May 20th, 2010
I was scheduled to start my 6 1/2 weeks of radiation this past Tuesday. As you might recall, that didn’t work out. After an anxious afternoon of anticipation, I was set to go there last night at 9:30 PM. They had told me it would be my longest session as they worked out the measurements of where the machine would dose my skin through four tangents of my body. So I went out with a friend, having dinner and walking around a bit, making it an overlong evening out for the middle of the week.
The clinic, because they are absorbing all of my hospital’s patients who were displaced by the flood, was running late. They didn’t actually see me until closer to 11 PM. I was wary to go down there today, given that the two times I had been there had either been a broken machine or a big wait time.
Well, today I got both. I arrived on time for my 3 PM appointment. I was first told it would be an hour wait. Then I was told an hour and a half. I was amazed at the graciousness of both the patients and the workers in this stressful situation.
Around 4:30 PM, they called me back to the treatment room. They were so off-schedule that they offered to let people skip their treatment today and re-schedule for Saturday. I was lucky, I thought, to be getting my treatment. I felt grateful to not have things thrown off for myself anymore than they already had been. I mean, I’m all scribbled over like some bad occult tattooist got a hold of me. Let’s not make this nasty neckline be a part of me longer than needed.
That’s the upper part of the region that they are radiating.
I went back and put on my gown that is not really made to open in front but they tell me to do so anyway. It leaves this awkward gap that I’m always fiddling with. It’s probably not a big deal, unless you end up hanging out in it for another hour and a half while the people around you are trying to figure out if they can fix the machine. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Can you see the awkward gap?
So I go into the radiation room and I am greeted by the ghostly faces of my cancer sisters and brothers who get head and neck treatments. These masks look like nets that have been molded to people’s faces. They provide the techs with a coordinate system to use to aim their radiation rays. But in between treatments, they sit on the floor, looking somewhat bereft. They watch the rest of us come and go, as if waiting for their human mate to enter the room so that they can have life breathed into them again.
I climbed on the machine, which is very uncomfortable. It’s really hard and narrow. I complained about it the first night, asking why they couldn’t make it a little more cushy. The tech explained that there are very few materials that can withstand constant radiation. The machine has a big round face with a glass eye that gets slashed by a red laser when it’s doing its magic. When it starts to whir, a sign that says BEAM ON in red letters lights up in the corner. The whirring lasts about 30 to 60 seconds.
That little sign in the green frame lights up to tell me BEAM ON
So the techs come in, they line me up, they leave the room, the whir begins. BEAM ON. I hold my breath, the whirring stops. The techs come in, they move the plates, they line me up, they leave the room. BEAM ON. They come back in, move the plates, line me up, leave the room, BEAM ON.
Then the whirring slows. BEAM ON flickers. The whir starts up. BEAM ON is off again.
There is a longer pause than usual, but the techs come back into the room. They tell me that the machine has failed. The plan is to let me relax in the waiting area while they restart the machine. (Recall the awkward gap? Yeah. Not so relaxing.) These machines, they explain, are not meant to go from 6 AM to 1 AM like they have been doing. It sometimes just needs a reboot. That sometimes happens even when they aren’t seeing so many patients like they are now. They’ll see if it works again when they reboot it and let it rest for 10 or 15 minutes. Am I okay waiting? They know exactly how much of a dose they gave me for that third tangent. There is one tangent they didn’t get to, but they will once the machine is restored.
I wait in my green robe, texting my husband to let him know that I will be even later still in getting home. The techs reboot the machine. They try to get it back up whirring. It won’t whir. They try to give it a longer rest; do I mind waiting? I’ve waited this long, I say, self-consciously fiddling with the awkward gap.
The clinic manager comes out apologetically, explaining that they are having to send everybody home. They’ll make sure that I get in first thing in the morning. What about my half-dose? I ask. Well, the radiation oncologist will have to figure that out. Some guy who is not my usual doctor tells me it won’t be a big deal if I get 33 1/2 doses instead of my prescribed 33. I disagree, saying that I do not want more radiation in my body than is medically warranted.
I am trying to get through to my doctor, to no avail.
Why did everybody tell me that radiation was going to be the easy part?
This entry was posted on Thursday, May 20th, 2010 at 6:52 pm and is filed under Treatment, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.