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Keeping time and rocking out with another MRI

By Dan Digmann

Parallels between two trivial moments occurring 40 years apart weren’t lost on me as I laid motionless inside the MRI tube.

One just happened in 2023 as I was settling in for a 90-minute scan of my brain, cervical spine and thoracic spine at the Midland, Mich., medical center. The other went down in 1983 as I was pushing to break 100 in the junior bowling league at the bowling center in Monticello, Iowa.

The only thing needed to tie together these otherwise dissimilar situations was the song Photograph by Def Leppard. Seriously. Just hear me out on this one to understand what I mean when I say: 

All it took was the chaotic rachet of the MRI and the rhythmic drive of rock music for me to realize all of us living with multiple sclerosis should feel very proud of how far we each have come in dealing with this disease. 

It seemed like my first MRI since 2019 was going to be pretty standard as I positioned myself onto the MRI platform. 

You know the drill, right? Lie down. Go into the tube. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Noise. Noise. Noise. Noise. Tick. Tick. Noise. Noise. Noise. Noise. Silence. Repeat, again and again. Slide out of the tube. Get contrast. Back into the tube. Tick tick. Noise noise. All done.

Before going into the tube this time, the technician, Cheryl, asked, “Did you want to listen to any music?” I told her sure and asked if she had Classic Rock. She smiled and said she had 80s rock, figuring that would work because, seeing my chart, she knew we both were the same age, and that’s the go-to genre for many in the Generation X demographic.

She bragged that their headphones were equipped with amplifiers to boost the sound over the MRI. Strategically squeezing the headphones over my ears to sandwich my head into the brain apparatus, Cheryl nodded to the other technicians to affirm all was good to go. I slid into the machine, and the scanning commenced.

For a fleeting moment, my heart dropped. I heard tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Loud and clear. But no music. 

“Cheryl, why have you forsaken me?” I thought. “All this talk of amplified 80s rock, I anticipated the likes of INXS, Guns and Roses, and AC/DC, and all I’m hearing is MRI?”

Before the MRI “Tick. Tick.” transitioned to “Noise. Noise.” the tight guitar riff that opens the iconic chart-topping single Photograph smothered my ear drums. There! That’s what I was looking for. I simultaneously smiled and silently thanked Cheryl for remembering to flip the music switch.

The rhythm and melody of the song started to drown out the MRI. All I heard was lead singer Joe Elliott and his fellow bandmates from Sheffield, England, sing the Marilyn Monroe-inspired song that helped to define the music of my generation.

I soon realized the music wasn’t really overpowering the grinding and buzzing of the medical testing. Rather, for this particular phase of the procedure, the testing was keeping perfect time with the song. Like a master class on the call-and-response technique in music.

“Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Photograph. Noise. Noise. I don’t want your… Noise. Noise. Photograph. Noise. Noise. I don’t need your… Noise. Noise. Photograph. Noise. Noise. All I’ve got is your… Tick. Tick. Photograph.”

My mind started wandering because, well, I was cocooned in an MRI machine with nothing much to do for the next 90 minutes or so. I started thinking about the longevity of this song and how it had become such a mainstay in my life. Not that I listen to it every day, but it’s definitely a song I never skip or ignore when it comes on the radio or Spotify throws it onto a playlist it creates for me.

And maybe it holds a special place for me because I distinctly can remember where I was the first time I heard it.

I was 11 years old and bowling in my Saturday afternoon junior bowling league. As with most sports and athletics-related endeavors, at best I was on the low end of average. So when I had my first-ever double – two strikes in a row – I felt I was destined for something spectacular on that day. Simple math showed I had the potential to break 100, also for the first time ever.

Dare to dream, little Danny Digmann. Dare to dream.

Then, as I stared up at the bowling scores on the overhead projection above our table in lane four, a tight guitar riff I never heard before, came over the loudspeaker at my hometown bowling center. “What is this song?” 

Yes, it was Def Leppard’s Photograph”  

This was a day of firsts for me. My first bowling double. My first time hearing Photograph. My first time breaking 100? Not quite. I finished with a 98.

But it wasn’t falling two pins shy of 100 that made this day memorable. It was the music that captured my interest and made it a day I would recall four decades later as I laid motionless inside the MRI tube. 

As the song ended and the Tick. Tick. transitioned into Angel by Aerosmith, I laid there wondering what my 11-year-old self would have thought had he been told that Photograph would give his future self-comfort while he was getting tests done for a chronic disease of the central nervous system he was living with. 

I imagine such words would have freaked him out at first. But then he would have smiled, finding pride and encouragement knowing that his future self didn’t let the disease get the best of him. That he continued to show up and strive to do the best he could – even if it meant falling two pins short of his goal – with each day.

Oh, yeah, and that his future self still would be rocking out to Def Leppard after he turned 50.