CT Scan: A Tragedy in Five Acts

As I’ve been mentioning, things are not well in Rachel-land. While I love my new job and my new life in Dallas, the many changes have wreaked havoc on me health wise. I’ve been hurting, popping pills, and getting angsty as the word “surgery” enters my mind. While I have written in the midst of pain before, I thought it would be interesting to try something new today – instead of writing about my fears and pain in the moment, perhaps I should write about another time I was miserable. I can still be as negative as I want, but also take my mind off my current state.

I have briefly mentioned the time I had a CT scan – noting that it was a “5 act Shakespearian tragedy that is a whole nother post.” Time to deliver on that promise.

SETTING: A little less than a year ago, when I was under the care of the bad doctor, Dr. Rogoff. I didn’t know he was a bad doctor yet, and I had high hopes as I underwent a few tests. I had a relatively early appointment and had planned to go back to work, but I severely underestimated the regimen of tests I was to undergo…

ACT I: Arrival

I walked into a small clinic across the street from the hospital where Dr. Rogoff had examined me. It was warm and inviting. They had hot tea….soda….cookies! But I was not to have a crumb of it. Not one sip even! No, they had something special for me….

apple smoothie CT scan

I had to drink two of these?! Well, I braced myself. Sure, I have a history of complete meltdowns from trying to tolerate liquid medicine, but I told myself it probably tasted nice and I knew I could do it.

ACT II: The Drink of Despair

Remember that scene from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince where Harry has to make Dumbledore drink the torture potion?

dumbledore drink of despair

That’s exactly what the next hours were like – yes, hours. Of course, if I took too long it wouldn’t stay in my system properly, so my husband and every nurse in the place urged me to drink on. My husband offered me the moon and more. He said if I downed it in the next ten minutes, he’d buy me a very expensive vinylmation I’d been dreaming of – that is a $200 toy that sits on a shelf, you guys. My mom eventually had to come down. She had a box of junior mints that would be alllll mine as soon as I finished that evil potion.

Let’s skip ahead and just say that I did not end up drinking two full drinks. The nurses began to think I might throw up, which would REALLY throw a wrench in things. So we left well enough alone.

ACT III: The Garments of the Sufferer

They led me inside to a little changing room where I was to take off all my clothes and don scrubs. Of course, I left on my purple knee socks. Those socks have been on my feet through every surgery. Looking at them has been my only comfort whenever the hospital takes me away, and strips me of all I am – but I may always keep my socks.

This was of little comfort, though. I dug through the nice drawer of scrubs in there, and while I found a nice medium shirt that fit well, they only seemed to have XXXXXXXXL pants. So I pulled them on, tied them and tight as I could, and looked like a sad, lost little idiot.

Don’t mind me…..or my giant pants….

ACT IV: It’s all over.

I got to bring my husband into the room with me. I did not yet know what a blessing this was. A nurse came in and asked me to sign for permission to use contrast. I was shaking like a leaf, because I was nervous and a little cold, and these two things let to a cycle of uncontrollable shivering. I stuttered out “What? What…..?” and he explained that it’s a dye that shows up on the scan. I thought he was just asking my permission, some legal nonsense. I was thinking the contrast was the stuff I’d drank, and hell yes they better use it!

I was wrong.

If you read this blog, you know that I have a bit of a problem with needles. It doesn’t seem to matter how often I get stuck – it always scares me, and often reduces me to a puddle of tears. Turns out that contrast comes in a needle. A needle that needs to stay in you. I was shivering more and more uncontrollably as I realized what was happening. They rubber-banded my arm, and prepped the area for injection. My husband stroked my hair and cooed to me like I was a little baby. They got the needle in, and that’s when it was all over because APPARENTLY contrast is about the consistency of cement. At least, that’s what it felt like. It felt like cement made of fire. But pain aside, I was hyper aware of things going under my skin, and that’s what triggers a panic attack.

My husband tried hard to keep me calm, but I was just sobbing uncontrollably. Eventually the nurse had to leave because I had made her cry. So an older male nurse came in. He slipped some fabric under the band to help it pinch less. He avoided eye contact, but he did quietly say “I’m sorry sweetie…” before he started up the machine. I was a lost cause already, so I just kept sobbing freely. I think my husband may have even tried to sing to me at some point. But all I remember is panicked, painful sobbing.

