Bone Scan Birthday

It's my birthday, my 29th.

I can imagine a lot of lovely ways I might like to spend this day, none of which involve getting a bone scan. But imagine and reality exist with an ever-widening chasm between them these days; the day is spent undergoing the procedure.

After a cancer diagnosis, a bone scan is often ordered to determine if the cancer has metastasized (spread) to the bones. The test is a two-step process. It takes place in a Nuclear Medicine center where a radioactive substance is injected into a vein and then, after three hours, a machine that screams “this test is going to be expensive” scans your body and creates a digital image for the experts to analyze. 

I awake on this Monday morning optimistic that I can still have a pleasant day, in spite of the circumstances. The test shouldn’t be too strenuous or uncomfortable, and my husband and son, Bobby and Little H, are coming with me. (I’m in a take-what-you-can-get kind of mentality these days.)

The 17 mile drive to get to the medical center, that has readily become my second home, takes us a full hour on the Los Angeles freeways and is seriously unpleasant. My optimism for the day is quickly curtailed. Bobby is unusually chatty, discussing whatever topic enters his mind, but I’m too focused on the ticking clock to concentrate. There’s too much traffic for the middle of the day; we’re cutting it really close. Why is he always in the wrong lane? Am I going to make it on time or have to repeat this trek? I can’t even bring myself to partake in the usually exciting business of spotting trucks for Little H in the backseat. 

Just in time, Bobby finally pulls in front of the medical plaza and I hop out. After a quick trip down the wrong set of elevators and back up, then down the correct set, I enter the waiting room at exactly my appointment time. “Just one paper for you to fill out and I’ll let them know you’re here.” That sounds promising; except the waiting room is so packed that it belies any succinctness. 

I fill out the paper rapidly, as though that will help me get in faster, and then take the sole remaining chair. There are a lot of old, sick-looking people waiting. 

I stare at the edge of the coffee table. I stare at the clock. I realize I’m sitting on the edge of my seat and try to relax into the chair. It’s fairly obvious they won’t be calling me anytime soon. That lovely plan I concocted of Bobby and Little H picking up our picnic lunch and then coming back for me is starting to look bad. Maybe I should have come by myself.

After 30 minutes I ask the receptionist, as politely as I can, how the wait is looking. She makes a phone call and then cheerily tells me “5 more minutes.” That makes me cheery too. 

15 minutes later I’m called to the back. The tech prods around in that sensitive part in the fold of your arm - preciously where I’ve already had blood drawn twice in the last couple of days. Ominous looking metal box and needle kit appear; injection into bruised, sore skin; done. And I’m literally running out the door.

The next two and half hours of waiting time before I have to be back for the actual scan are spent at the only feasible option within a 20 minute driving radius, the local park.

The three of us eat the sandwiches the boys picked up and then Bobby pulls out a Birthday treat for me, a brick of pecan-bar pastry that he’s sure is “just my style” of sweet. It makes my stomach churn. (We’ve been together 11 years but the dear man still hasn’t mastered my tastes.) The dessert is like the birthday itself… just so far off from good. 

While Bobby runs around on the play structures with Little H, I camp out in the sunshine, amidst the nannies talking in Spanish into their cell phones. I’m too tired to join my family.

Watching them and not being able to participate is a severely unpleasant activity that I have become familiar with over the past months. When my inflammation problems were at their worst, I was forced to become an onlooker, watching with a deep longing to participate in my unfolding life. On this day, I blessedly have the ability to move, but instead am weighed down with the heaviness of fatigue. I’ll witness their energy and save mine.

I’m jealously peering at the homeless man dozing a few trees over with a blanket under him and a backpack-pillow. Dang he looks comfy. 

It may be my imagination but I’m pretty sure the alert nannies in the bunch are starting to give me suspicious glances. My child is now nowhere near; I’m just the really-short-haired weirdo sitting alone and unmoving in the kid area. 

Finally, with our limp attempt to have a pleasant afternoon picnic behind us, it’s back to Nuclear Medicine for me. A quick 10 minute sojourn in my favorite waiting room and I’m led back to the machine room. I change into a robe and I’m up on the table. The scan is only mildly uncomfortable. I’m wrapped up in a cocoon of sheets so I can’t move, the table under me gets a little shaky and warm, and a large, square slab is lowered just above my face. Over the course of the next 45 minutes, the slab moves very slowly down my body. Then it’s over.

And there it is – traffic on the way home, a bowl of cereal for dinner, an unpleasant medical bill in the mailbox – and my 29th birthday is over. 

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