that the symptoms would be temporary.

I received a call from the MRI technician shortly after. I explained that my mother and I had called to speak with you because I was very frightened and wanted some assurance. “I can assure you,” she said. I figured that since she’d initially said she didn’t know what had happened, she must have spoken with you or otherwise determined the cause of the shocks.

She then proceeded to assert that my symptoms were “definitely not from the MRI;” that I wasn’t shocked but that I simply “felt uncomfortable” during the test; that I have “lower lumbar problems that were obviously triggered by lying down;” and that the only reason she told me to call you on Monday was to “find out how I could be more comfortable the next time” I take the test. She then refused to contact you – despite my informing her that nothing like this had ever happened before, and that I was anxious and scared about the shocks my body had received.

The technician was obviously more concerned about covering her ass for a potential lawsuit than actually taking care of a patient. I was literally shocked by the MRI machine. I had the right to know why – what malfunction had happened in the machine, and how dangerous or benign those shocks were to my system.

Not only did the technician refuse to facilitate providing me that information, and not only did that leave me in a state of uncertainty over the weekend, but she proceeded to assert that what happened didn’t actually happen — that I was simply experiencing run-of-the-mill lower back pain. Her response was out of line and added insult to injury.

When I woke up the next morning, I had a headache; I was more naseous and dizzy than the night before; my jaw was even tighter; the sense of shallowness/deadness in my left ear was amplified; and I had pain in various places in my body where I either have never experienced pain or where I have not experienced pain for up to a year – such as my left ankle and my right thumb.

In addition, I had spasms and twitches all over my body – including the left side of my left breast. The whole area below my left breast felt weird, in fact, and when I checked my pulse, I found that my heart was beating about twice its normal rate. Though initially I only connected the local pain (in my back) to the shock incidents, in the morning I understood that those shocks must have set my entire nervous system on edge – thus the sudden, unusual symptoms throughout my entire body.

As per the doctor’s assessment, I hope these symptoms will eventually subside. Regardless, I deserve an honest answer about what happened. In addition, I expect the technician to be confronted about responding in an uncaring, undermining way to a patient who had just undergone a frightening experience and simply wanted to know what had happened to her.


Cliff. Johnston June 16th, 2010

I find your comments very interesting as I just got off the phone with my son who had an MRI this afternoon.  He told me that he had intense shocks along his spine.

All that I seem to be able to find so far are MRI techs. etc., trying to cover their a$$es with lame explanations about something being wrong with the patient.  It never seems to be a problem with the MRI machine or the operator.

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