Once it was all over, the nurse gingerly removed the IV, bandaged the pin prick, and even iced the area a little. When I got up, I was weak from panicking, and the cold floor kept the shivers going. My husband all but carried me back to the changing room. I wanted to curl up on the floor and cry, but that evil drink was very suddenly ready to make a quick exit from my body, so I wobbily ran to  the bathroom like an injured antelope.

While I was inside wondering if death was coming, a grumpy old man impatiently knocked at the door and exclaimed “What’s taking her so long?!” My husband chased him off. Jerk.

Once all was said and done, I took a few tea bags and a couple of cookies on my way out. I remember eating them viciously because I didn’t really want them, but I’d really earned them.

ACT V: Epilogue

Of course everything came back normal. And of course it cost HUNDREDS of dollars (but, again, that’s another post).

But what really got me was later reading somewhere that one CT scan increases your risk of cancer by 40% or something. That’s just GREAT.


29 thoughts on “CT Scan: A Tragedy in Five Acts

    1. Thank you very much, both for the hugs and for the complement. 🙂 Whenever something awful happens to me, I try to take solace in the fact that I can write really well about this one day. 🙂

  1. Sorry it was such a miserable experience with no real “results”! That’s such a bummer. 😦 But hey, you made it through! And lots of things increase risk of cancer…including multivitamins, apparently…

    1. Yeah, I’m generally of the mind that everything everywhere is probably giving me cancer. But 40 percent?! But I admit, I am predisposed to agree with any reason to hate that stupid scan. 😛

  2. Rachel – What an experience. I hope telling it will take your mind off other things. I am indeed in trouble. I have had so many scans with and without contrast that I couldn’t even tell you how many in dealing with my sinuses.

    1. I know! It’s such a huge number! I wasn’t able to find that exact stat again though, because I wanted to link to it. I did do a little more research and it sounds like there’s a lot of disagreement about how dangerous it is. Most reports agree that it’s most detrimental to children and young adults. Here’s hoping I’m old enough to at least be a little safer!

    1. I know what you mean, but I’m glad you liked it! That’s the only thing that makes going through such awfulness a little less awful – I can write about it. 🙂

    1. It was! But, as someone pointed out, this should not be construed as an argument against testing. In my case, this was the first thing a new doc asked me to do, and he gave me no briefing on what it would entail or why we were doing it. Always ask questions and get comfortable before agreeing blindly with your doc! :/ I wish we could just trust people tho.

  3. What a horrible experience, but like others here, I loved how your writing style was in capturing it. This sounds like the Day from Hell. I sure hope you got that vinylmation and many more things, and what a blessing to have your husband there taking such great care of you.

    1. Thanks so much! I think this is the most complements I’ve ever gotten specifically on my writing style, and it makes me very happy. 🙂 I did get that vinylmation eventually, even though I didn’t down the drink in the allocated time. It was an anniversary gift. And the day of the scan I was duely showered with candy and slushies….once I felt up to eating. 😉

  4. Oh, that sounded terrible for you! Isn’t it weird how one test is a breeze for some people and a nightmare for others? Contrast MRI (not a CT)–no biggie, benign echo of my heart–horrid pain due to degenerating shoulder they made me lay on and then running the probe across my bony, emaciated chest! Lol! Well, I have to do these things alone so I just brace myself. Let’s hope some tests will get easier for you as time goes on. I used to be terrified by needles and would pass out. After years of illness… Stick ’em right in! Not sure if that was helpful… :-S

    1. That is true. I’ve gotten through other tests with ease that people had told me would be terrible – then again, those people weren’t chronically ill, so I didn’t take them too seriously to begin with. 😉 I’ve hoped the needle thing would deminish, but so far they still freak me out! Just last night I had a nightmare about them. If that would stop I think the whole process of getting over the fear would go a lot quicker!

