[Note: I had artwork to accompany this unusually long post, but Blogger will have none of it right now.]
Today I went to the hospital for a bone scan, which was going to confirm a stress fracture that earlier x-rays could only suggest. The three-hour procedure turned into a 9-hour ordeal with me at one point bra-less in a busy waiting room and arguing over what constituted claustrophobia. And that was the fun part of the day.
Scanning the Parking Lot…and Then My Body
After eventually finding a parking spot, we got to the hospital’s nuclear medicine unit around 8:30 a.m. for an injection of a radioactive tracer substance that later would allow any bone undergoing stress to glow during a body scan. I’d had blood work done two days prior, so one arm already was pretty bruised. We decided to use the other, so by the end of the day I’d have matching track marks. The needle pinched and the solution burned for an instant and then we were done until I returned in three hours for the screening.
The technician told me to drink a lot of fluids to be sure my kidneys flushed since the nuclear material that wasn’t absorbed by my bones would deposit there. My husband and I decided to visit the McDonald’s on site and hung out in a palm-lined alcove while I downed a 32-ounce iced tea. I normally can take tea plain, but the McDonald’s blend was too bitter. I made Gilbert go back for two packets of Splenda.
An hour after downing that big gulp, I still couldn’t produce urine. I started getting nervous, remember the last time my bladder refused to cooperate. Soon, however, I was a restroom regular. We moved to a shady bench between buildings and read a little, then people-watched. My husband offered to get me another drink and I accepted, mentioning this one didn’t need to be tea and didn’t need to be so big. When he surfaced with a replica of the earlier version, I began to balk. Then I took a sip and tasted the artificial sweetener he’d voluntarily stirred in and withdrew my protest.
The scan itself was painless and rather fascinating, with the technician first asking if I was claustrophobic. I was, I said. Then he explained that I might feel a little penned in but that this was nothing compared to a CT scan or MRI. “The MRI’s the one where a lot of people have to be sedated. That one can be tough if you’re claustrophobic,” he told me. “If you ever get one of those, make sure you take a sedative first.” I thanked my lucky stars I didn’t need one of those and then laid very still while a machine slowly maneuvered from my pelvis to my toes, twice. Afterward, I listened as the technician behind me clicked on the computer images.
“You said it was your right hip that was bothering you?”
“What about your left ankle?”
“No, that’s fine.”
“Yes, why? I broke it in 2002, but that was ages ago.”
So I turned to see his reference and sure as shootin’ the ankle looked like Polaris, glowing brighter than the constellation of other white specks against the black film. Meantime, the injured hip was barely registering on the radioactive scale. So, another scan was in order, this one more time-consuming. Essentially a machine shot something like 64 different images as it rotated around me. Combined, they produced a 3-D image of my lower region.
When the technician called me from the waiting room, I started to gather my belongings, thinking we were free to go. But he told Gilbert to wait and for me to grab my crutches and come with him. “I’m afraid the hip fracture’s a little more serious than we thought,” he said as he led me to a room, where I saw a luminescent blob among multiple angles of my x-rayed hips. Two doctors explained that I’d cracked the femoral neck, which was a “bad break to have, especially if you’re a runner.” Oh, and I reinjured my ankle.
They mentioned something about surgery and steel pins and how it’s really something, having cracked bones on both sides of my body. I just stared at them, slackjawed.
“We’re sending you downstairs for an MRI.”
Just Chill and Be Very Still
“You need any drugs? ‘Cause if you do, we don’t have any. You’ve got to go get them from someone else. We don’t give out drugs in here.” That's what the burly receptionist barked at me in the waiting room after noticing I’d checked Yes for claustrophobia on an admissions form.
“Is the tunnel open on one side? I mean, I’ll be OK if I can feel or see an air source? I just can’t be in anything that’s, you know, sealed. Or too close to my face or chest. Will someone be able to get to me if the machine gets stuck? That’s important to me too. Are my feet free? I mean, just how narrow is this thing? I get a little freaked if –“
“—SHE’S NOT CLAUSTROPHOBIC!” my husband suddenly shouted.
He eyed me and then warned me to knock it off. Actually, he told me I didn't know what I was talking about (wrong), that the machine is open on the sides (wrong again) and that the last thing I need right now are drugs. If I didn't know better, I'd have sworn he facitiously mouthed the word Motrin.
The receptionist tried to diffuse the tension by suggesting some people are able to relax naturally to the point of falling asleep. I turned to glare at Gilbert. “That might be fine,” I told her, “if I hadn’t had 64 ounces of iced tea today.”
You better go to the bathroom then, she offered. Then she moved on to the checklist. Are you pregnant? Are you breastfeeding? Steel plates in the head or body? Metal particals in the eye? Are you wearing any metal at all? I removed my rings, earrings and watch. “You wearing one of them sports bras with the wires?” I nodded and instinctively yet discreetly stripped off the bra and sat there, trying not to move while debating the definition of claustrophobia with Gilbert until a guy who’d taken way too much Valium came in and entertained us.
It turns out Gilbert was right. The magnetic imaging wasn’t as bad as I thought and lasted far less than I was told. I did notice that as soon as I was ordered to stay very still, my skin itched all over. But I survived to go on to the next round: Orthopedics and Casts.
By now, regular business hours were over. I was getting punchy. Gilbert was missing his night class. And the kids kept calling to ask about dinner. For the fifth time that day, I explained that I’d run a marathon on June 4th and had self-diagnosed a groin pull two weeks prior and ran 26 miles with the pain anyway. I never knew a symptom of a hip stress fracture was groin pain. If nothing else, the orthopedist appeared more amazed than angry. He then explained the nature of my fracture and how very fortunate I was that it had not cracked beyond a certain point, which would have meant surgery. Instead, I could heal throughout the summer using my crutches. He even said I could cross-train on a stationary bike and let pain be my guide.
I was tempted to ask if I would eventually be able to run long distance races again. But the last time I asked, in 2002 after I broke my foot in half and fractured my ankle, the answer was: “Probably not.”
Of course, that was four marathons ago.