zen.org Communal Weblog

June 21, 2011

So Far So Good

Filed under: — brendan @ 20:55 IST

The consultant doctor came by this afternoon with most of her team of haematologists, et al., to report things are progressing along fine so far. The blood draws show no leukemia cells, but also no neutrophil cells either, so both the bad guys and the good guys are out for the moment.

Last night I didn’t have any headaches, but I did tell the nurse that I felt a little pressure inside my head, which is enough for the doctors to decide to go ahead with the CT scan this morning. The other thing the consultant reported was that the scan came through clear and fine, so I don’t need to worry that the headaches I was having are anything more than just plain headaches. (Great relief.)

Neutropenic Paranoia

The CT scan itself took maybe 3 or 4 minutes. You lay down on a (padded, comfortable) slab and they roll you through what looks kind of like a spinning ring. For the chest CT I had before, the machine tells you to inhale and hold your breath. For a head CT, they used a strap across my forehead to hold my head still. (Didn’t hurt, and wasn’t holding it down, just holding it in place.) The person doing the CT told me to just try to look toward a single spot and keep my eyes from moving too much. Back in March I had one of these; that time, I chose to stare at a consistent spot where you can see the device spinning around. This time, I just closed my eyes. Much easier.

But it took more than an hour for the whole thing. Why? I had to wait, and wait, and wait. A porter (nice older men who push people in wheelchairs, beds, etc all over the hospital) brought me from St Annes Ward where my bed is to the CT & MRI department. There’s a public waiting area with a bunch of chairs, and down the hall there’s an open area where in-patients are deposited. A good 20-30 minutes went by; another patient was sitting about 8 feet from me, also in a wheelchair, looking impatient.

There were lots of women, all 60 and over I’m guessing, sitting over in the separate public waiting area. Each wore a blue hospital gown, holding on their lap what looked like a plastic shopping basket containing their upper-torso clothing and their purses. They were being processed in CT Scanning Room 1, a nondescript looking pair of grey double doors.

I have to wear a duck mask when I leave the ward, since I’m now neutropenic and open to completely random infection by everything. It mashes your nose really tightly, making me really only able to breathe out of my mouth inside the mask. This whole appearance, by the way, is still weird for people who see it—which appears to include hospital staff.

For that half-hour I watched people go by, back and forth. Many didn’t look around when walking, but there were some who you knew were staring straight ahead, straining to not turn their heads. I’ve seen women do this when they know a guy is leering at them, but this was an even split between men and women, young and old.

(Told later, the nurses on my ward were surprised I’d been made to wait. I don’t know if they mean cancer patients in general jump the queue, or if specifically neutropenic patients do.)

Finally the double doors opened, and out came one of the women in a blue gown. A CT scan operator came out and brought my neighbor into the scanning room. A moment later, a porter appeared down the hall with a man lying on his back on a gurney, saying he was going to be bringing him over to the x-ray department in just a minute. He parked the gurney about a foot from where I was sitting.

Then the guy lying on his back started to cough, a little. Right next to me. I was sure the mask was helping, but still. Please go away. Please go away. Still coughing. It seemed like forever. The porter reappeared after what was probably only a few minutes, and the guy carrying the threat of some random thing I could catch went away.

To the right of CT Scanning Room 1 was a big double-door storage closet of some kind, a single door to a public bathroom, the entryway to the CT Operator room, and, near the end of the hall, CT Scanning Room 2. I was puzzled why I’d been waiting so long if they have two of them.

The answer presented itself almost immediately—the double grey doors opened, and out walked a couple of construction workers, covered in concrete dust. I could see through the doors a dark area with clear plastic hanging around, tools on the floor, and a grey powdery dust all over everything. The same dust those guys were carrying around on them as they walked by.

When you’re neutropenic, they’re hesitant to let you go outside right now because there’s a bunch of building work going on over next to the parking garage. Because of all of the concrete, there’s a risk of airborne mildew which could give said patients a fungal infection. They’re nasty when you have no immune system, and can make you get pneumonia.

So these guys were potentially wearing big invisible piles of infection. And I had my mask. I’m sure it was fine, and none of them walked within even six feet of me, so it’s not like any invisible fungi were leaping across with shouts of glee. But, still. After the guy coughing, I get this.

The scanning room doors opened, out came The Other Patient, and the CT scan operator took me in, did the scan, and brought me back out. This is where the next half-hour went, waiting for a porter to appear.  And more guys coated in powder, coming and going, among the many people not looking you in the eye.

Again, I’m sure I’ll not lead to anything. But if you’re sitting there that long, with nothing to do, your imagination really will have a field day.

Next time I have a CT scan, which I’m sure I probably will at some point, I’m bringing a damn book. 🙂

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