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Know What to Expect From Having a CT Scan

Updated on August 21, 2018

"It's Only A CT Scan!"

This is what my partner said to me this morning when I was due to leave.

In a way, he is right, but in another way, he is completely wrong. It is only a CT scan, but I was scared. This was going to be my first encounter of many radiation/nuclear treatments - things as a child from the '80's I had always been terrified about. Who has not read "When The Wind Blows" by Raymond Briggs and been terrified of radiation? I was furious with him for being so blasé about it.

I have been diagnosed with breast cancer, and the first step of the long process to help me get better is to establish whether I have any other cancers in me; i.e. heart, lungs and brain, so my consultant likes his patients to have a CT scan to ensure that nothing else is visible.

Mine was a last minute appointment. I set off to the X-Ray department at my local hospital, as per the instructions that I had been given over the telephone the day before. Once checked in with the receptionist, I sat down and opened my book and started to read, expecting to be there some time as I was early. I was only halfway down the first page when I was called to go in.

A young Asian guy had called me - he checked my name and date of birth, and as I glanced sideways at the form he was reading, I noted it was marked with a yellow sticker "URGENT - CA" which I knew was an abbreviation of "Cancer". I felt a little sad; but immediately pulled myself together. It is so hard to accept that I have this disease when I feel absolutely fine in myself.

"You'll have to change into one of these" he said, gesturing towards the pile of gowns in a cubbyhole. "There's a changing room here."

I had given the appointment some thought, and had showered that morning without using any products; no deodorant or indeed any face cream or make up, just in case they interfered with anything. I am bit paranoid like that. I wore a plain white t-shirt, no bra, a pair of black plain aerobic pants and trainers and had removed my earrings, rings and necklace. I knew metal was something to be avoided with these machines.

I went to take a horrible looking pale blue gown, but then he looked at me again, and said "Actually, no, what are wearing? Do you have a bra on? You should be ok as you are."

A-ha! I felt a small triumph. At least I would not have to put one of those on!

I went through to a large off white room where a big scanner lay to the right and a small rectangular window and door were on the left. There was a plastic chair next to the door reminisent to the ones I had a secondary school and there were two other members of staff in there; a young white woman, a little on the large side and an older, petite Chinese lady.

"Put your bag on that chair and come over here" the white lady said, so I did.

"Should I take off my shoes?" I asked.

"No, that's fine" she replied.

She asked me whether I had had a CT scan before - which I had not. She said I had come well prepared, and seemed pleased with me, and again, I felt a small bit of useless pride in having thought about the procedure. She instructed me to lie down on the bed, which had a huge circular device at the head.

As I lay there, with my arms on either side, the Asian lady grabbed my right arm and began prodding it around the inside of my elbow. I realised quickly that she was preparing to jab me with a needle.

"We need to add a contrast dye so we are just going to inject you with this," the other lady told me, as the Asian lady was slapping my vein. Eh? Let her explain to me what was going on, I thought to myself. Perhaps she should have have told me that before the lady began grasping me as I was a bit shocked by her grabbing me so soon. Perhaps they were in a hurry?

"You'll feel a slight scratch," said the Asian lady, who was a little hard to understand but I think she had a cold as she was snuffling and had a tissue to hand when I first entered.

I did feel a slight prick, which was not too bad, and then I was hooked up apparently. I can never look at these things but I could feel the tubing laying against my arm. "Slight scratch" seems to be the current medical slang in vogue at the moment for when they inject you...I think I shall be hearing it a lot lately.

"Now put your arms above your head, yes, that's it," said the white lady. "Now, it will take about five minutes, the machine is like a big polo* and it will move up and down you. You'll be instructed to take in a breath and hold it, so do so when instructed and keep very still."

I was concerned about how long I was expected to hold my breath, so I asked whether I would be told when I could breath again.

"Don't worry. The voice will tell you. You will hear it loudly," said the Asian lady.

To quote Dr. Seuss's The Cat In The Hat; "I did not like this. Not one little bit."

I lay there.

They all scurried out of the room and the lights were lowered.

*polo is a round mint with a hole in the middle to my US reader. Like a circular doughnut if you will.


Me And The Machine

The machine started up. It began whirring, faster and faster and faster. It moved up over my head and then back down.

"Take a deep breath in and hold it" instructed a male, almost robot like voice. Who the heck was that? I thought. Was it a machine voice, or a man inside the control room?

I was worried I would not be able to hold it in long enough, but was relieved after a few seconds when he said I could breath again. This happened around three or four times. I really did not like the sound of the machine going faster and faster. At one point it went over my head and I could see in the insides of the device spinning and spinning and spinning.

