The CT scan

As per the news from last week, I had the CT scan yesterday evening.

While sitting there, waiting, listening to the man next in line to me shout out in agony as the nurse put the cannula into the back of his hand (he’ll learn… ), it struck me that, fortunately, not many people reading this will have had the experience of having a CT, or PET, scan. So, I thought I would tell you what happens when you have an abdominal scan.

A CT (computerised tomography) scan is a special type of x-ray scan. Instead of taking a single x-ray, as you might have if you’ve broken an arm, the scanner takes lots of x-rays from lots of different angles and the resulting images are combined in the computer to create a 3D image of your insides.

On arrival at the hospital, after they have checked you in and taken your details etc, you are given a litre of a marker fluid to drink over a period of 45 minutes or an hour. This contains a chemical that allows your abdomen to be much more easily seen by the x-rays. It tastes of aniseed (a bit like Pernod, but without the fun) and you can add orange or lemon squash to it to partially mask the taste. I don’t bother. By the time that the hour has passed, the drink is well through your stomach and into your system. When the drink is nearly finished, they invite you through to the private waiting area and you change into a hospital gown, keeping only your underwear and shoes and socks on.

You sit, silently, with several other similarly attired people, all waiting for or having just had, the same experience. For some reason, no one seems to want to talk with each other.

Then, you are called into a side room, where the cannula is inserted into your vein. Yesterday, mine was into my inner elbow, but on previous occasions, it’s been into the back of my hand.

After a few more minutes waiting and the last of the drink to fill your stomach and oesophagus, you are called into the radiology suite. Lying down on the bed of the machine, the nurse tests the cannula, plugs you into the dye delivery system, then leaves the room to the control room next door. You are asked to raise your hands right over your head, in preparation for the scanning process. The bed moves into the large, circular ring that contains the x-ray cameras and beams. You can watch as it moves up to the same level as your face.

You hold still. The machine instructs you to take a deep breath, and hold it, while marker dye is put into the blood stream as the x-rays are given. Thoughts of lethal injections enter your mind, and are quickly dismissed. Many people, me included, can feel a warm flush as it goes round the body and a taste in the back of the mouth – not unpleasant, but odd. The scanning process (but not the dye) is repeated two or three times and takes about 5 minutes in total.

It’s not noisy, or painful and even when I have had a full body scan (which I didn’t yesterday), I didn’t find it claustrophobic.

On leaving the machine room, they ask you to wait 15 minutes, still in your hospital gown before they take out the cannula and allow you to go home. Via the gents…

And that’s it. You have just received at least a year’s worth of radiation in 5 minutes, and slightly increased your chances of developing a completely different cancer. But, without this kind of examination, diagnosis of many cancers would be impossible.

While not to be taken lightly, clearly, the benefits far outweigh the risks.

And now, back to waiting for the results…

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