How to have a CT scan

Not the sort of thing that you would choose to do, unless absolutely necessary, but I am sitting here starting the process of having another CT scan. I have lost count of how many this is now. Could be the six or seventh.

I thought I would describe what it’s like. What you have to do.

On arrival at the clinic you register your presence on the computer. No need to speak to the receptionist if you don’t want to. After waiting for a while, your name is called and the clinician comes to see you. You will have been given a questionnaire to complete by the clinic when they confirmed the appointment but inevitably, like me, you will have forgotten it. So, they give you another one and you tick all the relevant boxes.

In order for the CT to work properly, you need to drink a litre of a marker fluid. It tastes of aniseed and they offer various cordial flavours to mask it, but I prefer it neat. You have to drink this over a 45 minute period, two cups to start, then more at 15 minute intervals, leaving one cup for just before your scan. This fills the stomach and the bladder and allows the scanner to see your disease more easily, but you are allowed to use the loo if you want to.

You wait.

And then you are called through to the business end of the clinic.

You are handed a basket and a gown and strip down to your shoes and socks and underwear. Your watch and any other metal ornaments are placed in the basket.

A clinician inserts a cannula into a vein and secures it with tape. This is used later.

You wait.

You are called into the scanning room by the radiologist and place your bag of clothes to one side. the scanner is a large, cream-coloured machine with a table area to lie on and the donut-shaped business end that will move over the table and you later.

They ask you to lie down on the table with your feet over the bottom end. A pillow is below your head and you get yourself as comfortable as possible. The radiologist connects a plastic tube to the cannula that will deliver the dye into your blood shortly. If you are having your torso scanned, from neck to groin, as I do, they ask you to stretch your arms above your head out of the way, taking care not to snag the cannula and the tube.

The radiologist leaves the room and works behind his lead-glass window.

They inject the dye into your vein, telling you that you will feel a flush through the body almost instantly and that it might make you feel as if you have wet yourself. It’s amazing how quickly the flush passes through to the extremities; it’s almost impossible to believe that the blood flows so quickly.

The radiologist tells you that the procedure is about to begin. The scanner starts and the table is lifted into position so that your feet can pass through the hole in the donut. The donut passes across your body to reach your head end and you can see the x-ray scanning heads through the ribbon window on the inside of the donut hole. It gets into position and a discordant voice from within the machine tells you to breath in and hold your breath. Which you do.

The scanner then begins to move across your body. You can see the x-ray heads rotating through the window and as the donut moves down, on the face of a control screen, the international radiation symbol is lit.

Breathe normally, please.

The scan is repeated two or three times. It doesn’t hurt. It isn’t noisy like an MRI scan is. You just know that you are at the receiving end of some powerful x-rays. The flush and the procedure are over.

The radiologist comes back in and disconnects the tube and tells you that you can go back to the waiting area.

You wait.

The nurse comes back and removes the cannula, covering the wound with a plaster and you are then free to get dressed and leave. Via the loo…

A few days later, you will receive the results of your test, over the phone or, preferably, face to face with your consultant. I see mine on Wednesday next week, so we should be able to judge what’s been going on over the last 16 months since my last one.

Fingers crossed indeed.