On Monday, Patrick and I drove once again to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda. This time, we arrived more than an hour early and discovered that appointment times for the phlebotomy department are more like suggestions. I checked in over an hour early, was given a plastic ID bracelet, and a deli-style ticket. I was told to watch the wall-mounted monitor for my number to come up, which it did just a few minutes later.
I was ushered to "cubicle number one" where an older man kept repeating to himself and any passers-by (and there were many passers-by) that he had "Celine Dion" in his chair. Confused workers would peek around the corner to see what the guy was talking about, only to find non-celebrity me sitting in the chair. Extreme eye-rolling (mine) ensued. The fibbing phlebotomist filled twelve tubes with my non-celebrity blood, then sent me off for a urine sample while he affixed printed labels to all of the samples. "Good-bye Miss Celine Dion," he sang as I dashed out of his cubicle.
My next appointment, a CT scan, was scheduled for a couple of hours later, but we had had such great luck with getting into phlebotomy early, that we decided to try it again with the scanning department. We had the opposite of luck with them, and so we found ourselves with a couple of hours to wait.
Me: Bummer. Now what should we do?
Patrick: Let's go say, "Hi," to < someone on 3NW >
Off we went to the third floor. To my great surprise, my favorite nurse was there, off-duty. We squealed like teenagers (or maybe it was just me, ha) at our reunion. Three of the doctors who took care of me during the treatment were also there, so it was Big Fun for me to see them all again.
Next, a trip to the lab where Science lives. The Lab Guru gave us a fabulous tour of the various work-areas, even showing us the freezer where my very own T-cells are suspended in chilly, darkened, frozen-ness. Of course, I waved and greeted them with, "Hi guys!" The Lab Guru was very generous with his time, and thorough in his explanations, and always willing to answer our (many!) questions. Amazing things happen in that place!
Back to the Imaging for my first scan. I had to drink 800 ml of contrast (iohexol), then change into disposable scrubs. To my delight, there was no delay this time; as soon as I exited the changing area, my name was called. Soon after that I was sporting an I.V. in my left arm. The scan was uneventful, and when I finished, the tech brought me to a door at the back of the room that led to my next destination: MRI. The tech thought it might be possible that I'd get in ahead of schedule.
Earlier in the day I was informed that my appointment time would be moved up two hours--hurray! Now I appeared before the MRI receptionist with I.V. already placed, and donning the requisite scrubs, and asked if there was any chance they could take me early. "There is a chance," she said, "depending on how scanner number six goes."
I sat down in the waiting area and texted Patrick my whereabouts. He left then, to check into the hotel. We expected this scan to take almost two hours since I was scheduled for scans of both the brain and the abdomen. (Every-other visit the MRI scan will include images of the brain, otherwise, it's just the abdomen.)
I wasn't able to get in early but it was much better than my experience last time, when they were behind schedule. The tech greeted me, and relieved me of my security badge, and my locker key. I passed the "spin test" and he informed me that the scan would take, "about an hour".
Me: About an hour? Really?! Last time it was close to two hours.
Him: Yeah, well. We're not messing around. It'll be like...an hour.
Me: Woo! That is good news. I am starving.
Him: Oh, you could've had something light.
Me: I what?! ...the paperwork said to fast for four hours. Which fell during the time of my CT scan, for which I also had to fast for four hours. Fasting makes me crabby!
Him: Yeah, well. Sometimes a full stomach can block some of the anatomy they're trying to see. Also, some people get sick from the contrast and we were having to clean up some awfully big messes in here.
Me: I see. OK. Well. That's gross.
Onto the moveable bed-thingy I went. The tech took my glasses, gave me some earplugs, and strapped what he called "coils" over me. These coils are housed inside a piece of rigid plastic that (sort of) conforms to the shape of the body--each housing is curved, at any rate. The contraption is about the size of a pillow case, but sort of grid-like, with "rungs", and open areas. These were connected to the table by long Velcro straps. One was strapped over my chest, and another across my abdomen. He connected a long tube to the I.V. in my arm, placed headphones on me, and lowered a cage (another set of coils, I'm guessing) over my face. He gave me a squeeze ball which I could use to request that the test be stopped "for any reason". Finally, he did something no other MRI tech had ever done. He flipped down a little mirror from somewhere over my head inside the machine, which allowed me to see a part of the wall behind me. For some reason, the idea of the TARDIS entered my brain then, but even with my expanded field of vision, I could not describe the MRI machine as "bigger on the inside".
The test concluded in something like 80 minutes. This meant that I could find food sooner than I expected! I quickly texted Patrick that I was finished, and changed out of the scrubs and into my own clothes.
The building was mostly silent, as almost all of the workers had gone home long beforehand. It was about 8:00 PM. I wandered around, looking for the main entrance (I am so bad about navigating!!!) and finally found the revolving door where I waited for my dear husband to arrive.
We found a steakhouse and then settled into our hotel. The next day we'd find out what--if anything--had happened to the tumors in my lungs.
part 2 here