06 September 2012

You *can* change the laws of physics

I thought it would be a good idea to ask everyone to remind me to post again. Instead of forcing me to start posting more frequently, I became more inventive with my excuses to not do it. At least I succeeded in increasing my creative output. On that note, it's finally time to bestow my adventures in radiation with the world.

Step one of radiation is alignment. Apparently they take this very seriously so there's a better chance of you not glowing in the dark. It starts with what is essentially a medical-grade bean bag pillow. I was told to lie still in a most uncomfortable position with my left arm above my head. As the air was sucked out of the pillow, the nurse continually readjusted things until the pillow turned into a mold of my properly contorted upper half.

After the mold comes the tattoos. Three dark blue, skin defiling dots about 1mm in diameter. First, the nurse marked the chosen spots with a medical pen. Then, a disturbingly large drop of ink was splattered over each general area. Finally, I was told to inhale, and she viciously stabbed the ink under my skin. Not only did each jab hurt, they also bled profusely.  One even required a band-aid! Where are these marks of the devil, you ask? The first is nearly centered between my boobs, but off to the right just enough to drive me crazy whenever I see it. The other two are positioned on my left side such that I can't see them without a mirror. Which is a good thing considering how much the first annoys me.

As I wasn't sufficiently defaced at this point, out came a black sharpie, with which the nurse drew three "X"s. Each was covered with a semi-permanent sticker that generally lasted two weeks before becoming a gooey mess of insufficient accuracy. Both the tattoos and "X" were carefully placed with the help of imaging machines and green lasers. After all the careful marking, the nurse announced that there was a problem with the placement of the tattoos. EXCUSE ME? YOU MESSED UP TATTOOING ME? The nurse ran off to see if the physics could be changed. I agreed that it was better to change physics than to try to go anywhere near me with the ink again.

Ultimately, the physics were successfully changed. In English, this means that the exact position and sequence of radiation was somehow altered to conform to the problematic tattoos and the nurse wasn't bludgeoned to death in the parking lot.

My daily appointment was scheduled for 920 every weekday morning in the dungeon of the hospital. Matt was kind enough to drive me to every appointment, as I developed a severe allergy to hospitals that causes me to drive directly to work without stopping for treatment. As an added bonus, this meant his car was valeted instead of mine.

Surprisingly, the radiation treatment room actually met my expected level of scienciness. Precisely mounted green lasers beam across the room from three walls and the ceiling. The machine itself, which takes up over half of the room, has a large, circular head looming over the patient table. On either side of the head, retractable imaging equipment is mounted. The table, and often the victim wedged in the mold on the table, is raised, rotated, and slid in various directions until the subject is correctly positioned under the head. When properly positioned, the head can rotate freely around the table. As the head rotates, lead slides in the head move back and forth to limit the block all but the necessary radiation.

Most days of radiation were boring. I'd lie topless on the table while 2-3 technicians admired my spots and rearranged me into the perfect position. After draping a blanket over my exposed parts, they'd leave, closing the bank vault door behind them, and I'd fall asleep for fifteen minutes.

One morning things suddenly got very interesting. The machine suddenly shutdown, mid treatment. The techs couldn't restore power, much less lower the table. Ultimately, I got to climb down with the help of a wobbly chair. The hospital had a new power supply flown in from Las Vegas, but the repair technician wasn't able to get the machine running for two days. Since I couldn't skip most of one dose and the following day's dose, I ended up in the slightly less awesome machine the next day. Why was it less awesome? The alignment lasers were red and the head didn't rotate around my torso. But mostly due to the red lasers.

Most people only get tired during radiation. I got super nauseous. Dr. RadiationOncologist said that radiation, especially the type I was receiving, doesn't cause severe, persistent nausea, and sent me to Dr. Oncologist. Dr. Oncologist put me through a whole battery of tests. CT scan, ultrasounds, blood tests, and whatever else occurred to her. Everything was negative, and I was still randomly regurgitating at inopportune moments. An MRI wasn't possible due to the metal in Frankenboob's expander. And yet, aside from wanting to barf and the whole cancer thing, I was perfectly healthy. With everything else ruled out, Dr. Oncologist reconsidered the radiation as the culprit. She found a case from five or six years ago in which a patient receiving the same type of radiation  was persistently nauseous. The recommended treatment was suck it up until radiation is over. 

I got another round of sick leave, complete with the requisite lying on the couch complaining. At one point I asked Matt if this is what chemo was like. He just laughed and said that I was cognizant enough to complain, so it wasn't even close. After a few vomit filled weeks, radiation ended. A few days after that, I was noticeably better. A week later, my stomach was back to its normal malcontent self and I was happily back at work, having survived radiation, but without any spiffy super powers. Boo.