The First Simulation
I was dreading the first simulation–one of two, the second scheduled five days after the first–because I understood that my arm would be positioned over my head for 45 minutes while a ‘cradle” was made to keep me in the same position every time. I’d also read a scary description of the machine in Good Harbor, (See Previous News Feb 07, 05). Well, not only is the long session the second session, making it unnecessary for me to have drugged myself with ibuprofen and vicodin, but the machine wasn’t scary at all. I thought it was pretty interesting, the way it moved around me, like a sicophant.
But one thing did hold true: radiation techs really are the kindest of any staff in the medical community, just as I’d been told. My two techs were soft spoken, patient, unhurried, and kind. This, in addition to being pretty zoned out, helped keep me comfortable while I lay, breast exposed and totally vulnerable, on a narrow hard table. But even that could have been worse. At least I only had to strip to the waist. I can remember when it didn’t matter what was wrong with you, you had to strip naked under a paper gown.
Still, I was very glad my friend Fran came along. Except for the end, when I was being X-rayed, she sat a few feet from me during all the positioning, marking (I have enough permanent marker tatoos to turn me into a motorcycle moll), and cradle forming. I was directed to keep the chest tape and markings intact (“But do shower; we’d appreciate it!) until my next simulation five days from now.
The ” cradle” was made inside a black garbage bag by adding water to some powder, which immediately puffed up and formed itself to my exact shape. It was very warm, which helped relax my shoulder, the victim of two rotator cuff injuries. Finished, it resembled a car safety seat for a preemie.
Best of all, they were on time. My appointment, made for 11:00 a.m., began at minutes before. My anxieties were completely unnecessary, at least this time. Piece of cake.
CT (“Cat”) Scan
My simulation, which I thought would be lengthy, was pretty quick–about half an hour. My “ten-minute” CT scan, however, took almost two hours. I was back in that hospital where I had my surgeries and which dazzled me with screwups. So I was grateful to have Fran around, a retired Washington Post editor, to be my witness. At least I knew I wouldn‘t get stuck in a dark tunnel–that’s an MRI, a friend had assured me, a different imaging process.
I waited a long time in the little waiting room. Everyone was called on except me. I couldn’t inquire about the delay, because no one was in sitting behind the glass partition for about fifteen minutes. Finally, 45 minutes after my appointed hour, when someone appeared there, I inquired. “Have I been forgotten?” “What are you here for?” “A CT scan,” I said. “I’ll ask,” she said.
She returned five minutes later just as another woman entered, saying she was here for a CT scan. “Don’t hold your breath,” I said. “I’ve been here almost an hour and they haven’t gotten to me yet.” Meanwhile, the receptionist returned and told me “they are just setting up the table for you.”
They forgot. I’m sure they did. “Did they forget?” I asked. She colored and stammered, oh no. Then she is telling the woman who is also here for a CT scan that her appointment is for day after tomorrow. “That can’t be!” said the woman. “I was just sent here this afternoon.” But the receptionist insisted. Then the woman insisted. “They said it was too urgent to put off until Friday,” she said. “I was told to come here directly.” My god, I thought. Here her condition is so threatening that she can’t wait two days for a CT scan, and now they are telling her they won’t do it?
They finally come for me. After I change into gowns (waist up strip only), I’m put on a very narrow, very hard table, and fitted into the cradle that was formed this morning and which I brought with me. Fran was told to leave, because of the radiation. But no radiation happend for a long time; she could easily have stayed. For what seemed to me like about twenty minutes, a very young woman tried to “line up” the marks and tapes stuck to my chest during the morning’s simulation. She couldn’t seem to get it and eventually called in an even younger woman to stand on one side of me while she lined up the other. And then, without warning or expanation, everyone disappeared.
I waited for what seemed a long time–maybe five minutes. I had no idea what was happening, but sometime during the setting up, I’d been instructed not to move anything. If the scan wasn’t right, I’d have to return, not a pleasant thought. Phlegm from my three-week cold began gathering in the back of my throat. I felt an urgent need to cough. My left hand wanted to fall off the table. I said as loudly as I could, “What’s happening?” No one answered, my words swallowed into the room hum.
Finally, the machine, a large doughnut about three or four feet thick, came alive. Red lasers began to flash and a sign said not to look at them, so I closed my eyes. Slowly, for about five minutes, the table floated me into the giant O, then out, then back, then out. Finally, the tech returned and released me.
Fran was waiting in the hallway. “You know, while I was waiting for you, I asked the young man tech, in my most professional voice, why your CT scan was delayed for an hour. He seemed embarrassed, then said there was an emergency. I knew who she meant: I’d seen him holding his head in the glassed-off room next to me. He held it for so long and looked so ill that I asked someone if he was all right. I’d been told he had a headache. I don’t believe he was in the Emergency Room. I think he’d been ill. I wondered if he was awake enough to do the scan.
My god, no wonder I’m scared. The good news, however, is that none of today’s elaborate procedures hurt. Not at all.