B is the word.

By , on May 21, 2010

C Word

Been there, done that, have the strange afterglow.  Here’s how Total Body Irradiation was for me.

I had four days of radiation, two sessions a day.  The device that delivers the “beam” (as they call it) looks like this:

The Beamer

Someone used the phrase “linear accelerator” so I guess that’s what it is.  There’s a door down the hall labeled “cyclotron” that I thought must be related, but apparently not.  This unit can swivel around on the wall to point straight down as well as across (as shown), to be used with the table that’s in the picture.  The preferred mode is for the beamee to be standing, in this rather odd device:

The Beamee

which is designed to let the patient stand as still as possible, without, presumably, feeling, you know, trapped.  There are handles at hip height, and nudger things at the shoulders.  What you can’t see is that there is a plain old fat bicycle seat that I am poised on.  This took a little getting used to, but was OK.  In front of my chest is a panel with two big chunks of metal attached to it that are blocking the beam from getting to my lungs (I guess the lungs are particular prone to bad stuff down the line from radiation; it’s all a balancing act).

Each session, for me, consisted of two “beams”, meaning continuous shots of radiation, lasting about three minutes each, on each of my front and my back, for a total of about 12 minutes.  Two sessions a day times four days makes 96 or so minutes of exposure.  In addition there was lots of setup time and the usual medical futzing around.  You can see in the picture I also have “diodes” taped to me for measuring the actual radiation delivered, for use by “the physicists”.

How much radiation?  I don’t know, but one of the techs said:  “when you get a chest X-ray they use kilovolts.  We use megavolts!”  Got it.  I guess it’s X-rays in both cases.

The effect on me has been much milder than I had feared, so far at least.  They talk about skin problems of course, burning and dryness, but that hasn’t been a problem.  The first evening my parotid glands (producers of saliva) located between the jaw and the ear were swollen and painful.  If they got worse than that on subsequent days, I thought, this would be bad.  But they didn’t.  By the last day there was a little residual pain but not much swelling.  Nausea happens, of course, but has been pretty much under control with the usual meds.  There is also likelihood of hair loss, I hear.  Also infertility, which I’ll have to investigate later.

They encourage patients to bring in music to listen to during the sessions.  Ever doggedly eclectic, I tried Mingus, Los Lobos, Glenn Gould playing the Goldberg Variations, Ghazal (Indo-Persian), Beethoven piano sonatas, Triakel (Swedish folkie), Don Byron.  It’s all good.  I think Mingus might have been best (Mingus Ah Um).  I really thought about bringing in some Zappa, but …

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