Health Update: The MRI and Ultrasound

For background: I had a pulmonary embolism in February 2023, as told in these articles: Part OnePart Two

The bleeding I had already scheduled a colonoscopy to look at (which was going to happen in May) got my colonoscopy moved up, and it happened last week as told here.

For background: I had a pulmonary embolism in February 2023, as told in these articles: Part OnePart Two

The bleeding I had already scheduled a colonoscopy to look at (which was going to happen in May) got my colonoscopy moved up, and it happened last week as told here.

That resulted in a cancer diagnosis, and I saw a colorectal surgeon as told here. Then a cardiologist, as told here.

And, before we get into the update, I want to mention there are two massive multipublisher bundles of products on DriveThruRPG right now that are fundraisers for my growing medical debt. each has more than $700 of pdfs, from 16+ different companies, for a dozen different ttRPGs (including some core ruelbooks!), as well as maps, figures, stock art, and so on. Each is just $34.95, and will only be available through May 15th.

Bundle #1:
Bundle #2:

Okay, back to the update.

After the waves of initial diagnosis and consultations with new doctors, there was a period of just follow-ups and check-ins and home health and scheduling, where nothing much moved forward on my diagnosis. I found this frustrating, as there’s a mass growing inside me that will kill me if we don’t get rid of it, and the longer it sits there, the harder it’ll be to evict once and for all. I’m currently less afraid than pissed off, and if it’s not going to pay rent and be a bad tenant of my internal organs, I want the little fucker out of me.

I’ve fought gelatinous blobs in ttRPGs. I want to roll for initiative, and stab it before it subsumes me.

But we are still at the scouting and planning to plan stage of this process, and I know that. But last week we had a big step forward in those efforts, with the MRI to map out my cancer and, a few days later, the ultrasound to see if my blood clots (from the pulmonary embolism) are breaking up.

Despite early fears there might not be an MRI machine that could bear the weight of my magnificence — wide-girthed god of game design I am — it turned out a single center one town north of us DOES have a jumbotron-edition MRI with a 500 lb. weight limit. I was 490 when I got my diagnosis, and am 470 now (due to intentional weight loss, not wasting away), so that seemed ideal. And, last Thursday, a friend drove me up to get my money-shot-region bombarded with magnetic fields and radio waves so we’d know just how far the cancer has spread into, and perhaps past, my butt tubes.

>>(As an aside… if I end up getting chemo and radiation therapy, I FULLY intend on developing superpowers. I know millions of people have gone through these processes and never ended up with telekinesis or whatever, but then no one gained superpowers from drinking too much soda until Elongated Man did it. But given the MRI was aimed squarely at my crotch, it is perhaps for the best that it didn’t happen this time. The *might* be characters with crotch-based superpowers that aren’t at maximum cringe, but I can’t think of any.)<<

I was as prepared for the MRI as I could be. My cPTSD is much more active atm, almost certainly from a combination of suffering through the pulmonary embolism and being told I have cancer, and I already know it can manifest as social anxiety. This is especially true anytime I don’t deeply understand what I am supposed to be doing, where I will go, what I’ll be asked for, in a new setting. So, I studied MRI procedures from a patent point of view, called the center and confirmed what entrance I should use, where I’d register, what preparations I should make in advance, how long it should take, and so on.

Normally my wife would (often literally) hold my hand for extra emotional support, but this time she couldn’t. With her having her own surgery scheduled for this week, and our housemate having his next week, there have been numerous overlapping medical appointments and she had one the same time I needed my MRI. But my support system is deep here in my hometown, and a dear friend of 40-or-so years gave me a ride, and waited for me to be done so he could drive me home.

After all, he noted, he wanted me to be around to keep GMing in years to come. He was, of course, joking. … Mostly.

Everything went smoothly through check in, and in advance I want to say the staff and technicians were professional, empathic, efficient, creative, and courteous. I have nothing but praise for them.

And yeah, that’s foreshadowing. The people were tremendous. The Great And Terrible Machine? It was a torturous beast.

As soon as the technicians saw me, they had a concern. See, all the doctors, nurses, aids, and assistants that had found the Great And Terrible Machine and scheduled my appointment had only been worried about its weight capacity. But the technicians, the people who actually USED La Machine? They were worried about my… diameter.

