The PET Scan Experience
Today’s story veers from a colon-specific tale, but deals with something many semi-colons face: PET scans. I receive these scans because my colon was removed due to cancer. Here was my experience yesterday…
The nurse called my name and I entered the Radiology door. She escorted me to a closet-sized room that was very medical-feeling except for one frame hanging on the wall displaying her certificate of completion for IV therapy. I felt relieved when I noticed she had 10 years of experience. Plus, her cheery uniform matched her happy personality and helped calm my anxiousness.
She explained the routine for the morning: IV, infusion, sit in the dark, scan.
“Oh, and do you want a blanket?” she asked.
“No thanks, I’m OK.” I said.
For reasons I don’t understand, they keep the infusion and scanning rooms very chilly. She handed me a waver to sign, acknowledging that I understood the chemicals injected into my body proposed threats of kidney failure, hives, cramping, nausea, growing three arms, etc. I prayed that I wouldn’t suffer from the rare complications and signed my life away. (Just kidding about the three arms thing… at least as far as I know.)
The Lord has blessed me with good veins, so the IV was no big deal. She gently inserted the needle and taped down the plastic device hanging out of my arm with sturdy tape. She left me to rest and passed the torch to the PET technician. He was a taller guy who you didn’t want to mess with, yet friendly at the same time. It must have been his green scrubs. My favorite color. He entered the room.
“Need a blanket?” he asked.
“No thanks, I’m good.” I said.
He walked to the back of the closet and opened a metal safe in the wall. The safe had some sort of radioactive needle logo on it that gave of the impression of “CAUTION! THIS CONTAINS STUFF THAT IS EITHER DANGEROUS OR REALLY EXPENSIVE” on it. He pulled out a very thick, silver capsule that was sweating due to its cold temperature.
“This contains radioactive sugar isotopes,” he said.
“Great, I thought. Now I’m going to freaking glow.”
He proceeded to push the isotopes in the big, silver tube into my IV. I didn’t feel anything and in a few seconds, I started glowing! Just kidding, nothing happened.
“You sure you don’t need a blanket?” he asked again.
“I’m sure, I’m good.” I said. “Thanks though.”
He left the room and left me to marinate. For another reason I don’t understand, I had to sit in the dark once I received the injection for about 45 minutes. He was nice left the door cracked so I could read my book.
“Geez,” I thought. “It sure is nice when they remember what it feels like to be human.”
The 45 minutes went pretty fast thanks to my book. After a while the isotopes had gotten to me and I thought my bladder was going to pop. Plus, it ran through my semi-colon quickly as well. I got permission from the cheery nurse in the colorful uniform to use the restroom. I slowly stepped into the hallway, wondering if I would shrivel up in the light like the Wicked Witch of the West, but soon realized I was fine. I headed down the hallway to save myself from damaging yet another important organ and give my bladder a rest.
I was greeted by the PET technician outside the bathroom door as I made my exit. He was ready for me. I entered the room to see a large scanning machine. I hopped up onto a narrow sliding tray that went all the way through the machine.
“You need a blanket now?” he asked again.
“Sure, I’ll take one this time.” I replied. It was the least I could do, I felt bad for saying no over and over.
He propped my head with a pillow and supported my slightly bent knees. To take friendliness up one notch further, a serene photograph of leaves falling near creek was placed in lieu of a ceiling tile so his patients had something pretty to look at. I was impressed.
The machine began to slowly move and I quickly shut my eyes and held them tightly. I’m not typically claustrophobic, but for some reason MRIs and PETs can give me the hibbies.
“Remember, you’re not strapped down. You could get out of this. You’re OK. Breathe deep,” I told myself as the machine turned on and the scan began. “All you have to do is lay still for 25 minutes, and then it’s over.”
I tried to picture myself in a playground tunnel, probably a bright red one. The red ones look the most fun. I imagined that I was running from “bad guys,” and that I had chosen to crawl into the middle of the tunnel to hide out. I even tried to convince myself I heard muffled voices from outside the tube as bad guys ran through the pea gravel looking for me.
That worked for a few minutes. For the rest of the time I prayed about everything I could think of to take my mind off the fact I was laying on a cold, skinny tray in the middle of a large, thick tube scanning my vital organs for any traces of radioactive sugar isotopes attached to cancer cells.
I began to hear movement in the scanning room and accidentally opened my eyes. To my surprise, I was on the other end of the tube.
“That was painless,” I thought.
“You’re all finished,” he said.
The technician removed the IV from my arm and told me I was good to go. I thanked him for being so kind. As I sat up, I made sure to leave the blanket on the tray. I gathered my things and headed back toward the Radiology door.
Later, I was thinking about how funny it was that they kept offering me a blanket even though I was wearing sweats and it finally dawned on me. Yes, it was really cold. But in that moment, I saw life through their eyes. Seeing patient after patient worry in fear for their upcoming test as they put in IVs, watching them sit in dark closets and chase away anxieties, and directing them to lay still on a tray while you scan their bodies for cancer cells. A blanket was the only real way they could help and show they care.
I walked out of that clinic not knowing what my future held. PET scans are awesome because they detect cancer cells in your body. PET scans are scary though because they detect cancer cells in your body. I didn’t know how my results would end up. It could have gone either way. But even though the anxiousness started to creep back in, it didn’t matter. In that moment, I felt cared for. I appreciated my experience. I remembered the thoughtful staff members who offered hope in the midst of trial. And after a long day of testing, I was so thankful that I took the blanket.