He walked belly first through the sliding glass doors, leather jacket unzipped and motorcycle helmet tucked underneath one arm. We were the only ones in the waiting room and he casually nodded in our direction. I didn’t recognize him so I just assumed he was one of the people behind the curtain, the guys in the booth watching to make sure that the test was conducted properly.
We were forty minutes early to my PET CT at Shaare Tzedek Medical Center and I already had the first appointment. We were so early that the receptionist wasn’t ready to check us in until 8:20 even though she was sitting at her desk with seemingly nothing much to do besides check her Facebook and Instagram.
Dr. Igor, who was just as rough and unpleasant as during my first PET CT, decided to place the hemlock into my right hand. Once again, he commented about my crappy veins as he slapped the needle repeatedly in my hand to get the blood draw for the glucose count. I winced each time he slapped my hand and he finally gave up, muttering under his breath about the need for a PICC line while preparing to prick my finger. He gave me no warning while he was doing any of this and so I gritted my teeth and looked away. I much preferred the finger prink to his slapping the needle in my hand. He wrote 90 on the tape on my hand and told me to sit in the waiting area.
A technician put me on the scale to weigh me and I sighed at the number. I told him clothing and sneakers adds at least two kilos and he laughed. Even in cancer, I’m concerned with the numbers on the scale.
I’m anxious for today. This is the day where we’ll see how my body is responding to treatment. I have been nervous and emotional for days leading up to the PET CT. I am hoping for the miracle, and trying not to think about anything beyond that hope.
The technician who weighs me tells me that my test will be delayed since the radioactive material isn’t in the building. I thank him for the update then notice the box of Captain Crunch underneath his arm. He enters the room marked for employees only and settles in for coffee and breakfast. I tell Gaby that I find it ironic, how a man who basically escorts people through a test that will primarily detect cancer in their bodies, is poisoning his own with loads of sugar each morning. I have become really judgmental with cancer, but will eat my first bite of sugar in three months two days later.
We sit in silence while I daven, Gaby playing some sort of sci-fi game on his iPhone. They roll the radioactive materials in minutes later and I flash back to that scene in Back to The Future, the first time I ever saw that symbol. Minutes later, that material will be coursing through my veins.
Mr. Motorcycle has replaced his leather jacket with a white lab coat and comes to get me, explaining that the test will take an hour and 15 minutes but Gaby is welcome to wait in the waiting area. I wave goodbye and follow him down the hall and into the room. I’ve been here before so I know the drill, I sit in the chair and place my hand with the hemlock on the tray. We don’t speak for a few seconds and he puts my weight into the machine. The coiled clear tube dangles next to me and I know it will be hooked up to my hemlock. I want to ask him his name but see the tag says Yair and so my curiosity is quashed as he starts to talk. He hooks me up to the machine and immediately my hand goes cold. It’s the saline flush to make sure it’s hooked up correctly. After the saline, they’ll inject the radioactive material while he exits the room. There’s a blue cinderblock propping the door open so it’s easy for him to make a quick exit. I wonder how safe it is for the other technician to be walking around in sandals.
Suddenly, the beginning strains of Evanescence’s Bring Me To Life filters through and I’m impressed. I want to meet the DJ behind the music pumped into the pre-PET CT room!
We get to the chorus before Yair pulls his cell phone from his lab coat and I burst out laughing. I tell him that I thought it was music they play in the room and he smiled, explaining that he often misses calls because he likes to hear more than just the beginning strains.
“It’s time for the radioactive material, are you ready?” he asks.
I shrug and he presses a button, wishes me good luck, and leaves the room.
The geiger counter starts going nuts, crackling and static noises fill the room as the machines whirs and my hand gets colder and colder. With a beep the machine starts to cycle down and Yair returns.
“Welcome to our pub, it’s an Irish pub!”
He opens a door to an empty room painted blue with three layz-boy leather chairs separated by short walls on both side for privacy. There are three clocks on the wall and each area has a small white table. I smile at him as he grabs the clear container that reminds me of a bedpan, which is topped with a clear plastic cup.
“Here’s your beer.”
I like Yair, in a different life we could have been really good friends. Riding motorcycles and drinking beer at an Irish pub while listening to Evanescence. But instead, he’s setting me up for an hour in a room with lead walls with a bitter clear liquid that I need to drink by the cupful every 10 minutes until I can be placed into a machine that will capture whether or not RCHOP chemo has worked to eradicate my cancer.