I concentrated on breathing and tried not to panic. It is really not a nice experience lying there on a couch with this "thing" moving up and down, making a noise like a state of the art silent washing machine about to take off while everyone else hides behind a shield.

And then the worst thing in the world began to happen...I began to feel hotter and hotter inside!

At first I thought I was imagining it - that it was a by product of my panic - but after a few more seconds of it, I was wishing it was a result of my fear. But my breath was getting warmer and warmer, then hotter and hotter.

I'm cooking! I thought. I'm cooking from the inside out and any moment now a bell is going ring like a microwave oven and I'm going to explode!

Just when I thought I could not take it any more, the machine began to slow and then the lights came back on.

"That's it!" said the Asian lady coming round to unhook me. "It's all done".

She told me the dye was colourless so I would not see it in my pee or anything, but to make sure I drank lots of water to flush it out. I gathered my things and was told to go and sit out in the waiting room for five minutes in case I had a reaction to the dye - people can still have a reaction up to five minutes later. Gee, cheers for telling me now! I thought sarcastically, but it was too late now anyhow.

"Thanks Guys" I said genuinely as I left the room. The Asian guy told me I was welcome.

I hated the thought that perhaps they had seen something on the scan that I did not yet know about, but if they did, there were no signs of it from them.

I sat outside, feeling slightly out of it. Which is understandable seeing as I had just been exposed to 70 times more radiation than a typical X-Ray; the equivalent of two years worth of background radiation.

Not for the first time did I think it was ironic that to treat my cancer I was being exposed to a great many things that caused cancer...

There was another lady, sitting in a gown, when I came out, in the waiting area. At first I just smiled at her, but as she passed me to go the changing room we had a little chat about how horrid it was.

"Did it feel like your breath was getting heated up?" I asked her.

"Yes! And I'm glad they told me that I would feel like I might pee myself" she said too.

Huh? That was news to me.

I had been told not to eat for 5 hours before - she had not. But she was being scanned for the throat and liver she said, so maybe it was different rules for different areas of the body. But it was nice to chat to someone who had just been through the same experience, so she sat there for a while after she had changed, as she felt a little woozy she said.

It was only CT scan. I mean, come on, what was I worried about?

Back Home To Normality

I drove home with no problems - I had been gone for less than an hour in total. I gobbled some chocolate buttons as soon as I got in - I had eaten zero breakfast as per their instructions; perhaps that was why I still felt somewhat odd and not because I had been blasted with radiation? I tentatively thought - and then ate a bacon sandwich. It tasted fishy. For the rest of the morning, I had a metallic taste in my mouth and I felt a little hot, like I had been out in the sun, but I looked okay apparently.

I then felt the urge to eat some red and yellow peppers in the fridge and stuffed them with lots of garlic, cayenne chilli powder, rice, breadcrumbs and basil, almost as if the eating of these ingredients would help my body begin to combat the blasting I had just had. I then had a little sleep and now feel my usual self; the spaced out feeling has gone.

Overall - I really did not like my experience with the CT scanner. But I believe that my journey with cancer treatment is only going to get worse, so perhaps I shall look back on this encounter fondly at a later date...

On A Personal Note...

Ha ha! This whole thing is "personal" not just this section! I just wanted to comment that I am sorry if these hubs are too personal and boring in places, but to me they are a record of my encounters.

I am not really writing these in the hope to gain a following - this whole cancer thing is not the reason that I joined Hubpages. I joined Hubpages and then discovered I had cancer. Hopefully, once I have recovered, I can go back to writing delightful articles about book reviews and home crafts with the kids and indeed I look forward to the time when I can do this. For those of you who are doing just this - I envy you so much and hope you are truly enjoying and relishing your time.

I never realised it could all be taken away from you so soon and so suddenly.

Facts About CT Scanning

  • CT scan (formerly known as CAT scan) stands for Computerised (Axial) Tomography scan
  • The scan uses X-Ray and a computer to create a detailed view of the inside of your body
  • Images produced by a CT scan are called Tomograms
  • Tomograms show views of structures inside the body, such as internal organs, blood vessels, bones and tumors
  • Many CT scans require an injection of contrast material to help tell the difference between blood vessels and other structures
  • The amount of radiation you are exposed to during a CT scan is very small (this type of exposure would increase your risk of getting cancer by 1 in 1,000)
  • In rare cases, the contrast medium used before CT scans can cause an allergic reaction

Source: Information taken from: CT Scan - NHS Choices -

© 2011 Earthy Mother


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