The Great And Terrible Machine is a room-sized mega-magnet with a tube through it. To image you, they stick you in the tube on a slab, on tracks. There is no adjusting the size of that tube. Its size is its size. And no matter how much I weighed, the technicians were worried my “Round Peg” cross-section outclassed the Great and Terrible Machine’s “Round Hole.”

So, prior to getting an IV in me, or any other prep, the technicians asked if I was okay doing a test fitting. I was, and we rolled me in, and checked me for metal. See, the Great and Terrible machine can, really, rip metal from your hands once you get close and its on. Now, I had done my best to wear demetaled clothing, but my pants had a zipper. But it was small and the only metal, so the techs decided all they needed to do was lower my pants down around my ankles, rather than remove them.

I learned an important lesson. Being without your pants definitely reduces your level of formality. But having them down around your ankles makes you look and feel like a doofus.

The first effort to cram me into La Machine was a failure. I turned into the worlds biggest muffin-top only halfway in. So they removed the pad on the gurney, lowered it to its lowest setting, and tried again. My gutdonkagut could be crammed in, but my arms were too much to go with. So, I asked if I could have my arms above my head, and, blinking in surprise, the techs agreed that could work.

And then I juuuuuuust fit. With my pants around my ankles, my arms crossed above my head, laying flat on a metal slab, and my belly and flank-fat pressed up against the inside of The Great And Terrible Machine’s metal inner lining. And if that sounds bad, I just want to reassure you that is was much, much worse than you think.

For one thing, the metal skin of the inside of an MRI gets HOT. Like, burn-your-skin hot. So, the techs crammed buffers between my flubbula and the rounded inner casing of the microwave-of-doom. Second, I could only breathe shallowly. I have breath-panic at the best of times, but here my arms are wrenched up above my head, my oxygen tank is banned (because its metal), and I had to take slow, shallow breaths. There was no other option. A deep breath was impossible.

Also, I am mildly claustrophobic, and I was stuffed into the Great And Terrible Machine feet-first up to my eyeballs. My doctor had prescribed an anti-anxiety pill, but when I asked for it, the techs told me this facility has NO pharmacy. The prescription was useless. On top of that, I was pressed up against the inside so tightly the techs were not 100% sure La Machine would work properly. So, they asked, did I want to proceed, while pantsed, immobilized, breath constricted, unmedicated, near panic, and at risk of skin burns?

How long was this going to take, I asked?

“About an hour.”

“Fuck it, let’s do this.”

See, this MRI was the *only* way to get a good idea what stage my cancer is at, and it makes the best roadmap for whatever doctor eventual turns me into a gutless wonder by despooling my bowls and taking the renegade polyps and their encroaching invasion flesh with them. As much as I wanted to scream in terror and waddle away to safety, I promised my wife I would put my health first. I have received so much support from so many people. Surely I could manage one hour being Princess-Bride-Tortured and having my life sucked away, right?

“As you wish,” said the techs.

Then at last it was time for the IV, as I would be getting contrast shot into my veins at the end of this process. The first two efforts to get me hooked up failed (and left me a drink-coaster-sized bruise… “Oh, you’re on blood thinners!” “Yes, yes I am.” But they got it hooked up eventually.) After all that, they made me promise that if my skin got too hot, like if I was developing a nice sear, I’d squeeze the panic bulb. It was, they told me, going to get hot. But I should squeeze before it got TOO hot. Hot was okay, but too hot was too late, so… panic casual?

And then they gave me earplugs, crammed be back into the Great and Terrible machine like stuffing 16 oz of sausage into an 8 oz casing, and walked away. It was just me and… I don’t want to keep saying  the Great and Terrible Machine. Let’s call it Frank.

So, Frank began his work. With a scream.

I was told the MRI would be loud. I was NOT told it would make a sound like a Martian Tripod war-horn mixed with the air raid siren from Silent Hill, but that is what it began with. Frank would continue to do that, as far as I could tell at random, for the next hour.

As accompaniment, Frank added in unpredictable combinations of terrible iron drum percussion riffs, off-key R2-D2 impressions, and a sound I can only describe as partway between a clothes drying starting up and some asshole loudly slurping the last of a chunky milkshake out of the bottom of a cup with a metal straw. All of this was overwhelming, and more than a little startling. And when startled, I’d try to gasp in surprise, only to be forcefully reminded I was physically constrained from gasping. Which would make me begin to panic. So I’d want to take deep, slow breaths to calm myself… which was also impossible.

