You will probably never meet me in person. Your name will be on the bill my insurance receives from the hospital. Your signature will be on the line after the end of the report as you mumble report after report into the system. You will never know my story. I am my organs to you — organs with anomalies that you have to squint and sometimes lean back to look for. You look for spots that don’t belong in the image and measure whether they grow or shrink over time. A body riddled with cancer. It can be quite challenging to look through all the CT scan cuts, day after day, hour after hour.
Each of those films has a story behind it. Mine has a 40 some year old woman with metastatic breast cancer. A story that starts a whole month before the upcoming scan appointment when she starts to wonder what her scan will show this time. She pretends to ignore those thoughts because her cancer is incurable. She secretly hopes that everything disappears this time. She looks at her young kids and hopes that your scans will not see cancer this time. She hopes that her treatment continues to work. She stays up at night and contemplates various scenarios should things change. She wonders if she will see Thanksgiving next year. She wonders how many more CT scans she has left in her lifetime. She wonders if she can just cancel all her appointments and move to another country and pretend she never had cancer. She then shakes her head and gets busy.
Then the day before the scan arrives, she is more nervous than usual. Kids annoy her. She doesn’t feel like eating anything. All she can think of is the possibility of her life changing after 24 hours. She wonders if she gets another extension for 3 months on her treatment. She barely sleeps that night. She wonders. And thinks.
The next day, she gets to radiology and gets a number. She looks at others who look much older and much sicker. She wonders if that would be her in a few months. She gets called and is rushed off to the changing room. She wonders if her kids made it to school. She thinks of her husband in the waiting room. She changes into her gown. With her clothes, she hangs up her control in the locker.
Then she waits again. Another rushed technician gives her a vat of barium to drink. She sits and sips the barium listening to Anderson Cooper complain. She tries to cope with the nausea caused by her anxiety and barium. Then she sits on the edge of her seat, wondering when she will get called so she can be done with this ordeal.
She lies down in the scanner. She has an IV in place for which she was poked 3 times and was called a “hard prick.” She has a pillow under her knees, and she is slid into a giant device in a cold room. She holds her breath when instructed, letting it go only when told. She hears the machine, and the circular gadget spins around. She is being seen by the technician in the other room, both from inside and outside. She lays as still as possible — still nauseous and anxious.
Then the contrast is pushed, and a bolus of heat travels through her body till it hits her lower body. It feels warm as if she just peed in her pants, but this is her umpteenth scan, so she knows that it is the contrast. She also knows to drink 6-7 glasses of water that day to keep her kidneys flushed. That’s what the nurse who put her IV in told her. She knows that she will later have diarrhea due to the barium she drank. She laments that the goddamn mocha flavor of the barium has ruined the taste of her favorite latte for her.
But she does all this. Just to live, to survive metastatic breast cancer with scans every three months. The machine stops. The IV comes out, and she is let go. She quietly goes back to the locker and changes, tired from this morning of scans. She still has to go to nuclear medicine to get her bones scanned, which will take another 45 minutes at least. Another machine to befriend.
After all those scans, she goes home. And she waits, counting each tick and tock of the clock. It’s hard to distract herself. She could never decide if the bone scanner moves slowly or her life. Twenty-four hours later, her anxiety is making it hard to breathe. Those who love her also wait. Her life is on hold. She wants to sign up for another art class but is unsure if she would be on the same treatment after these scans. She needs to do Christmas shopping, but she can’t get herself to go out. She needs to sign up her kids for classes but isn’t sure how available she will be. She needs to respond to that job offer that came through.
And when she can’t take it anymore, she gets her oncologist paged. He is just a tiny bit short with her. It has not been reported by radiology, he says.
She tries to breathe. There is another night ahead of her while those films sit in your office to be read.
She has cancer, this is her life, and she has to cope.
You must be really busy, you have a life too. But you look at those spots, tomorrow, whether they are bigger or smaller, hopefully, you will ponder what it would mean to her to get those results. You will know what she went through to hear your “impression.”
It is just another scan for you. But when you have read it, she can resume that fragmented thing she currently calls life.
Please, dear doctor, give me my results; my life is on hold.
[On Dec 1, 2020, Dheeraj Raina made minor edits in grammar, punctuation, spelling, and style in this post and added the featured photo by Harlie Raethel on Unsplash]