CATs and PETs

September 3, 2009 

Last week, I got my first PET scan. Since I woke up with a broken rib nearly a year ago - the way I discovered I had lymphoma - I've had five CAT (CT) scans.

In my experience, CTs are no big deal: Wake up early, "enjoy" a breakfast of contrast drinks, go to the hospital, get another contrast dye added to your blood system via the mediport and get run through the big scanner for 10 minutes or so. You're a little thirsty for the rest of the day because the contrast stuff is pretty salty, but that's about it. Two days later, you meet with your doctor and find out the results.

PET scans, I discovered, are a bit different.

Basically, you are supposed to go on the Atkins Diet the night before: avoid carbs as much as possible. Avoid dairy and sugar, too. You show up at the hospital for your appointment, get a quick blood test to make sure your blood sugar level is low enough, then get injected with a radioactive isotope and take a dose (a double dose for me) of Xanax to relax you, then sit in a dark room for an hour doing nothing - no laptop, no iPod, no books, nothing.

Here comes the fun part: Put your arms over your head, then cross them and grab the opposite elbows. Now, hold that position for an hour. No, you aren't allowed to move. Then you get put in a tube that - in my case, anyways - is barely bigger than your body.

I did OK for about the first 45 minutes, but my shoulders really started to ache from holding my arms in that position, so I shouted out to the guy running the scanner, "Hey, how much longer is this going to take?" He replied, "About 10 more minutes. We're scanning your neck right now, so don't move."

Seeing as the lymphoma had been in my neck, I took that as good advice. But about five minutes longer, I couldn't stand it anymore and moved my arms around a bit. But since I couldn't put them to my sides, that didn't do much good. I am not claustrophobic, but I started to freak out a bit and yelled out to the guy, "Hey, I can't take much more of this!" He shouted back, "Thirty more seconds and we're done!"

I got out of the tube and started to move my arms and shoulders around and was thankful to be done with the ordeal. Unfortunately, I found out I'd moved at just the wrong time, so we had to redo about 10 minutes' worth of the scan. I went back into the tube, counted slowly to 300 and was done.

The combination of the CT and PET scans will give my doctor a really good idea of what's going on in my body - we'll hope it's boring - and I should find out results in the next week or so. (For those of you wondering why it takes so long, it's my own fault for not getting an appointment with my doctor in a more timely fashion.)

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