Thursday, July 9, 2009
How does it feel to get measured for a radiation mask?
After getting an intravenous infusion of radioactive glucose, I disrobed and lay on a metal table with a scan machine at my head. One technician draped me with four warmed blankets. Another technician boiled a water solution and dipped a thirty-inch square of plastic mesh into the solution to soften.
“Are you claustrophobic?” one technician asked.
“I am afraid of radiation. I have hidden from doctors and treatment for the past nine months,” I answered.
She looked at my chart. “You were diagnosed in October and this is June.”
“I told you. I am afraid.”
She was concerned that I had not taken tranquilizers.
I continued, “My nose is running. I won't be able to breathe through my nose and will suffocate in the mask.” She told me I could part my lips just enough to let air into my mouth. I felt a wave of panic subside.
The technician took the plastic mesh out of the hot solution with tongs, held it to allow it to drip and then gently draped it over the top half of my head, my face, ears, and entire throat. The intense shock of the heat on my face was like that of my hot tub when I first step in and submerge up to my neck. Just as I wonder if I am going to scald, I get used to the heat. The plastic cooled down quickly. Two technicians massaged the plastic to conform to every curve it enveloped and then stood quietly by my side as it hardened. After ten minutes, they removed the mask and allowed me to rest while they took it away for processing.
When the technician returned, she held the mask in front of my face and introduced me to myself. It was a perfect mold, one that captured the pointiness of my nose and the “O” of my slightly parted lips. My chin was lifted up high to expose the complete length of my neck, the primary target. The plastic mesh was framed in a flange of metal with holes. It was time to put it on. I lay back onto the table and rested my neck on a platform so that when my head fell back to touch the table, the platform dug into my neck, immediately aggravating me and putting me on an inner defensive. They strapped down my shoulders so they could not move. Next they put a sloped knee rest under my knees to relieve the pressure on my back and then banded my feet together. Only my hands were mobile.
When the technician encased the edge of the mask in metal, she needed to fold its edge under, which made the mask smaller. She fitted the mask onto my head and neck and fastened it to the table with four bolts. No movement whatsoever was possible, not the flutter of an eyelash. I was imprisoned. The first wave of panic churned my stomach and sent chills down my legs. As it rose, my heart raced. I heard it thumping in my ears, but the sound didn’t release through the mask, rather echoed through my head louder and louder. My breathing began to speed up, and I couldn’t get enough air. It was like an unsatisfying yawn that doesn’t reach deeply enough to release the tension and demands second and third yawns. However I was not able to yawn. I was indeed going to suffocate.