The Radioactive Donut of Indignity


(Photo: The things your doctor doesn’t warn you about….)

There are many words that your doctor can probably go ahead and edit out of an oral report on your CT scan results. “Most likely benign” are not among them. Given the rigamarole and drang I went through that led up to the words being written, I felt I had earned hearing them.

When my doctor sent me for said scan after weeks of abdo-medical hell, I had high hopes it would find some reason for my month of mid-section madness that my doctor was missing. His words to me as I left his office on one of my recent visits: “Now don’t go Googling liver disease or anything. Let me figure out what the problem is.”

Any 1980s Designing Women fan worth their salt can see exactly where this story is heading. (Think Julia Sugarbaker reaming Charlene Frazer’s alleged oncologist.)

Medical paternalism has no place in a world that rides an information superhighway, and although upon the above words a suspicion began to sneak into my head that my internist was one of those physicians–one who, like any good mid-century throwback, doesn’t think the patient needs to have substantive input into the care of their own life–I was too enthralled by my impending magic x-ray adventure to pay much mind.

Silly me. Half an hour into my early morning visit to the Feinberg Pavilion, I knew the error of my anticipation. Good thing the Northwestern Memorial campus is a ten-minute walk from my Marina City high-rise home. My dignity probably wouldn’t have endured any longer a public promenade after the two-hour invasive throttling it took through the breakfast hour.

My bionic-kneed pal Val and pastry-chef Chris, both radiology-department veterans, prepped me on what to expect. Unfortunately for me, neither was off the mark. Good-bye to my possessions now stowed in a locker, hello to an impossible-to-close hospital gown, floppy pants, and slipper socks. Not so bad so far. Neither was the quart of barium sulfate milkshake contrast I was made to drink over the next ninety minutes.

Being plopped in a room full of similarly gown-clad strangers with nothing to divert my attention from the maniacal whirring of nearby MRI machines but the equally maniacal rambling of Kelly Ripa on WGN, a few dog-eared copies of Red Eye, and a disembowled Wall Street Journal however had me strategizing a way to sneak my iPhone out of ensconcement.

They came to put the IV in before I managed to tiptoe back to my locker and that’s when all hell broke lose. At least it felt that way.

“Sir, we have to do a blood test to make sure your kidneys are fine before we put in the IV tube for the iodine drip they’ll give you on the gantry.”

“Luckily, I brought my kidneys with me today.”

IV? Iodine? Gantry? I began to tense muscles I didn’t even know I had.

“Sir, calm down. You don’t faint when you get an IV put in, do you?”

“I’ve never had an IV in my life, so we’re about to find out.”

I can’t even watch as my blood is taken. Sticking a little plastic tube in me an hour before there is any use for it to be there, however, hit me right in the queasy bone.

“I can’t do this,” were the words I spat over my shoulder as I launched myself out of my chair and back to the gown room at the barium bar to continue downing my contrast cocktail. Faintly heard from down the hall as I retreated, “Don’t worry sir, we’ll stick you on the table.”

Safely back in the waiting room, I tried to cover my veinous woosiness by guzzling the chalky soup, clinging to my waned masculinity with the observation that most of the already IV-wearing men in the waiting room were nimbly sipping the stuff and trying not to barf it back up. I guess we all meet our edge in our own ways.

An hour later, I met the life-size horizontal tongue depresser I was meant to lie on while it rolled me in and out of the rotating, radioactive donut that together comprise a CT scanner.

“Okay, sir, squeeze your fist.”

Looking away from my arm didn’t help. I counted to a zillion, meditatively breathed, examined the ceiling, and altogether trembled for the five minutes between IV insertion and machine whir-up.

The actual scan was a breeze. Eyes closed, rolling slowly back and forth, with a warmish, recently peed-part-of-the-pool feeling from the iodine, the two-minute process was like a dementendly soothing ride at an alternate-reality Disneyland.

Two days and a small skin tear from an over-zealous IV bandage later, my doctor’s assistant called to tell me “everything’s normal” and nothing more, except to ask if I had made an appointment with a GI specialist recommended to me earlier.  (I did, for Monday).

Yesterday, the printed test results came in the mail. For a husky homo who hadn’t seen a doctor in years, I seem to be freakishly healthy. Pick an internal organ, they’re all in perfect working order.

Except for the “most likely benign one-centimeter hypodense lesion on left lobe of liver” and “calcifications found in right adrenal gland.”

Where is Julia Sugarbaker when you need her?

And I wasn’t referred to an oncologist or back to Radiology for an MRI with contrast for what reason? And my doctor’s assistant did not disclose this information to me for what reason? And my Northwestern Internists doctor did not even get on the phone with me after a finding like this for what reason?

I should say, my fired doctor. But I’m sure I’ll have a lot to discuss with that specialist on Monday, and likely with my insurance company, too.

Just as soon as I finish talking with God.

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