Well, I guess we’re either all friends here, or strangers, so this topic should be appropriate for this forum. After dealing with an intermittent “pain” in my right abdomen for the past several, well, let’s call them “months,” my doctor has tentatively diagnosed my condition as having an “incisional hernia.” The best way I can describe the sensation is having a pulled muscle that seems to get better, only to begin throbbing again. Basically, the belief is that the area surrounding the location where I had abdominal surgery as a toddler has become weak, and I may be in danger of literally spilling my guts to the world. Okay, perhaps not quite literally, but when it comes to doctors and medical procedures, I tend to paint pictures with my most dramatic brush.
With that in mind, today I went in for a CAT scan (or CT scan for medical purists). I should add that I had talked to enough people who had had one (or more) before hand to really make me uncomfortable with the waiting process. The waiting was undoubtedly the worst part as it allowed the crock pot of my overactive imagination to nearly boil over, spilling uncertainty and doubt all over the countertop.
No wait, the WORST part of the whole deal was having to drink this milky krap called “Ready-CAT” (or something along that line). The liquid is a contrast material that I suppose coats your innards in order to allow for the clearest and most accurate images. I was told to drink almost a full liter of this white fluid in two sittings about an hour before my scheduled appointment. As it turned out, my valve and gag reflex conspired to make it take me a full three hours to get about 98 percent of the stuff down my gullet. Luckily I had plenty of time to get it down though since things don’t always go as planned.
I would imagine that any of you who have already experienced a CT scan would just as soon enjoy your web surfing time by looking at photos of my outrageous kitties than continue with this particular ranting. But for the rest of you…
A CT (computed tomography) scan, uses special x-ray equipment to obtain image data from different angles around the body. Then computers take those data and process them in order to depict cross-sections of body tissues and organs. When it comes to studying the abdominal region of the human body, I’m told that this is the next best tool besides a very sharp knife. CT scanning is also apparently very good to help diagnose problems inside the chest, identifying cancers, aiding in the treatment of spinal problems and injuries to the skeletal structure.
Although many hospitals have dedicated CT scanners in their emergency room to help quickly identify internal injuries for trauma cases, I learned the hard way today that that isn’t always the situation, and oftentimes, hospitals only have one CT scanner. If you MUST go, I think my best advise is to tell you to be prepared for a wait. If waiting isn’t possible, I suppose you might consider crashing your car into a light pole in the parking lot near the emergency room door as that would almost certainly grab someone’s attention.
The hospital I went to is in the middle of a large reconstruction project, which lent areas of the place a surreal, almost wartime quality. I believe that was the most interesting observation I had inside the hospital. Nevertheless, I was taken to a mobile CT scanning unit in the parking lot behind the hospital. It reminded me of the semi-truck used to haul Evel Knievel's bikes around the country in search of the next great jump location. “Fine,” I thought, “I’ll do the CT scan here, but if it is determined that I need surgery, I’ll shop around as I’m not overly keen on the idea of being opened up in a parking lot with the sign from a Burlington Coat Factory in clear view."
As instructed, I wore comfortable, loose-fitting (yet moderately stylish) clothing for my CT scan. I wasn’t issued a gown, and since they were only interested in my stomach, I was even allowed to leave on my eyeglasses and ring. I suspect I could have left on a gold chain had I been wearing one at the time.
The CT scanner is a large, square machine with a hole in the center, something like a doughnut. I was made to lie still on a table that moves up and down, and also slides into and out of the center of the hole. Covered with a sheet with my jeans pulled down to my ankles, my feet were propped up on a heavy pillow. I was so comfortable at that point, I do believe I could have dozed off if not for the fact that I was waiting to have an iv jabbed into my arm. I was told that the iv is used to administer iodine into my bloodstream that would enhance visibility. The technician also told me that I would experience a few moments of heat spreading throughout my body and a metallic taste in my mouth. Possibly, she added, I would experience itching, hives (those are always fun), shortness of breath, or swelling in my throat.
As the table began moving and inserting me into the doughnut feet first, I took one last “good” swallow and did my best to relax. I opened my eyes and found myself staring directly into the General Electric logo on the front of the scanner. Trying to further relax my body, my brain offered in its Robert Heinlein robot voice “This brief taste of your own mortality is brought to you by GE.” I didn’t laugh, but somehow it did manage to make me feel more at ease.
The next few minutes went quickly. I was moved in and out of the doughnut on the magic table as the x-ray clicked and whirred all around. First it was above me, then below, then to my left, then to my right, and then again to my left but slightly behind… Whew, I soon gave up trying to keep track of what it was doing, and concentrated on my new game of pretending that I was levitating and making myself move back and forth by sheer will alone.
I was still quite cold, and hadn’t tasted any metal when the technician reappeared from wherever it is technicians disappear to, and began apologizing for having stuck me in the arm when I didn’t actually require the iodine injection. I forgave her immediately when I realized that she was informing me that I was done and could go home. Funny, I suspect I would have argued with a mechanic if I went to pick up my truck and he told me they had accidentally rotated the tires when all I wanted was an oil change.
Now I’m back to the old waiting game- to see how the radiologist and my doctor interpret the results, and to find out whether my stomachache is actually located in my head.
In the meanwhile, I do believe that today’s dose of radiation already has me feeling better.