Getting a CT scan

I had to get a CT scan of my chest, abdomen and pelvis. A CT scan is an x-ray technique that takes pictures of your body in slices. CT is an acronym for Computed Tomography. It is also called a CAT (Computed Axial Tomography ) scan. The reason it is done is so that doctors can see if there are any anomalies (like tumours etc.) in your internal organs or body cavity.

What happens during the scan?

I was told not to eat or drink anything for the 4 hours prior to my appointment time. As my appointment was for 09:30 this meant no breakfast! I arrived at the x-ray department about 09:20 and was given a jug of liquid to drink. There was about a litre of this liquid which was flavoured with black-currant juice. This drink is an x-ray contrast solution that makes your stomach and small intestine stand out better in the CT scan pictures. I hate black-currant 🙂 Also I was told not to drink this quickly but rather to spend about 5 minutes sipping each cup full. Yuck!! It took about 30 minutes to drink it all. This reminds me of an important point. You have to wait about an hour for this liquid to make it’s way into the small intestine. As everyone knows the magazines in waiting rooms are crap. So take a book with you if you are going to get this done. I took “The Universe Next Door” by Marcus Chown. Excellent stuff. I’ve been told by others who have gone through this that the drink can really open the sluice gates and staying near a toilet is recommended. That hasn’t happened to me yet. I’m writing this about 12 hours after the scan.

At 10:35 I was called for the scan. I had to strip to my boxers and socks and put on one of those weird hospital gowns. The CT scanner itself is like a big doughnut with a bed through the middle. I had to lie on the table of the CT scanner table with my head in a hard pillow that has a cut out section for the head. One of the medical staff tried to put a line into my left arm. She was unable to get a good vein for the needle. She did try. Boy that was sore 🙁 She went for plan B and put it into my right arm instead. The line in is used to inject “dye” into the blood system during the scan. This is to make the blood vessels, and the tissues they flow through, stand out during the scan.

During the scan itself I had to place my arms above my head and tight against my ears. The scanner operators spent about 2 or 3 minutes taking practice pictures to orientate the scanner to my body. During this time the table moved to take me through the scanner. The operators talk to you during the scan, and there is the typical pre-recorded voice with a north American accent that gives instructions like “breathe in and hold your breath”. The doughnut part of the scanner does not move, but you can see the bits that spin inside it through a plastic window. On one of the trips through the scanner I felt a sensation of heat in my chest. It was very pronounced, like having deep heat rub inside your lungs. This was caused by the dye that was pumped in via the line in. A very weird sensation indeed. This lasted about 30 seconds and I moved through the scanner during this time. That was it. The scan was over. The actual scan bit lasts about 5 minutes. During that time about 500 pictures are taken as slices through your body.

All in all an experience of 2 “halves”. A first half with a lot of waiting about drinking that yucky drink then a second half burst of activity as the scan is done. I had read a lot about the CT scan procedure before going so I sort of knew what to expect. I hadn’t read anywhere about the warm sensation caused by the injection of the dye. That was disconcerting but about 5 seconds into the sensation I realised this was what it was and I was not getting cooked by the x-ray machine or having a heart attack 🙂

So if you ever have to go for a CT scan don’t sweat it. It is a painless, reasonably fast procedure. About an hour after the scan, when I was at home, I fell asleep for about 3 hours in my chair. Not sure if this was a result of any of the stuff pumped into me, or the drink or just a reaction to the anxiety associated with getting the scan.

Now I have to wait for the results of the scan and see if it has highlighted anything weird. Fingers crossed it didn’t 🙂