Posted by: jeanne | July 17, 2008

my cat scan 2

i never thought, when i first got cancer, that i would become so familiar with the route to the hospitals, the corridors of the hospitals, the tunnels and passages of the hospitals, the large rooms with movable curtained partitions, the machines, the hums and thrums and noises, the silence of the hospitals.

for my first few operations and tests i was so pleased to be doing something about my affliction, and felt grateful to everyone for helping me when i was in need. because these tests and operations all made me weak, and feeble, and grateful for attention and aid.

so i’d take little prints i used to make and still have a lot unsold in boxes in the studio, and i’d take silk scarves i’d painted, and i’d go back to the hospitals and hand them out to the wonderful magical hospital staffs.

i still take notes about who helps me out, every time i go in for another test, but somehow they stay as scraps of paper around the house, because i’m just so procupied with work. then at christmas i mail presents to everyone i can think of, because i can, because the time will come when i can’t.

after all these tests and operations i know where to park. depending on which hospital or doctor’s building – st. joe’s, northside, that other place, there’s variations of location and price to consider. i like the shade and the shadows. i like to sit in my car after my appointment and appreciate the solitude. i don’t mind a walk to the elevator. i always forget what level i’ve parked on.

the hospitals are set off by themselves in the suburbs of atlanta, right next to all sorts of stuff but isolated by a mile or two of houses. at least it appears that way from the ground. this means they all built tollbooths at the entrances to their parking lots. there’s nowhere to park for free if you have to go to the hospital for anything at all. that’s why i like atlanta medical (georgia baptist used to be). it’s in the city, so you can find somewhere to park on the street. i guess it’s a trade off. city hospitals are grimy and gritty. these cluster of hospitals was all tarted up with wood and plush and padding. water features.

there’s actually a free parking lot in the area, but it’s patrolled, so you’re best off going into one of the buildings and coming out the other side, rather than walking over the hospital of choice directly from your car.

anyway, i got up to the lobby level and walked into a panelled and carpetted and spacious waiting room. abstract plush modern. the lady behind the desk gave me papers to fill out and took my cards. i sat down and filled out paperwork, and then opened my book.

and before i knew it there was someone at the door calling my name, shaking something in her left hand.

it all came back with a flash. a screechy ‘no’ escaped from way at the back of my head, and i made the international sign of avoiding the evil eye with my fingers.

she came up to me with a bottle of radioactive poison that she wanted me to drink. all of it. all 40 ounces of it.

she ignored my moaning. she could tell that i knew the routine, and by my whining she knew that i knew i’d already lost, so she could imply the bullying she could do.

she filled a styrofoam cup with thick, evil, whitish goo, and slapped it down on the table in front of me, pointedly thumped  the rest of the bottle down next to it, and walked away.

so i sat there and sipped at the stuff, my face involuntarily contorting even between sips. if i hadn’t had a good book, if i’d been forced to read a magazine, or worse yet, watch a presidential press conference on the plasma screen at the other side of the waiting room, i would have thrown the cupful of liquid death at the tv and stalked out.

but i sat there, trying to be as engrossed as possible in my book so that not only would i completely miss whatever the president was saying, but i would also not notice the horrible nastiness of the drink. i could taste the petroleum distillate used to manufacture the dozens of natural and artificial flavorings they used.

they called it a smoothie.

it was clammy in my hand. it was less dense than it should have been, like a styrofoam rock. it was artificially grape flavored. it felt like melted plastic in my mouth. it tasted like 40 ounces of artificial ingredients, artificial fillers, artificial flavors, and radioactive poison.

i made a note to look up the ingredients later – did i mention that i’m one of those people who are sensitive to all the crap they put in our food? see my food industry rant blog. The flagrantly fake drink was made entirely of things that are bad for me.

i finally finished sipping down the cup of liquid wish-you-were-dead. i realized as i was looking around for a trashcan that i still had another full cup of horrible torture in a bottle that i had to down before they would take me in the back for more torture.

so i sat and sipped that. trying to be blythe about it, but everyone in there could see by my grimaces that i was there under duress, and suffering.

i chased it with a glass of water from the fountain, swishing around each mouthful to clear my palate oh my god i mean to maybe sluice off some of the felt that now coated my tongue and the inside of my mouth and in places i wasn’t aware were actual cavities inside my mouth.

