PET Scans Are Trippy

Friday, 18 June

My mother-in-law drops me off at Mount Elizabeth Hospital for my PET Scan. “I’ll wait for you at Tangs,” she says happily. “In case there is something to buy, you know.”

I am happy when my MIL is happy.

I head to the Nuclear Medicine department. Mr Threez can’t get off work today so he’s gone ahead and paid up for my scan already. BFF Karen shows up in another summery dress and a black cardigan. It is kind of freezing in this place. I’m feeling it probably because I have been fasting since midnight last night. But not getting hunger pangs coz I’ve been drinking water.

The counter staff take my films and tell me to sit down. This time Karen and I don’t get to chat as much, because pretty soon I’m told to go and change into a hospital gown — “Everything off but your panty”.

A PET scan is an expensive but effective non-invasive (sorta) full body test that can help doctors locate some kinds of ills. Cancers are highly metabolic (ie there’s a lot of action going down in those dang tumours) so they will show up in the PET scan as active areas. It’s like a metal detector for cancers (also Alzheimer’s and other diseases).

I remember a PET scan used to cost something like $3,000 or $4,000 maybe 4, 5 years ago. These days the cost has come down (and hopefully will keep coming down – I can’t imagine people who have no or inadequate insurance being able to get a PET scan done, even though it’s important). Mr Threez paid a little over $2,000 for it. “It’s a steal,” he grinned yesterday. “My MRI cost me $1,500 and it was only my head.” Yes, Mr Threez has his very own tumour tale. Another story for another day.

I change out of my jeans and tee into a gown. Marco, the Filipino nurse, explains that I will be given an injection of dye. This dye colours active areas in the body. He then makes me sign two — two! — forms to confirm I am not pregnant. Foetuses exposed to nuclear waves are at high risk of being born with deformities, if they come out alive at all.

He sits me in a little claustrophobia closet with a Laz-E-Boy. “Relax. The nurse will come soon to set up your drip.”

A strapping China nurse comes over with a trolley. I love the fact that foreign talents are able to come here and find meaningful employment that pays them reasonably well. I am grateful that this China nurse doesn’t ask me to speak Mandarin.

However, some of them have this staccato way of speaking English that assaults the ears, like you’ve got a tin bucket on your head and someone’s knocking on it continually with a broom. I think this nurse knows it, so she keeps it short.

“I put in the drip and give you a saline IV. Later I give you the dye injection. You don’t move. 45 minutes. Want to go toilet now?”

I shake my head. She inserts the drip. Later she comes back and fixes a tube to my drip — it’s a metal pot of radioactive sugar injection. Very underground, like I’m secretly indulging in hash! Nurse slides the wooden door shut.

There is a cool sensation as the fluid enters the body. I am not to move for 45 minutes, and as the fluid goes in I feel as if I’m drifting to sleep but my eyes are open, and flowers start dancing before me. They kaleidoscope into a picket fence of purple and yellow and I start feeling very light and happy.

I’m certain that angels are in the claustrophobic closet with me.

It doesn’t feel like 45 minutes but I’m apparently done! Time for my scan.

(Okay, confession: I’ve always wondered what it feels like to go into that MRI/CT/PET machine like a train entering the station. It always looks like fun to me. Sorry, I have a bimbo side. Middle B had a CT scan for her gut a few months ago — clear, THANK GOD — and she found it “fun”. So her mom can’t possibly find it scary or intimidating, right?)

I lie in this narrow “bed” — makes me wonder how larger people even stay on this thing and not topple to the side! Marco raises my arms above my head, and puts a warm blanket over me. I’ve heard people find it claustrophobic. As the “bed” moves into the tunnel, I do suddenly get this feeling like it’s hard to breathe. But I know it’s only a mental incongruity of some sort (like looking down from the 70th storey of a building and feeling light-headed). I shut my eyes and force myself to breathe in and out slowly (thank you yoga and Pilates). Before I know it, I’m dreaming about Mr Threez…

“Okay, Theresa. You’re done.”

What? So soon? I snore myself awake. It’s been just 20 minutes chop chop. (Good sign, I tell myself. The longer the scan, the more worrisome because they’ve probably found something.)

I wait a few minutes to be released. A lady in her 70s goes in after me. After a minute she has some sort of anxiety attack, and her daughter has to go in and soothe her. It suddenly occurs to me that, yes, the PET tunnel does feel a little like a coffin…

Marco comes along and smiles at me. “Okay, Theresa, you can get changed. We’ll send the films to your doctor tomorrow.”

I get changed and head out to find Karen. “Come let’s get you something to eat,” she says. We head up toDelifrance (which is destined to be a recurring theme in my cancer story I think — maybe I should ask the company to sponsor this blog) and she gets me a raisin danish and a big cup of Earl Grey tea. I like Delifrance for its big cups.

My BFF and I have spent maybe 20 minutes together today in total, but her sheer presence makes me feel like God’s watching over me.

We part ways, and I walk over to Tangs to meet my MIL. Surprise, surprise, she is not holding any shopping bags. Not even one. My danish has quickly digested and we head to Island Cafe for lunch. I order a crayfish laksa — didn’t know when I was going to be able to eat this again!

“How did it go?” she asks.

“I think it’ll be good,” I reply. “They only took 20 minutes to scan and no repeats.”

“We pray it’s clear,” she smiles. Yes we do.

One of my new friends happens to be at the same cafe — she finds lumps in her breasts every year! Man, I don’t think I can take that. Just one, once, enough for me. “Yeah,” she says drily. “Doctor says when I get to 50 I should just chop them off.” We exchange breast stories for five minutes like two war vets, before I go back and eat my [extremely delicious and lemak] laksa. When I go to the counter to pay, I discover she has paid for my bill already.

See, I’m surrounded by angels.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Slegna
    Aug 07, 2010 @ 19:52:50

    you should write a book or maybe you already have? I laughed so much in this one post. Well, at the way you write of course. *hugs*


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