      1. I don’t know why my fear of needles just disappeared (it was more that I passed out), but I have a MASSIVE fear of flying (and spiders) if that helps! I did take a class for the flying thing nearly 20 yrs ago and was better, but then my safe flight–a flight I took every year or so–crashed into the Pacific–no joke (an Alaska 737). So much for that and good thing I’m too sick to travel now. Stupid, irrational phobias! Argh. 🙂

  5. I’m so sorry . You poor thing. Was the panic after the contrast went in? If it was it might have been a physiologically induced attack from the mast cell degranulation of the contrast agent and something beyond your control. The contrast burned me too, then I shook all over, then anaphylaxis….also from mast cell degranulation. I wish you could’ve had the CT without it. I also had rapid GI expulsion of the oral contrast.

    You feel like such a lab rat in the hospital and no one gets it.

    I’m glad the CT is normal, but I know what you mean. So desperate for answers and nothing is clear. I feel sick about the radiation I got also and I really wish I had just stuck with ultrasound etc and not gone for it, but that’s easy to say after it ruined my life.

    You will get through this. Don’t give up. Drink as much water as you can and get that nasty contrast out of your system.

    1. I’m sure the contrast didn’t help. I’m always nervous about needles but I did feel like I was panicking a lot more than usual. I wondered if I felt claustrophobic being in the machine, but that’s really not like me. The contrast thing makes more sense.

      Yeah, normal people say hooray for normal lab tests but when you’re chronically ill it’s almost always a disappointment. The pricetag doesn’t help either! And I totally agree with what you said about wishing you hadn’t done it. Easy to say after the fact. I wish I’d done some research and thinking instead of rushing through it all. Luckily (yet unluckily) I’m sure there’ll be a “next time” when I can put all these lessons to use. :/

  6. I can so relate! Throwing up contrast after hours of working to get it down… yep been there done that. I kept warning the nurse that I was going to loose it all but they didn’t listen. Although I could never put it into words like you do… I feel bad but I’m going to have to “like” this post because I enjoyed reading it so much. My only regret is that you had to have such a terrible experience to write about in the first place. YIKES!!!

    1. I’m sad that you can relate! But I appreciate you sharing your experience – after all, misery loves company! I’m glad you like it. Whenever I go through something crazy or awful, one of my few condolences is knowing I can at least write about it! And hopefully find that I’m not the only one. 🙂

  7. I agree with you that it seems a waste to go through all that prepping and cost, only to have the tests negative. There are times I want to yell, ‘They can’t be; look again.’
    I had a CT with contrast a few months back. This was the 1st time I had contrast since developing Myasthenia Gravis. The next morning my left eye would not open. New worries: side effect or new problem? Apparently the contrast does not play well with MG. Luckily, it lasted only a few hours. I was not a happy camper until it cleared up.
    With all the medical problems I’ve developed in the past few years, I learned that my life will never be normal again. I try to keep a positive attitude and look at things with a sense of humor, and keep my faith strong. Next time try to focus on the good things. Yes, there is good in the somewhere! You might be surprised how much better things will go.

    1. I always try to keep a sense of humor. I enjoy writing about my experiences, and illness makes sure I’m never without a subject! Silver lining. Thanks for the comment! 🙂

  8. Oh jeeze! What a day that must’ve been! I’ve never had a problem with needles (the bleeding disorder, self-injections, and factor level testing would make that all a bit difficult!) but I did have to have a colonoscopy a bit over a year ago. After I got the first lot of liquid prep down and felt what it was doing to my body, doing the remaining 3 was such a challenge. I had to force it all down, it was so hard knowing the digestive upset it was going to cause. I have no idea how older people who have them done semi-regularly cope.

    1. Oh my gosh, I know. I just couldn’t help but think that there MUST be a way, with all the technology we have, to make this liquid not horrible. Like, we could make it thinner. Maybe even carbonated would help. Put a splash of peppermint in to help with the nausea! THROW US A BONE HERE! I have no idea why medicine is still so nasty these days.

  9. Reblogged this on Do I Look Sick? and commented:

    I can’t believe this post was 5 years ago! Have I really been blogging that long?

    I’m reblogging it today because my husband recently had to have one and it reminded me of how much I HATE CT SCANS. Once again, it came back normal, cost hundreds of dollars, second verse, same as the first. I know that’s a *good* thing, but in the search for health answers (and trying not to go into foreclosure) it’s pretty discouraging.

    Yes, I’m still salty. CT scans can go suck an egg.

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