It sucked. And it was hot. SUPER hot. I did not burn… but I came close to deciding it was too hot more than one. Having to worry about whether I was waiting too long to cry for help because I was cooking just made the whole experience suck more.

Speaking of sucking… I thought that once I was shoved up to my eyeballs into Frank (and THERE is a sentence I never thought I’d write), that I wouldn’t be moving anymore. It turns out I was denied critical, need-to-know information. See, again at random intervals (but always just as I thought I could handle the claustrophobia), Frank would jerk me another inch into his sweltering metal embrace. So, then, panic, effort at a deep breath, can’t breath… and then kicked back OUT by an inch.

After the first set of images, about 12 minutes, the tech came out to see if I had gouged my own eyeballs out yet (I hadn’t… quite), and wanted to know if I was good to proceed. And I asked, as calmly as I could (which was a calm of 7 on a scale of 1-to-132), if we were getting images. Was Frank actually functioning, despite the “snug” fit of my vast bulk inside the cylindrical oven that was the magnetic resonance camera? Because I tell you now friends, if it wasn’t, I was OUT of there.

“Oh, yeah,” said the tech cheerfully. “We’re getting GREAT images.”

Well, fuck. … Oh, wait. I mean yay.


And so it went, session after session. Some were 6 minutes. One was 15. The techs checked on me every time. Made sure my arms weren’t too cramped. Told me how long the next session would be. Importantly, made sure I knew I was not alone, and it was in my power to make it stop at any time. And, while the entire experience was horrific (and when I got home, I cried into the flank of my housemate’s cat for a good hour), that was the one crucial difference between this and real torture.

I had the power to stop it, and that power was reinforced repeatedly. It was my call, and the techs made sure I knew they’d respect it, and act on it immediately.

But I was still stuck in a metal tube being bombarded by unpleasant sensations without being able to shift or breath for an hour. By the time we were down to the last bout of Frank’s horror-show of sound, heat, and claustrophobia, and the tech injected what felt like acidic icewater into my veins, my mouth was dry, and my voice cracking. But I got through it, and I got home.

The techs told me it might take several days to get the report, but it arrived in my inbox the next day.

When I was originally diagnosed, everyone told me we could hope I still had just Stage 0 cancer. When that was ruled out, the doctors talked in terms of hoping it was a Stage 1 cancer.

My time with Frank revealed I have Stage 2 rectal cancer. However, it’s at early Stage 2 — it hasn’t moved into my lymph nodes, there’s no sign it’s spread any further than my intestines. Basically, it’s as good as the news can be if it’s Stage 2. Most likely treatment remains chemo, radiation, then surgery, possibly followed by more chemo and radiation to prevent recurrence.

Thanks a lot, Frank. (No, sincerely, Better to know. Thanks, Frank.)

Still it an emotional gut punch for me. And while I was still trying to process the trauma-connected aftermath of the events of the MRI, I had to get ready for the ultrasound. Just thinking about another diagnostic process made my palms sweaty and my mouth dry (which, if you ask me, is a sign of bad plumbing connections). But my wife could be with me that time, so I girded my loins, sucked it up, and went to get another test.

It took about 15 minutes, and it tickled a little. No results on it, yet. And, as I write this, I need to get ready for my wife to have her own surgery (hysterectomy) tomorrow at 7:30 am, and then to get a CAT scan at the same facility as the MRI the day after that.

… I wonder if Frank’s friend Cat will be nice?

The two massive multi-publisher mega-bundles linked above 9adn right here — ) to help over medical costs are the main way to support me through May 15th. In addition to buying them, sharing links you see about them and telling your friends to look at them are a huge help. You can also join (or even increase your pledge level to) my Patreon, or make a direct contribution at my Ko-Fi.


About Owen K.C. Stephens

Owen K.C. Stephens Owen Kirker Clifford Stephens is a full-time ttRPG Writer, designer, developer, publisher, and consultant. He's the publisher for Rogue Genius Games, and has served as the Starfinder Design Lead for Paizo Publishing, the Freeport and Pathfinder RPG developer for Green Ronin, a developer for Rite Publishing, and the Editor-in-Chief for Evil Genius Games. Owen has written game material for numerous other companies, including Wizards of the Coast, Kobold Press, White Wolf, Steve Jackson Games and Upper Deck. He also consults, freelances, and in the off season, sleeps. He has a Pateon which supports his online work. You can find it at

Posted on April 12, 2023, in Health and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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