then the nurse came to the door and called for me. another nurse. i think. maybe. she seemed to look everywhere but me as i gathered all my stuff and followed. at this point i was feeling ill from the barium sulphate smoothie, which i could feel working its way thru my guts, a-rumblin’ and a-tumblin’, a-burnin’ and a-churnin’ like a plate full of baked beans. so i followed after meekly, complaining tremulously about the chemicals they forced me to drink.

i checked. ‘have you ever actually drunk any of that stuff?’ i asked as we walked thru generic hospital halls. she admitted that she’d tasted some once. a small taste. followed by a guzzled coke and plastic tasting burps.

torture. i think there should be an outcry about techniques of interrogation used by doctors. certain procedures sit right up there with waterboarding as being inhumane and just plain sadistic.

and they smile so warmly at the front desk.

i was in a note taking mood, so i asked what the drink was for. it’s to give a contrast to the alimentary canal for the cat scan. i asked what about the iv she was fixing to put into my arm. that was for delivering the contrast to all the organs and blood supply and things.

she was fixing to stick an iv into my arm. she had all the bits and pieces laid out on the arm of the big easy chair (with hidden straps and a cattle prod for the unwilling) that she got me to sit on. my book and daybook where i wanted to write all this down were across the room. so i got up once to go write down optiray-280, which was the contrast she was fixing to enable. she didn’t like that, and resolved to stop answering my questions.

i remember from last time –

that’s the thing about the last time. it’s all so clear at the time, and you vow you’re going to remember so you’ll be prepared next time, and then you forget all about it until next time. which is what i did. first the ‘no’ in the waiting room as i remembered the horrible tasting crap. and now the much sadder no as i remembered the stuff in my veins that heated up everything from the nerves to the skin, probably the bones, too. it’s nasty. even tho it sounds like it might at least feel interesting, it feels bad.

the funny thing is that i didn’t remember any of this, horrifying as i now found the experience, until faced with the proof of it – the shaken bottle, the robotic-looking injection arm attached to the cat scanner that had “ioversol” written on it.

those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it.

so this nurse, whose name i forgot immediately, tho i thought about writing it down so i could maybe send her, rather than show up and give her, a present for being such a kind human. anyway this nurse stretched a blue elastic band a couple of times, the way my dad used to put the two ends of his belt together and flex them until they snapped and popped, something that remind us that he could do it on us next.

this nurse wrapped my arm with the elastic band – the other arm, because i’m missing my lymph nodes on the one arm (right sided mastectomy with lymph node dissection.) she wrapped my arm to cut off the circulation, and gave me a little football to squeeze to pump up my veins, and then she looked at the crook of my elbow for awhile. the vein that everybody wants to use.

my vein has been used a few times too many in the recent past, and there isn’t a whole lot of blood pressure in that exact spot. the walls are full of holes and scar tissue.

i spoke up, saying how that spot had been used a lot lately, and directing her attention to the vein that runs up the back of the wrist by the thumb. it was so toasted back in 2004 with an iv that was in for days, that subsequent attempts to stick me there are repelled.

she looked at the vein. it was plump and juicy. she felt it. if it were full of scar tissue, she said, it would be all lumpy. it felt fine to her. but if i didn’t want her to, she trailed off.

she turned her attention to that vein that runs kind of deep up the inside of your arm halfway to the elbow.  she tapped at it doubtfully. she chose the smaller of two adjacent branches, and warned me to hold still as she brought a too-sharp, wicked looking needle close to my skin. this is going to hurt.

the vein was nowhere near the surface and i wouldn’t have used it. she dug for it slowly, feeling her way for the vein she could see as a vague blue stain below my skin.

then she started drawing the needle back out.

every tenth of a millimeter was painful, and she was going slow enough so that i could feel every tenth of a millimeter. it was a thousand insults to the flesh, continuously, so that i couldn’t get used to it.

try and relax, she said as she drew the needle slowly out, still hunting for the vein, let’s try a different path, she decided, and started back in.

i wasn’t relaxing. i watched as the needle momentarily showed some blood, but the flow stopped, and she was left with going in and out a few more time.

the fucker.

i could tell that she went right thru the vein, and probably was going to put yet another hole in my vein before she actually got a line.

as usual, having an iv hurts like hell. it’s not a sharp pain, it’s a throbbing drumbeat that hurts every time your heart beats, every time you breathe, every time you move your arm, every time you move your body, every time something in the room moves. and it gets worse the longer it’s in.

and it gets way worse when they put something vile into your veins thru it.

the nurse was going to tape the iv to my arm with clear plastic stuff, tegaderm, even tho i had told her i wasn’t allergic to latex but very allergic to that clear plastic bandage. but i caught her.

