Fun with Medical Technology
I recently had to have a CAT scan because my doctor thought I might have kidney stones. Now those are two words that don’t belong together – kidney and stones. One is supposed to be inside your body and the other lying around in the yard somewhere. What’s next, liver trees? Duodenal birdbaths?
I knew from watching Gray’s Anatomy and Scrubs that CAT scans don’t involve cats (a shame if you ask me; what medical procedure wouldn’t be improved if you could hold a purring feline on your lap? Or have one dig his claws into the doctor?) CAT scans do involve lying completely still, not breathing, and being very quiet. I’m not good at any of these—which is why I flunked obedience training.
I scored the lowest marks on the not breathing part, but it wasn’t my fault. Eric, the sullen technician who apparently couldn’t be bothered to brush his hair, plopped me down on the cold hard table and explained the procedure. “…slide you in… blah blah blah… hold completely still… blah blah blah… I hate this job and as soon as I win the lottery I’m outta here…” Excellent. Just what you want for a major diagnostic procedure – a guy having both a bad life and a bad hair day.
As he walked back toward the booth with three-foot thick steel walls protecting him from the kryptonite or whatever he was about to shoot through my body, he mumbled, “Oh, and you’ll have to hold your breath as long as possible when I say ‘Now!’” He said the last word so loudly I practically jumped up off the table. But at least the shock warmed me up a little. Because, let’s face it, that backless paper gown wasn’t really doing much to keep my body heat in.
I hate holding my breath because I have lousy lung capacity – I can’t even blow bubbles without getting winded. I don’t really understand it because I’ve never smoked and I get plenty of exercise. I think the problem is my lungs are the size of thimbles. I don’t have proof because they’d have to do an x-ray and I can’t hold my breath long enough for them to get a clean picture.
You’d think that if you’re going to have to hold your breath for a medical procedure you’d get a little advance warning: “Okay in five, four, three, two, one…” But no, I had just finished exhaling (and readjusting the gown so that the naked part of me was on the table and not on display to anyone who happened to walk in to tell Eric his lottery ticket was a dud) when I heard the word “Now!” come from behind the wall.
I tried not to breathe. Really I did. I tried to visualize myself underwater in Australia looking at the Great Barrier Reef or being out in space floating around the rings of Saturn. Nothing worked. I think I held my breath approximately .00027 seconds before I started gasping for air like a goldfish who has been unceremoniously dumped from her bowl onto the cold floor.
After I got a few good gulps of air in me, I started to suggest that Eric let me know in advance when he was ready so that I could fill my lungs with air first. Unfortunately, before I could finish the though, he yelled “Now!” again. Great. I breathed immediately. I really had no choice. It was either breathe or die, and I figured I’d rather have a kidney stone than a headstone.
Fortunately, I got one more chance and it would have turned out okay except for the hiccoughs. Again, it wasn’t my fault. I get them whenever I get nervous. And this whole procedure was making me very nervous. I was afraid that not only would they not be able to interpret the CAT Scan (“I can’t tell, is that a kidney or a map of the Congo?”), my failure at the test would go on my permanent record, along with the time I cheated in algebra and those three days in junior high I said I had the flu, but I was really home learning how to apply make-up.
The good news is, they’re pretty sure I don’t have a kidney stone. The bad news is, they want to do the CAT scan one more time just to confirm things. I get breathless just thinking about it.