Dated and worn but clean, with bright lights that highlighted the grim stained grout lines on the 1’ x 1’ floor tiles, that climbed like baseboards up the muted banana coloured walls, a rap on the door pulled my attention from taking in my surroundings. Turning, I made eye contact with a young man. Immediately stepping back from the small window in my hospital room door, he was the Radiation Technician here to deliver my dose of thyroid cancer treatment.
Crossing the small room in four strides, I opened the door revealing the man on the far side of hallway shielded in a radiation apron, gloves and face protection. A steel framed open shelf cart stood between us, and had a small metal box on top.
“Hi Michelle?”, he asked.
“Yes,” I agreed.
“Please step back from the door.” He directed.
So I did.
Wheeling the hospital cart into my single patient room, he explained, “In this lead box is a vial and a small cup of water. In the vial is your radio-active iodine capsule. Take the vial, put it to your lips, and take the capsule into your mouth. Do not touch the pill with your hands. Do not drop it either. Replace the empty vial in the box and wash the capsule down with the cup of water. Then put the empty cup into the box, replace and secure the lid, and push the cart out of the door to me,” he finished and stepped back into the dimly lit hallway.
Trans-like, and in disbelief, I followed his directives. Pushing the cart across the threshold, I read the poster taped to my door just above the handle: DO NOT ENTER – RADIATION PRESENT written in big bold letters.
“Drink as much water as you can over the next 48 hours. That will help you pass it.” He suggested. “And please do not leave this room until we ensure you are ready to do so.”
Stepping back into my holding cell, he reached forward, closed the door and walked away.
Holy FUCK. What the hell just happened?
Within an hour I could feel myself burning up. My face was flushed, the tips of my ears were on fire and my entire body felt hot to touch. Downing as much chlorine washed water as I could, my pee went from clear to highlighter green in no time. I had been warned about any and all bodily fluids, pee, poop, spit, and mucus, and to ensure that I wash my hands immediately upon contact. Equipped with a toilet and sink in a closet sized enclosure, I had what I ‘needed’ to follow the necessary protocols. During my consultation a few days prior with another radiation specialist, I had been directed to only bring the personal effects that I was prepared to leave behind for everything that was in that room with me during the isolation period, was to be incinerated when I was released.
Over the course of two days, at random and unannounced times, different radiation techs would knock on my door and ask me to stand on a specific blue tape line on the floor. Once on my mark, they would open the door, stand back on their designated mark, and hold a digital laser thermometer at my forehead and abdomen. Monitoring my temperature was their only way of ensuring that I would eventually be safe enough to leave and to go home.
As much as I didn’t want to be in that room, the last place I wanted to go was home. My baby was at home and he was only 6-months old. How in the hell could I be safe enough to be in his presence, let alone hold him in my arms, when the medical professionals administering my care wouldn’t stand any closer than two meters from me? I was terrified that I would hurt him, and my family, yet all I wanted was to seek refuge in his warm innocence.
I’m no expert, nor will I ever claim to be, but that experience was traumatizing. Left alone I had no choice but to sit with truth of the experience. Rather sensitive to my body and its processes, I literally felt the radiation move through my body. I remember vividly the mix of anger, rage, fear, and anxiety all blended in an emotional slop of intense sadness and overwhelming powerlessness.
Next week it’s my turn to roll up my sleeve have a medical professional administer my injection. And in all honesty, I feel just as afraid and powerless as I did standing in front of that lead box.