she was a little put out at having to use cloth tape, because she was wearing rubber gloves that were too big for her and she was having trouble with manual dexterity, which can be issues when you’re a nurse who deals with my blood and sharp objects. her fingertips of her globves kept getting caught in the tape that she wound around the catheter and then stuck down to my arm.

it hurt when she moved the catheter, which was a very thin plastic tube that went an inch into my arm and came out into a fitting that another plastic tube would plug into when they hooked up my iv.

it hurt when she taped it down. it hurt from then on.

and still the nurse didn’t really look at me. i wondered if she’d decided when i made a fuss about the drink that it would be okay to blow a vein on this one. maybe she was having a bad day.

having raped my arm, she had no further ursse for me, and told me to wait in the big comfy armchair for the man behind door number 3.

whom i would have taken, had he been the prize. he was cute, with a moustache, and strong arms. he’d be nice to dance with, i thought, glancing at his crotch. i was dizzy with the crap in that drink (if i have a dose of msg i have this reaction – i get really tired all of a sudden, things start to spin, and i have to go lie down right now).

the room was very warm. another innovation. i had been just about to ask for a blanket, because i remembered last time and how cold i was lying in the room with the scanner. but it must have been 85 degrees in the scanner room. the lights were down low, do i remember if music swas playing in the room? but i remember violins, so okay.

he pointed to the cot in the middle of the room and asked me to lie down. i tried to joke, but nothing came out right. i suppose i was feeling deeply anxious, somewhat disoriented, and woozy as shit from the evil potion that was poisoning my internal organs.

the cot lays at right angles to the mouth of the big slowly spinning donut in the corner of the room, the cat scanner itself. the cot, it could be a gurney, oh yeah i remember figuring out it was a part of the entire machine. anyway, the bed arm was padded on both sides to hold my legs in place, and covered with sheets, and looked like a very inviting coffin. i sat down and he put a wedge under my knees, and i lay back on the pillow.

he bustled about. raise your arms above your head and set them on the table, he told me. this was painful, because moving my arm made the catheter shift inside my arm. owie. he adjusted my wrists for a moment, and it was only later that i looked to see a line running into my catheter. i had just then noticed the injection robot arm that held optiray-320 for injection and some other tube of something that i didn’t pay any attention to. probably saline. i was a little unsure of my surroundings.

i was beginning to have memories of my colonoscopy of last week. visions of them taunting me, putting my arms and legs in funny positions for their own amusement.

here’s my conspiracy theory. this stuff they use, it’s not an analgesic. it’s an amnesiac. it doesn’t stop pain, it stops consciousness. for all i know, the experience from the outside could be that of watching a blackout drunk dancing on the bar again, never able to explain how she got those bruises.

the bed device jerked into movement, thrusting me at inches per second into the maw of the machine, which now began to spin faster and make more of a hum. it loomed as i got closer. i don’t get claustrophobic, but i was way cramped in my spatial relation to that big white plastic thing.

i gathered my bravery and looked at the little plexiglas panel that ran all around the middle of the donut. dimly, a few inches inside the window, were circuits and connections and wires and junctions and screws and plates.

and radiation. what exactly do they use as a radiation source in a cat scanner? how many x-rays do they take in sequence? how many times do they run you thru that scanner, and how much radiation is that, in total?

does it really compare to the radiation that the people on the ground in nagasaki and hiroshima received? i find that a cat scan gives you the equivalent of 500 xrays, or over 3 years’ worth of natural radiation. with the barium drink i got a total of five and a half years of radiation in one day.

i didn’t have time to ask the guy. he was out of the room, and the loudspeaker was saying take a deep breath and hold it. the donut sped up into a fast whirl around me. the bed jerked into movement, and slowly slowly i was pulled away from the donut hole. it was several minutes later that the voice said you can breathe.

the guy bustled back into the room. do you have a phone in your pocket, he asked me. i must have tried to sneak it in. i had my phone. my keys. my wallet. i aske dif he wanted each one, and he said no and the guy in the other room yelled that i had something else, and in the end he put everything behind my head on the table. but why didn’t he tell me when i came into the room? was it my startling beauty? was it my groggy state that i ignored everything he said while lusting after his body?

he announced that he was going to start the contrast drip, and did something to the robot. it started right away. full strength. it felt like someone had driven a nail thri my arm. my body jerked vertically off the bed. the guy was right there, holding my arm down, soothing me with the firmness of his touch.

the good lord knows it hurt.

