Saturday, August 8, 2009

Computed Tomography

I'm lying on my back, double wrapped in hospital gowns, feet pointing toward the donut-shaped hole in the middle of the CT Scanner. An IV has been inserted in my left arm and my stomach is full of a barium sulphate suspension that I'd been sipping away at for the past hour.

"I know you've been through this before," the technician was saying. "But if you have any sign of an allergic reaction, a rash of any kind, call us. If you have trouble breathing call 911 right away, any delay could, you know, kill you."

"I promise." I told her. "I'm here cause I'm not interested in dying. At least not yet."

She nodded. "Now you remember from last time, when the machine tells you to breathe, you breathe and when it tells you to hold your breath, you hold your breath. And then at one point I will be injecting a dye into your left arm and you will feel a warmth spreading through your body and might feel as if you have to pee. But that feeling will pass quickly."

"Oh yes, I remember that feeling."

"And half way through, I will be coming out to give you three spoons of a white pasty substance. Did you have any trouble swallowing that the last time?"

"Well, I didn't like it. But I had no trouble swallowing it."

"The last spoonful, I need you to hold in your mouth until I tell you to swallow, okay?"

"Got it."

"Alright," she said. "Let's get started."

And the table I was on began to rise higher up toward the opening in the middle of the machine. Then the technician scampered for safety and the electric motors within the scanner began to hum.

It was 8:20 am at Princess Margaret Hospital and my first test of the day was underway. After five weeks of combined chemo/radiation I was soon to discover what impact, if any, that harsh therapy had had on my esophageal cancer.

The possibilities were that the treatment had had no appreciable impact whatsoever; that the tumor had grown despite weeks of being bombarded by radiation and poisonous chemicals; that the tumor had shrunk but was still very much alive and active; or that it had been killed leaving a mere husk left in my throat.

I was voting for the latter, but I would have to wait for the results until my meeting with the oncologist next Thursday.

It was shaping up to be a long week.

After a while the machine ceased running me through the hole in its donut, where my body was being dissected by x-rays, sliced into tiny increments, and the technician reappeared before me, a white plastic spoon in her hand.

"Alright," she said. "Time for the white pasty stuff."

She pushed the spoonful into my mouth.


It was going to be a very, very long week.