I sit in the subterranean waiting room at Brigham and Women's Hospital, a lady on a loveseat, a patient and her bags. I packed for a full day in Boston, my bright floral "cancer bag" filled with books, medical records, my water bottle, a portable charger. I purchased that bag exclusively for this journey and figure I'll either want to burn it or frame it when I'm done with all my hospital appointments. I've acquired more bags throughout my day, including a snazzy silver tote that Dana Farber gives new patients, filled with useful information for the journey ahead. I've settled in to wait for my final appointment, rotating between reading bits from one of my many "Cancer book fair" selections, writing in my journal, checking my email, playing a stupid game on my phone. This final appointment is for a CT scan or a CAT scan, I'm not really sure what the difference is and I think maybe the terms are used interchangeably, but since I'm a cat person I've chosen the latter. I also think "CAT scan" sounds much more groovy than "CT scan," and if I have to spend my days getting poked and prodded and scanned at a premiere cancer hospital, I may as well pretend there's a disco ball rotating silently overhead.
I've checked in early for this appointment, hoping that they're ahead of schedule and I'll be able to get out of here before the 5 o'clock Boston traffic is upon us. Although this is my first time at the rodeo, I'm watching and listening to the interactions in the waiting room so I have an idea of what's in store. I gather that about an hour before my appointment time, a nurse will come along and hand me two Dasani water bottles spiked with "contrast;" this will make my insides light up in such a way that will highlight any cancerous lesions lurking in my internal organs. Sweet.
I'm texting with friends when a family with a baby sits down to my left. At first the baby is a solid four chair distance away, but as they hand her along the row I suddenly find myself sitting next to her and I jump into action. "Excuse me," I say as I gather all of my bags together, scrambling to shove my various distractions away so I can cart them across the room. "I'm a bit radioactive today and I think it's best if I move over there." They look at me with concern and confusion in their eyes; it takes just a few minutes before most of the family has left, and only a fellow patient remains.
Five hours earlier I sat in a chair in the Nuclear Medicine Department and received an intravenous injection of radioactive fluid that allows specialists to see if cancer has spread to my bones. Radioactivity is contraindicated for young children, pregnant women, and government buildings, or so I've been advised. To ensure that I wouldn't be detained for carrying radioactive material (how is this my reality?!), the bone scan technician gave me a "get out of jail free" card (her words) to carry around for the next 3 days. I have a radioactive half-life of 6.02 hours. You'd best respect.
I dutifully drink my spiked water when it's handed to me, watching the clock tick by the 60 minutes required before I'll be bright enough to scan. When I enter the CAT scan procedure room, the technician with the "maybe I've seen you at a music festival" vibe gives me another IV injection as he describes to me the next installment in my journey through the looking glass. He explains that when it gets into my veins, this fluid he's injecting will make me feel like I'm peeing my pants. He assures me that I won't be. Fantastic. A voice from the machine starts bossing me around; just like in kindergarten I listen and follow directions well, while I suspiciously eye the signs warning me against looking directly into the lasers. I tell my fellow hippie that the CAT scan machine looks and feels like an amusement park ride gone wrong. I'm waiting for a creepy clown to pop out to complete the scene.
Just another weird little Wednesday over here in Cancerland.
NOTE: this was not today, 7/26/17. This was a few weeks ago. All my scans came back clear from this adventure.
Special shoutout to two friends from high school, Julie Chisholm and Laurie Westgate Rotondo, who hung out with me at different times during this most bizarre of days. They were my witness to the weird, and the fact that we hung out at Dana Farber after not seeing each other for 2 years (Julie) or more (Laurie) just added to the feeling of an alternate reality
Cancer Bag. It hangs out with the other bags but we all know it's different.