PET scan day. Another day, entering the unknown. The weather was awful, so we left for Bismarck early. My desire to get these exams over and done outweighed my impatience at sitting in hospital and clinic chairs for hours at a time, staring at the walls, watching solemn faces entering and exiting. Although arriving early to appointments, we never had to wait long to enter the inner sanctum of the hospital, those closed doors to the great unknown led by people much younger than myself who always want to know your name and birthdate.
About five minutes from the hospital parking lot, the radiology tech called to make sure we would make the appointment. Snow was falling, and it was blustery, but not impossible, to navigate the streets. The problem was the snow in the driveway leading to the county road and then the county road connecting to Highway 1806.
It took some time and man power to clear a path from the garage to the road. County plows had miles and miles to clear, and many times it was late afternoon when they reached our neck of the woods. This winter had started early and was relentless, with snow piling up around around our yard and the wind sculpting a most beautiful prison wall around the house.
Our house has three exits. Thie first challenge of the day this winter was finding a door that the wind hadn’t packed full of snow overnight.
But heck yea, we will be there. I’m not going to miss this appointment. But, with this wild winter — storms and snow, and travel warnings nearly every week, there were more than a few moments of panic as our path to the hospital began shrinking with every passing weather alert.
It’s North Dakota. We have lived here all our lives, and cold, windy, snowy days don’t always mean you can’t get around in town. But living in a semi-secluded place without a farm tractor to move those drifts became an issue.
The weather was much better Thursday than Wednesday when we went for the biopsy. I could NOT miss either of these tests.
“Absolutely, we will be there in about five minutes,” I said. “We will be there 30 minutes early for the appointment.”
It paid off to arrive early. After a very short wait, a young man in a mask, named Max, called my name.
No one really explained the PET scan. Maybe I wasn’t listening, I found some notes about not eating or drinking six hours before the test. I knew I had to have an injection and wait for the solution to make its way through my body, followed by the scan. It would probably be two and one-half hours at best. I longingly looked at the water fountain over my shoulder as I said goodbye to my husband and followed the young man down a long dimly-lit green hallway. It was cold. Really cold.
We entered a room, or sort of a room with an industrial lift. You know, a platform with a railing like construction workers would use to paint a ceiling.
“Can’t have you guys walking up the stairs now, can we?” Max said. He all but strapped us in with safety harnesses, and up we went. It was a smooth ride. As we rode the lift a mere four feet to a bank of computers, another man in a mask turned his chair around but didn’t say a word. I had no idea if he was smiling or not. That’s the trouble with masks.
To the left was what looked like an airport jet bridge. You know, like an airplane connected to the walkway connected to the terminal. It was even colder in this room, if you could call it that. At the end of the jet bridge, an empty scanner like the ones for the CT scan took up a substantial area in a dark room. I found out later that it wasn’t a room but a semi truck trailer in disguise. It looked more like a space ship.
Max guided me to the right to another very industrial-looking room. Once I settled in one of two chairs separated by a divider, he drew some blood, checked my sugar and put an IV in the vein in the crook of my arm. He carefully put on a new pair of rubber gloves and lifted a canister from a heavy metal cooler in front of yet another couple of computers with ever moving screens and blinking lights. The room has an eerie atmosphere under the fluorescent lights and bare walls. The radioactive symbols, the lights, cold and darkness were reminiscent of the 50s sci-fi movies I watched on the old movie channels. Remember, I love Star Trek.
Most websites will tell you you receive only a small amount of radioactive sugar called fluorodeoxyalucose-18, FGD-18 for short, it sure seemed like a lot more in my head. Thank goodness once the radioactive glucose was injected, the IV was removed. I hate those things.
I’m sure I commented more than once on the chill in the room. Max grabbed a heated blanket, helped me spread it over my legs, and drew the curtain. He said he would return in 45 minutes. UGH.
The chair reclined but not enough to be comfortable. I was cold and not prepared for the starkness of the room. The computer was the only light I could see. The numbers went up and down with no rhyme or reason.
I tried to close my eyes and relax. Thank goodness I didn’t notice the clock on the computer until at least 15 minutes had passed. I waited with my eyes closed, hoping the time would pass quicker. Max came back, but not for me. It was only then I realized someone was waiting behind the curtain hiding that second chair next to me.
If the scan lasted 30 or 40 minutes, that meant at least 30 minutes till my turn in the scanner. This experience has been a lesson in patience for sure.
After more time had passed, Max returned and asked if I wanted to use the bathroom before the scan. I said sure, at my age not wanting to miss an opportunity to pee.
Rather than go out past the waiting room where my husband was reading, we went down another hall, a locked elevator, a couple of wrong turns and a restroom with that same circle in yellow and maybe red. You know, the radioactive warning symbol. I don't recall right now.
PET, or Positron Emission Tomography, is a nuclear imaging technology. According to a Stanford Medical website, “Nuclear medicine is a branch of medical imaging that uses small amounts of radioactive material to diagnose or treat a variety of diseases, including many types of cancers, heart disease, and certain other abnormalities within the body.”
Thinking about radioactive materials, on the way back to the scanner I said, “Might I glow in the dark?”
Max said, “Sorry, no.” Oh well, I tried.
Obediently, I followed him across the jet bridge into the space ship, then into the scanner and out again. It was painless. The platform moved ever so slowing from the top of my head to my knees pausing at intervals to complete a scan section, or at least that’s what I assumed. They said I did good, meaning I didn’t wriggle around. I got up and we went down the lift and out the key-coded door to the waiting room.
Much to my surprise and joy, another friend, Diane, had taken the time out of her day, made her way across the snowy Missouri Interstate 94 bridge and kept my husband company during this unknown ordeal. There she was, and I was overwhelmed with gratitude. It meant a lot to me that she showed up and agreed to go to lunch with us before she was off to donate blood.
I had been craving pancakes for days.