August 19, 2010

Bone scan saga

Bone scans have been a regular part of my cancer experience since the day I broke my leg in 2002. I don't remember that one (I was sedated) but usually they go something like this:

1) Have port accessed by specially trained nurses at Swedish Cherry Hill Ambulatory Infusion Center
2) Go to bone scan location in hospital basement and receive injection of radioactive dye
3) Head back upstairs to have port de-accessed
4) Drink lots of water, get a snack and amuse myself for a couple of hours
5) Return to bone scan location
6) Use the toilet and
7) Lie on scanner bed, get strapped in and covered with warm blankie for bone scan (duration about 60 minutes)

Luckily, they always let me listen to music during the bone scan. Before the days of iPods I brought CDs; now I just set the iPod to "shuffle" and enjoy random music for the duration.

Yesterday's bone scan was at Seattle Nuclear Medicine, not at Swedish's Cherry Hill location. SNM has some fancy, new machine that can read your bone scan after less than an hour's wait.

People who don't have ports must have an intravenous line started by a technician. I wanted to use my port but never heard back from the doctor's office to see if they had arranged for the Swedish Cancer Institute (in the building next door) to access it. As I sat down in the chair for the tech to start a line, my cell phone rang: yes, I could get my port accessed.

Well, I was already at the bone scan building, and I will let anyone try to start an IV line once, so I asked to lie down for the experience. Sure enough, my vein collapsed as the tech was trying to start the IV. That was it, I told him to stop and that I wanted to have my port accessed. He was a good technician; he listened to me. I walked over to the Cancer Institute.

After a 30 minute wait, a nurse was available to access my port. She did, I headed back to SNM, and received my radioactive contrast injection. Come back in 45 minutes.

I walked back to the Cancer Institute, which was extremely busy. I suggested to the receptionist that I could return after my bone scan. I went out on the street, found a new crepe place that had been open only three days, and had a freshly-made crepe with bananas, strawberries, Nutella and (sadly) fake whipped cream. I drank a huge glass of water.

Back to SNM. I went straight back to the bone scan room, used the toilet, took off my glasses and shoes and tried to get comfy on the narrow scanner bed. I wear an eye mask for these scans, so I can't see how close my nose is to the scanner ceiling. This scanner was in the shape of a CT machine, like a donut with a hole in the center, so less claustrophobic than others.

I put in my earphones and set my iPod to shuffle. The tech strapped my arms to my sides, covered me with a warm blanket and started the scan.

I actually fell asleep for the first 20 minutes. But after what felt like an hour, I really had to pee again, my back hurt from lying on the scanner bed and I was beginning to get really uncomfortable. I called out "How much longer?" and was told three more minutes.

Those last three minutes felt like another thirty. I had to pee. I wanted to move, or at least wiggle. My back ached. I had to pee! I asked again, how much longer, and heard back "only a minute and 30 seconds." Believe me, I sweated out those last 30 seconds.

The tech released me and I ran into the bathroom. I got dressed and headed back to the Cancer Institute, where all was quiet and a nurse de-accessed my port immediately.

Of course, I got stuck in rush hour traffic on the way home. Total elapsed time, door to door? Four and a half hours. Total aggravation? Extreme. From my doctor's office not calling to tell me he had written orders to get my port accessed, to the collapsed vein, the walking back and forth between buildings and the hour-plus scan duration, this was an afternoon from hell. I was so exhausted I fell asleep for an hour on the sofa.

This is one day in my life in Cancer Land.


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  2. Jill the whole testing 'thing' can be quite intrusive. I am so sorry to hear that this particular experience was such an ordeal.
    I trust that time and rest will bring healing and the outcome positive.