Picture Perfect

One more nervewracking day down.

Today was my radioactive whole body scan. I got the tracer dose on Wednesday, waited for it to radiate through my body, and then went into the nuclear medicine department for two hours of scanning to see what would “light up.”

Hawaii is my favorite place on Earth. The nuclear medicine department of the Washington Hospital Center is my least.

Yes, they have made incredible strides since I last had a set of these images done in November 2008. The department is no longer crammed into the hospital’s sub-basement, where expensive imaging equipment was stored with extra gurneys and surplus heart monitors, and patients exceeding the 10-seat waiting room were often lined up in their wheelchairs in the hallway. The department’s new location is in a respectable part of the hospital’s ground floor, with bright lights, ample seating and the sense that it’s been scrubbed down recently. They’ve even installed LED panels with palm trees into the drop ceilings above the cameras to improve the ambiance.

Yup, it looks nice. And I’m not discounting the effect that atmosphere can have on a patient. But somehow I was fooled into thinking that the new chairs in the waiting room would diminish the depressing tone of the department–many of the patients are there for heart, kidney or bone scans, and are very, very sick–or my own fears about being there.

Not so much.

I’d be lying if I said the scans were enjoyable, or even relaxing, despite the fact that they allow you to listen to your iPod during them. For thyroid patients, almost every test, including these scans, is done with a pillow propped up under your shoulders–not your head–to push your neck forward. It’s uncomfortable but OK for a 15-minute ultrasound. For two hours of scanning? Let’s just say it’s a good thing I have a massage scheduled for next week.

But the awkward position and the intensity of the low-iodine diet–which enabled my body to absorb the radioactive¬†iodine well–paid off in the technicians’ ability to get good pictures today. And even better, the pictures were clear. That doesn’t mean there’s no cancer; we know for certain that the nodule in my neck is cancerous. But as the doctors explained to us this morning, it does mean that that spot is small enough not to show up on this highly advanced scan, and that there likely aren’t larger tumors in other parts of my body.

My doctors still need results from this week’s blood work and additional scans I’ll have next week to have a complete picture of what we’re dealing with. But right now, things are looking pretty good.

*****************

So, if you’re looking for something to drink while toasting to that good news, the arrival of a long holiday weekend, or the beautiful weather outside, let me suggest my cocktail of the week: a tequila sunrise. It was my drink of choice while vacationing in Mexico last year, and while it loses a bit of its appeal when not being served at a swim-up bar, it still does the trick. In a highball glass over ice, mix a shot of tequila, some orange juice, and a splash of grenadine. (If you’re feeling particularly crafty, make your own grenadine, too: 16 oz. of pomegranate juice boiled and simmered halfway down, add 1 cup of sugar off the heat, chill.) I’ll drink to that!

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