Friday, May 21, 2010

#167: PET friendly

Getting a PET scan is an intense experience. The facility is in a separate building from the rest of the hospital. They use a lot of radioactive whachamacallits in there. I sat with a nurse and recited my medical history one more time. This is sort of the hospital version of "What's your major?" They have your history in the computer, but they ask you all the same questions over and over so they can get to know you. It's OK. I love talking about myself.

A lady in scrubs with a clipboard came into the room and told me it was time to go to the scanner. Mrs. P asked if she could come along, but they told her "No". Radiation.. Scrub Lady led me out the front door and around the building to a large trailer that was parked in the lot. We stepped onto a lift gate, like the one on a delivery truck, and were raised up to a rolling steel door. I was starting to feel like Maxwell Smart.

A second tech was inside. She answered our buzz by raising the door and letting us in. The door rumbled back down behind us. The place was lovely. Carefully designed lighting fixtures. Well crafted cabinets and molding. A small side room with a comfortable recliner for me to sit in.

While Scrub Lady put an IV in my arm, the second tech put on a face shield and gloves - sort of like Homer Simpson's opening credits outfit. She opened a small metal canister and removed a vial. I was relieved to see that it did not glow. Smiling, she injected the mystery isotope into my IV line and they shut me in my cubical. I noticed that the steel door was about three inches thick with a small heavy glass window.I could have been in any medical office in the world. Or a CIA interrogation room.

I had to wait for about half an hour in the silent glow of the MR-16 lamps hanging from the ceiling. I breathed slowly, trying to relax. When I closed my eyes, I could hear muffled conversation through the door. From my chair, I could see the door of the treatment room at the other end of the trailer. After a few minutes, both techs rose and went into that room. I saw a young woman coming out. She had a red bandanna on her head, and her face was gray and tired. She smiled and laughed for a moment with the attendants, then Scrub Lady pushed the button and the great steel door rolled up. The two of them left gingerly.

The second tech opened my door and said it was time. We walked through the windowless work area into the treatment room. A PET scan looks a lot like a CT scan. It's a big white donut with a table that slides you through the hole. I had to remove my watch, my metal ID necklace and belt, then my jeans (rivets, you know). She had me lie down on the table and covered me with a sheet. I found a comfortable position and she told me to lie still for the next twenty minutes. The donut started whirring and the table started sliding. I thought about the woman in the bandanna. Would that be me in a few weeks? How long had she been sick? Was she going to live? Her cheerful spirit was evident, but so was the toll that the disease had taken on her body. What the hell was going to happen if they found out that I have Cancer?

I closed my eyes and went to sleep.

When Scrub Lady led me back to the main building, I saw Mrs P in an earnest conversation with another woman in the lobby. I asked to use the rest room and they led me to a special toilet in the corner of the facility. You can't go just anywhere when your pee is radioactive. I turned out the lights to check, but it didn't glow either. When I was ready to leave, Mrs P hugged her new friend and they exchanged phone numbers. That's just the kind of woman she is.

"She was nice," I said, once we were outside.

"Her husband is terminal."

I took her hand, and we walked wordlessly back to the car.

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