Dear Readers, as you might remember I have had a persistent cough since November last year, and a week ago I was finally persuaded to go to the doctor. Being the responsible person that she is, she has sent me for a battery of blood tests and other procedures just to check that my lungs and throat are ok (I’ve been having trouble with my voice as well). Well, on Friday I went for my first ever CT scan, so I thought I’d share the experience with you in case you have to have one at any point. Plus, since I’m doing a science degree I was fascinated with what was going on, which I find is a great help with all this medical stuff – knowledge helps to alleviate at least some of the anxiety, for me at least.
So, first up, what exactly is a CT scan? The CT stands for computed tomography (it used to be computed axial tomography, hence CAT scan, which I like better). It is basically an X-ray, but the X-ray tube rotates to give ‘slices’ of the body, which can then be put together by computer to form a 3-D picture of what’s going on inside the body. You can see some examples of the sorts of images produced here. It takes a skilled technician to identify areas of concern.
A CT scan is similar to an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan, but a CT scan can be used if you have a pacemaker or metallic implant. The CT scan is used to detect a variety of abnormalities, from cancer to emphysema and fibrosis, conditions which can’t be picked up on a normal X-ray.
One downside to CT scans is, of course, that you’re subjected to radiation, and rather more than you would be for a normal chest X-ray. However, as you get older the risk gets less (radiation-induced tumours often take many decades to develop). As this is the first one that I’ve ever had, and as it would be kind of good to know if I do have anything serious, I decided that it was worth the tiny risk.
Now, because my doctor has put me on the two-week referral list (just in case) my appointments have come through in advance of any details of what was going to happen, so let me just run through how it was for me, in case anyone hasn’t had a CT scan. First up, don’t wear any necklaces or underwired bras as you’ll need to take them off prior to the scan, though you can keep all your clothes on (no embarrassing open-backed hospital gowns). Secondly, be aware that you might need to be injected with an iodine-based dye to help with the resolution of the images – I was told that when the dye was injected, I would feel hot and might feel as if I wanted to pee. This was all very exciting.
I was asked to lay on the bed with my feet towards what I think of as ‘the magic arch’ in the photo above. Then my first-ever cannula was stuck into a vein on my right wrist, and as I’m 63 years old I count myself extremely lucky that I haven’t had to have one before. However, it was no more painful than a usual blood extraction. Then I was asked to put my hands above my head, and everyone went off and left me.
For the CT scan itself, the bed moves under the ‘magic arch’ where the X-ray machine is, and a kindly female voice from the machine tells you to breathe in and hold, and then breath normally. I thought I could also hear my heart beating, so presumably that’s being monitored from somewhere or other. Then, the voice of the technician came through, telling me he was going to inject the dye via the cannula. He was absolutely right! For a moment there was nothing, but then there was a feeling of intense heat in my abdomen and, yes, an urge to pee (which I didn’t indulge). It only lasted a second, then there were one or two more rounds of breathing in and holding and breathing normally as requested, and then it was all done, and I was gathering up my belongings and heading home on the 263 bus.
So, I should get the results in about ten days time, just before Easter. I am honestly not expecting anything bad to come out of this – I’m 90% sure this is just some kind of post-viral nonsense, but I am very glad that my doctor is checking it out, if only because some of the people who care about me are very anxious. And if you are called for a CT scan, be aware that it’s nothing to worry about. Just leave your bra off 🙂 and leave the tiara and medallions at home.