This evening's episode included a story about a terminally ill child. I find this topic extremely disturbing, much like most people I suppose. I find it most bothersome because I have seen it first hand. I am a certified Nuclear Medicine Technologist. Basically, I have a license to give people radioactivity to either treat or diagnose disease. Then, I take pictures of how their organs work. Blah blah blah, I know this is not exciting. But, what is exciting is the people that I have met. I don't know them, not really. I only see them for a few minutes, a few hours or a few days. Then, I say goodbye-never really knowing what happens to them after they walk out the door. I suppose part of that is good. It allows me to keep my distance and not let myself get upset. But, after years in my field, I found I was much better at my job when I let my guard down a little and became human.
When I was in school, I remember I had a 3 yr old little girl as my patient; she had leukemia. I was waiting for her to arrive to our department to start her scan. Just then, from around the corner she came, standing up on the base of the IV pole. She was happily giggling, gripping the pole for dear life on her wild ride down the hallway. She was a beautiful girl. She had pale skin, long wavy blond hair and the brightest of blue eyes. Her parents were following closely behind. I asked her to get up on the table with a huge camera looming overhead. She never shuddered. She was fearless- more courageous than I would have been. As her scan ran, I just looked at her thinking that she really needed to have that bravery because her life would inevitably have a very premature ending. Her scan was clear, but I knew that her road would be a tough one. She jumped back on the IV pole and rolled away. I never saw her again; but, I have also never forgotten her. It has been ten years.
Above is a picture of one of our cameras.
Once, I had an elderly male patient who had been treated for prostate cancer. He was being scanned for spread of his disease to his bones. He laid quietly, not moving a muscle while the camera slowly moved over him. As the scan went on, I could see that the cancer had spread and it was at that time consuming his entire skeleton. How unfortunate his case was-he was such a nice man. He got up and as I walked him out to his car he said, "Crystall, I have seen you every six months for the last two years for this test. I am tired and I am afraid this will be our last meeting". I smiled at him and tried to focus through the tears welling up in my eyes. I knew he was right and it was not fair. I hugged him, not saying a word. But I did not give it away, he knew and he was ready.
These are not much unlike every other case I have seen. I have seen so many. I consider it a not-so-desirable part of my profession. But, I love nuclear medicine none-the-less; because, I feel like somehow I am helping. Sometimes the help I give is when my scan definitively diagnoses cancer before it has spread too far to be treated. Other times, my help is just being supportive when my patient is scared to death and gripping my hand during the scan. And, I suppose other times, my help is provided by just giving a smile or a hug. Some technologists don't do that, but it's just fine by me. Because, I can take it when I go home and still think of those people years and years later. For me, their life is worth my thoughts, whether I really knew them or not.