A Completely Safe Procedure

Ok, I just finished my PET scan. It’s the third one I’ve had over three years and I can say it is a time consuming but a safe procedure. First they lead you into a room where you change into surgical pants. Zippers, change, pocket knives, any metal will interfere with the test. Presumably if you had a shirt with studs or rhinestones they’d made you take that off as well. Didn’t see a lot of them in the waiting room.

The next thing they do is have you sit in a comfortable recliner. This is to lull you into feeling comfortably because the next thing they do is to put in an IV line. Funny thing about that. When I was a kid I loved the show Emergency, about the team of paramedics. I wondered though why they always put in an IV line. “Rampart we have a patient, male, 23 years old with a broken hand.” “Understood rescue 51. Splint the hand, insert an IV with Ringers Lactate and transport.” I mean like every rescue included an IV line which I found a bit unrealistic. Now that I’ve seen the medical process from the inside, I don’t think so any more.

Once they had the IV in the nurse asked me if you wanted a blanket. If you are ever in this situation always say yes. They warm them up and they are wonderful. Then he said he was going to get the tracer. The tracer is a sugar solution that has had one of the atoms replaced with a radioactive one. As the radioactive material decays it gives off positrons. Yes positrons, as in anti-mater. These react with normal electrons in the surrounding tissue to produce gamma rays.

But it is a completely safe procedure.

The nurse returned with a lead cylinder about four inches long and two wide. This contained the radioactive tracer. He hooked the IV line up to the stainless fitting on each end. Then while standing on the far side of the cylinder he turned a valve on the end to release the tracer. Immediately after that he flushed the IV line with sterile saline, removed the tubing and took the lead cylinder and other contaminated tubing back into the other room for safe disposal.

But it is a completely safe procedure.

Then I had to wait. For forty five minutes I lay completely still under the blanket while Vivaldi played in the background. This was so all of the cells in my body could take up the radioactive tracer. The idea is that cells using a lot of energy will take up more of the radioactive sugar and show up as hot spots on the scan. As long as the cancer is the most active it will stand out. If I moved around then my muscles would be recovering and would give false positives. So it was very important that I lay completely still. After a long while another nurse came in, removed the IV tap, bandaged my arm. And led me into the scanning room.

In the scanning room they lay me on a motorized table. My arms were above my head and my knees were bent with a support under my legs. “Are you OK,” she asked. ” I can tape your knees and ankles together if you think they might fall off.” I assume she meant slip and not literally fall off. I assured her that I was fine. ” The test will take twenty to twenty five minutes and it is important that you not move.” I assured her that I wouldn’t. At this point she retreated to the other room, behind radiation shielding and a thick double pane leaded glass window to start the test.

But it is a completely safe procedure.

The test itself was fairly simple. I lay there and the table slowly moved me through a large humming, whirring, machine. The lights were low and soon I actually dozed off. The only discomfort came from my hands that went to sleep on their own as I held them above my head.

And then we were done. The table retracted me from the maw of the machine. The nurse came in and helped me get up, and wake up. I went to the other room and changed into my own clothes and met my wife in the lobby. We left with a reminder ringing in our ears. “Do not try to cross the US border. Even from inside the car you will set off the radiation detectors. Also avoid any pregnant women, women that might be pregnant, or small children. By tomorrow you will probably be OK.”

But it is a completely safe procedure.

While I gas getting ready for the PET scan I mentioned to the nurse that we needed to come up with a different way to deliver the tracer. Suppose instead of using an IV we delivered the tracer with, oh I don’t know, a TimBit. He agreed that would be great. We’d be famous and rich if we could figure out how to deliver drugs with pastry. Later on I got to thinking, why limit to the tracer. Imagine if we started delivering all medicine via TimBit. Antibiotics, pain medicine, blood pressure drugs, all in a TimBit. It would be great.

OK insulin wouldn’t work, but other than that….

At this point I started giggling about trying to use TimBits to deliver insulin. Quickly I realized they might think I had lost it so I choked back my laughter and just smiled inside. Later, in the PET scan room, the Imagine Dragons song Radioactive came to my mind. It struck me that I was probably the first person ever to be able to sing that song honestly. And I started to laugh about that too.

I’m sure they thought I was a fruitcake. And maybe I am.