Select Page

More often than not, when my phone chirps, I’m met with the dulcet tones of someone named ‘Gordon,’ who, despite a robust Asian accent, claims he’s reaching out “from electricity company” (no “the” to be found), and would I like him to renew our contract. Our conversations usually culminate in me cordially inviting Gordon to feck off before abruptly ending the call.

But on this occasion, it was the NHS serenading me with an invite for a PET scan at Stoke Hospital. Come the designated day, my Father-in-Law once again played chauffeur, dropping me at the XRAY department’s doorstep. The clock struck 10:30 am, and my stomach was on strike, belting out hunger pangs. The rules of this game dictated no food for at least six hours prior.

By this hour, on any normal day, I would’ve consumed my first and second breakfasts, sipped my late morning coffee, and nibbled on a biscuit or three. (Perhaps this routine hints at why the scales groan under my weight).

My thirst, however, was a different beast. Sure, water was allowed, but for me, plain water quenches my thirst as effectively as a mouthful of sand. However, add a splash of Morrison’s double concentrate Cherries and Berries, and it’s like I’ve found the elixir of life. Peculiar, I know.

But there I was, grappling with a budding headache and a mood that was bordering on ‘hangry’ when I met the scan man, an Italian maestro. His name was Donatello. Or was it Raphael? Anyway, he spoke English like it was a passionate aria, with emphasis on notes that I wouldn’t expect, making me tune in with extra care.

With a flair for storytelling, he sketched out the upcoming scene. I’d be getting an infusion of radioactive sugar via a cannula to make any rogue cancerous cells stand out like stars on a dark night, then they’d slide me into the CT scanner for a lie down while the chemicals and electronics did their thing.

Once he secured my nod of understanding and go-ahead, he slid the cannula in. Smooth. No “brace yourself” or the cliché “sharp scratch” prelude. This, I mused, is why I have a soft spot for Italians.

This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill cannula, mind you. It sported a swanky three-way valve, letting him pull blood and introduce what I thought was the radioactive concoction with just a flick of a switch. And then, a note of cautionary advice from my Italian friend: steer clear of pregnant women and infants. I would be walking around like a radioactive beacon for a spell.
I was gearing up to chuckle, thinking he was being playful, but his face told another story. It turns out the radiotracer, fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG), ticks away at 110 minutes per half-life, meaning in that time, half its radioactivity would fade. Quite unlike enriched uranium, which takes a leisurely 700 million years to do the same!

Donatello ushered me into an adjoining chamber where I’d be marooned for about sixty minutes. The goal? Let the FDG take a scenic tour of my insides, essentially turning them into a human-sized luminous roadmap.

There, I met a hybrid creation – part bed, part chair, that despite boasting buttons and levers promising personalised comfort from head to toe, felt as cosy as a slab of concrete. As if that wasn’t vexing enough, the usually steadfast NHS WiFi was having a temper tantrum. And, thanks to my subterranean locale, my phone was eerily silent, void of any signal. Sixty minutes here? It felt like an episode straight out of a medieval dungeon—no Wordle escapades to act as my saving grace, either.

Within a mere five minutes, a figure draped in an azure plastic ensemble (nurse? technician?) barged into my solitude. He was cradling a sleek metallic case, its facade marred with red scribbles I couldn’t decipher. But one emblem stood out: a trefoil – the unmistakable tattoo of radioactivity, encapsulating radiation spewing from an atom.

A trip down memory lane was triggered. Once, in my engineering heyday, Boeing dabbled in some avant-garde fuel level measurements for aircraft. Not the rudimentary float systems cars employ. Aeroplanes, with their altitude gymnastics and the whims of fuel density shifts, necessitated something more refined. Engines shuddering to a halt mid-Atlantic wouldn’t likely elicit many five-star reviews on Trip Advisor, so the airlines tended to avoid this occurrence most of the time.

Enter the densitometer – Honeywell’s brainchild from the U.S. Without plunging into a tech-heavy spiel, this gadget relied on a radioactive champ: Americium 241. Even though the same element lounges in countless household smoke alarms globally, transporting it anywhere requires a badge of competence from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

So, picture this: five eager beavers, myself included, whisked off to Phoenix to master the art of placing this radioactive marvel into a wooden box and filling out some paperwork. The course’s highlight? Not the paperwork, for sure. Rather, my impromptu line dancing session with some Texan beauties. They said they loved our English accents, but I’m not sure the trail of bruised toes left in our wake was similarly appreciated. Between sipping an avalanche of Harvey Wallbangers, stargazing from a parking lot, floating down the Snake River in an oversized doughnut, and lounging by the pool with (many, many) drinks in hand, it wasn’t all paperwork drudgery. And somewhere in my keepsakes, I have a certificate, a nod from the NRC, proclaiming my prowess with all things radioactive.

Blue Plastic Guy gracefully set his enigmatic white container on the nearby stand, motioning for me to present my cannula. With a dramatic flourish, he revealed the box’s contents—a notably unique syringe. The dots connected. This was the real FDG deal, not the clear concoction I’d gotten a taste of earlier.

The syringe had a certain heft to it—a beefy hexagonal metal body overshadowing its more delicate plunger. Carefully, he attached it to my cannula and administered the FDG in three deliberate segments, broken up by nifty spins of the valve. Once done, he gingerly placed the syringe back into its metal fortress and secured the lid. His demeanour remained quiet throughout, only breaking his silence with, “Avoid close proximity to pregnant women and babies for the next six hours.” Clearly, this wasn’t a jest. But how pray tell, was I to decipher the pregnancy status of any passing woman? Should I confront any lady with a roundish belly and risk a deserved slap? It seemed safer—and far more diplomatic—to simply sidestep anyone of potential child-bearing years. And babies? Their shrill cries and propensity for pooping aren’t exactly my bag, so no close encounters were on my horizon.

Resignedly, I settled onto the world’s most uncomfortable seating contraption. This was when one silver lining of liver cancer surfaced. Alongside other symptoms like erratic body temps, a dodgy digestive system, and the urge to hurl, a profound weariness often took hold. So, as soon as I nestled into the infernal hybrid lounge, slumber took me.

A nudge about fifty minutes later brought me back to the land of the living. A solitary gown was handed over, not the perplexing two-way version I’d been subjected to before. I had a sneaking suspicion my arse was definitely going to enjoy some fresh air this time.

Self-consciously, I strolled into the scanning chamber, hyper-aware that my wrinkly backside might be stealing the limelight. I reclined onto the motorised table that’d soon ferry me through the CT doughnut. A twist in the script: this journey was foot-first for an all-inclusive body showcase. My extremities were snugly anchored in place, ensuring I’d remain statue-still for optimal rogue-cell detection.

The table journeyed through the CT’s centre, leaving only my cranium enveloped by the machine. Some indeterminate moments of stillness later, the table nudged backwards, positioning my neck and torso for scrutiny. The exact count of these back-and-forth motions eludes me, for sleep swooped in once more. The occasional pig-like snort of my snoring jolted me awake. Had I twitched in my slumber? Almost 40 minutes later, Donatello reappeared, signalling the end of my scanning saga. Time to attire and head home. And, most crucially, time to feast. Perhaps followed by a little nap.

While you're here, it would be lovely if you could support OcuMel by visiting the link below.