He wishes me good luck again and disappears back into the radiation room to prepare the next patient. I settle into my leather chair and start rocking back and forth. I’ve brought my cell phone with me but Yair said I can’t use it for another 20 minutes. I drink the first of eight cups of bitter, disgusting liquid. I watch the clock and try not to panic. I realize that I’m sitting in the same chair as my first PET CT and consider moving. You know, Meshaneh Makom Meshaneh Mazal (change your location, change your fortune) but then realize that that thinking is just crazy so I keep rocking. With the toe of my shoe I gently push the little table. Yup, it still wobbles.
After twenty minutes, I’m able to pick up my phone. I sext Gaby a picture of an eggplant and start playing around with Snapchat. I send the picture at the top of this post to my Mom with “OMG, look what this radiation crap DID to me!!” She doesn’t know from Snapchat. She responds asking if I want salmon for lunch. Being radioactive means I can’t be near pregnant women, children and anyone with a compromised immune system for six hours, so I’m going to my parents house to ride out the radioactivity. I tell her not to worry about it, I’ll find something in her fridge.
The sandal wearing, Captain Crunch eating technician is back before I know it and tells me that I have ten more minutes. He’ll let me know when I need to go to the bathroom, which is mandatory before the test. I text Gaby to let him know I’m almost up and then go to pee.
It’s cold in the PET CT room but I’m allowed to wear my beret. I take off the kamayah (good luck charm) that’s been around my neck since shortly after my diagnoses and get on the table. I’m allowed to wear my clothing, even my bra with a metal underwire is okay. The machine is not completely enclosed so I don’t panic. He hooks me up to the dye and it burns like heck going in. I have to keep my hands over my head the entire test and my left arm with the PICC line begins to tremor. I will spend fifteen minutes trying desperately to keep that arm still.
The technician will wish me Good Luck more than ten times. I started counting after the fifth time. When the test is over, I go back to Gaby and observe the now packed waiting room. The staff works like a well oiled machine. As soon as I’m done, the next person is ushered into the exam room, and it will work that way until they close for the day. I sit next to Gaby and put on my sweatshirt. He gathers his stuff and leaves to go up to the sixth floor. The nurses asked that we let them know as soon as the test is done, so they can call down for the results. I observe the various age groups of the people in the room; most of the patients are more than 20 years my senior.
A technician escorts an elderly religious woman past me. She is crying and clutching the technician’s arm in fear, begging her not to use the needles. She is terrified of the test. I feel so badly for her that I say a quick prayer that her results are clear and that she doesn’t have cancer. I can’t imagine how she would handle treatment if she is petrified of the PET CT.
I then thank G-d for my strength. For breaking my wrist and my heel, for the bronchitis when I was 8 and the pneumonia that made me miss a New Year’s Eve party when I was twenty. For the tonsilectomy when I was in first grade that led to my hospital trauma (one day, I might share) and to the three C-sections and one D&C. To the pseudotumor cerebri that I had to keep quiet from everyone except close friends and family because it would have hurt my shidduch opportunities, and for the botched spinal tap over Thanksgiving weekend. For that time I got stitches, and for getting all four wisdom teeth pulled before July 4th weekend. And for the time I showed up at Camp Hillel on visiting day after being kicked out and learned a bunk mate had hepatitis and that I needed a shot in the ass.
I thanked G-d for all of those experiences, because it gave me the strength to deal with cancer.
Gaby returned from the sixth floor and I slung my heavy knapsack across my back and we walked out of the hospital. I kept my head down and my arms close to my body to avoid getting pushed by people and was so grateful for the fresh air. I was quiet walking to the car as Gaby explained why the nurses wanted to know about my PET CT. They plan on discussing my case on Tuesday morning during their weekly meeting. All the hematology-oncologists meet on Tuesdays to discuss cases, mine is apparently on the docket this week.
We decide to go to Emek Refaim so Gaby can get some lunch and he can pick up some whole wheat crackers. My Mom has eggs and veggies at home so I had a plan for breakfast. There was no warning though. Nothing in particular to trigger my meltdown. It wasn’t a song on the radio or the street we were driving down. It wasn’t a smell in the air or anything Gaby was saying. But mid-way down Tschernikovsky street, I just started crying and it took a really long time until I could stop.
We will P”G get the results of my PET CT on Tuesday, which is also round #4 of RCHOP. Please continue to pray for me: Lior Shira Batya Bat Chaya Yehudit.