but finally the stuff left that part of my arm and went into parts of the rest of my body, and i felt an intense heat like being put into a toaster oven. i felt this heat everywhere. in my breath. in my lunghs and blood vessels and nerves and bones and organs. it’s indescribably except that it’s hot. it’s very painful as well, but this is masked by the hot so your body does’nt notice it.

while it was working its way thru my body the machine started up and delivered me into the flames of hell. i held my breath, caught up in the exquisite pain, and used all of my will to push the bad feeling out of my body. i felt the last of it go out thru my hands and feet.

i do not like this.

then i thought he was going to let me go. he disconnected the drip line, took the catheter out, put a cotton ball and some self-sticking ace bandage stuff (made out of paper, looks like)) around my arm, and told me i still had to lay there. for one more scan. more radiation. cool.

so they did it again. and this time he let me get up. i asked him if he ran that first scan just to find out if i had a phone in my pocket, and he said yes, and then i yelled at him for exposing me to extra radiation for their laziness, and he told me that no they had really had to run a calibration before they could do the real test so it wasn’t for nothing, and i asked him if he’d heard the thing about cat scans being as much radiation as hiroshima, which was a big scandal a few months ago. he might have heard about it, he admitted, but said no more and hustled me out of the room. drink loads of fluids, he said. eat whatever i wanted.

so there i was, gulping water from the fountain out front, the aftertste of the berry barium smoothie completely drowned out by the electric aftertaste of the optiray syrup of pain.

i left, muttering about medical torture.

i came home and debriefed to jim, and allen our houseguest. allen was appalled at the state of my arm, which was bruised all around and downstream of the puncute wound. i coulda done a much better job of putting that iv in. allen is a recovering addict and used to take drugs in the most sickening ways imaginable. there’s no respect for the body when you’re into the hard drugs. you treat it like a shell rather than a temple.

i’m not down with that. if i’m going to be in a body, i want to feel what the body feels, not go around in some sort of numbness, missing half the fun of being in a body.

but, being highly conflicted, i’ve got to say that i hate being in pain.

and at this point, my personal body was very sore about the left arm. i didn’t want to let it hang down, but spent the next several hours holding it to my chest, or using it to type into my blog with

i was still woozy from the barium suspension they made me drink. i didn’t feel right in the stomach, belly or gut, all night. my tummy felt funny. but i ate a full dinner, including some home made strawberry and banana ice cream.

i slept soundly, however, and had a lovely passage of the remains of the barium drink right after my first cup of coffee.

and now we wait for test results.

we wait for signs of radiation sickness from the big dose i had, we wait for the side effects of the barium suspension and the iodine in the veins to kick in.

i came back and slept most of the afternoon, stumbled around thru a dinner the houseguest made thanks allen, and fell into bed only to toss and turn from physical discomfort. i’d eaten everything i could get my hands on, all the good stuff, lots of fiber and water. and homemade ice cream. and water.

my arm hurt.

i woke up this morning after sleeping like a log, feeling pretty good. a new day. my arm hurt. the houseguest came up for morning coffee before we were ready to get out of bed but we coped, and here i am writing my adventures down that i think will only take a few minutes but with interruptions and phone calls to the house, ends up taking all day.

but hey. i’m an artist, i can use my days any way i see fit, because i’m working all the time.

unless i’m lying in the bathtub reading, and i need to do that for my health.


  1. Good morning Jeanne:

    I have a ct an bone scans in a couple of weeks and I am already suffering scanxiety.


    Last time I had a ct they told me that each scan is equal to 1,000 chest x-rays. I wonder if it is different in the states.

    You, by the way described them getting a needle into me to a T.

    Only good results for both of us I hope.

    Love Renee

  2. i found something that i linked to in the blog entry about how much radiation the various methods give you. i forget which link it is, but it’s very interesting information. and most of the techs have never heard of it? hmmm.

  3. Jeanne: now this is pure vanity, but if your stamp by your comment is you. You are beautiful.

    I know beauty has nothing to do with anything here and that it is not the cake but it is icing.

    We are the same age and my hair has just grown back and it is white and short and I have aged about 15 years in the last 2.

    Oh well, my long winded way to say you look beautiful and most importantly I know you are beautiful by your writing.

    Have a great weekend.

    Love Renee

  4. Hey Jeanne it’s Renee. I just wanted to give you a shout out and let your know that I am thinking of you and hoping that all is well.

    Take care and remember to breath.

    Love Renee

  5. […] my cat scan 2 July 2008 4 comments 3 […]

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