A Radioactive What?

“Good morning, Mr. Kirkpatrick. I work at the VA and your doctor referred you for a stomach scan. Can you come Friday morning at 8 am?” I allowed as how I could do that, and then asked if it was a CAT scan or what. “No, we’re going to have you eat a half of an egg sandwich and then watch the way your stomach processes it and see how long it takes to move through the gut.”

“Interesting. How is it you do that?” I asked.

“Well, we’re going to give you a sandwich that’s radioactive.” I started laughing. “No, I’m serious. It’s one of the ways we here in nuclear medicine track the body’s systems. I see in the record that we did a circulation test on you about 18 months ago.” That was true. I recalled how disconcerting it was to see them pull a syringe out of a lead lined steel box. Anything protected that well struck me as probably being dangerous. But they explained that the metal container was more for their protection, since they handled the materials day in and day out, and radioactivity builds up in the body like lead or mercury does.

The thought of a radioactive egg sandwich struck me as bizarre enough to be something I thought was funny, Then I discovered that I had to lay on a steel tray for an hour and a half, and wasn’t allowed to move. “It’ll make the image blurry and we’ll have to start over again –but in a week so that the radioactivity from the sandwich would have petered out. Now, with the lesions and deterioration of my lumbar area, I have to sleep on an adjustable bed to keep my butt lower than my head and feet, otherwise the pressure on me is very painful. I had to lay flat on my back for the scan, and within a few minutes the pain had me sweating profusely and shaking from the pain. They had to halt the test and build me a nest of pillows and then adjust their scanner angle so it was perpendicular to my stomach.

It still wasn’t all that comfortable, it still caused an ache but one that was manageable. However, each of the last 10 of the 90 minutes felt like an hour, and my eyes were watering and a gentle tremor was trying to insinuate itself on me. Fearing having to go through it again, I toughed it out. I did annoy them though because when they said the test was done, I rolled off the table without giving them the opportunity to raise the scanner and lower the table. “hey, hey,” said the tech, “you can’t do that!”

“Funny,” I said. “I just did.” He sighed and nodded his resignation to the situation. Some of the folks at the VA just don’t get how painful things that don’t bother them can be for those of us who suffer pain chronically. Actually, most of the people I know who’re healthy can’t really relate to how powerful pain can be, even those who’ve suffered extreme pain at one time or another. When people ask me how it feels, I often ask them if they’ve ever had a severe toothache, and then tell them to imagine that pain emanating from multiple points at once, and never ends. Still, I’ve been called a wimp (and worse) for my attitude towards pain and my efforts to avoid it.

Then again, I’ve gotten some funny looks just explaining the radioactive egg sandwich they gave me at the hospital, some showing disbelief.  I guess if they can’t get behind the whole egg thing, I guess I’m not surprised theycan’t relate to the pain. It is pretty otherworldly for people who’re fortunate enough to have no personal pain experience, no less a nuclear diet.

Given the number of times I have been irradiated and given radioactive materials, maybe I should get a nuclear hazard placard to wear.

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