Unfortunately for the staff, I ask LOTS of questions. 🙂 Here’s what I found out:
I would be receiving an infusion of an experimental radioactive compound – also referred to as a radioactive isotope or “radiotracer” that carries a radioactive tag. The radioactive drug would attach itself to a specific protein in my brain; the PET scanner is used to detect where the radioactivity goes – showing exactly where these receptors are located in my brain.
The compound is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for marketing, but is allowed to be used for research in humans. The amount of radiation I would be exposed to would be 0.72 rem; well below the annual max limit of 5 rem set by the US government.
I would be infused with about fourteen months’ worth of natural radiation over a period of about six minutes by a PET technician – a little disconcerting, but again – well under the annual maximum guidelines. It quickly degrades, so the radiotracer would be almost completely gone from my body within four hours. I have to admit that it was still weirded me out a little.
Unfortunately Brenda burst my nerd bubble by letting me know that no – I wouldn’t glow in the dark. Bummer.
I would be asked to lie still on a table, flat on my back. The table would have a layer of TempurPedic material for comfort. My head would be secured and I would be positioned in the scanner and undergo a “transmission scan” to calibrate the scanner.
The chemist mixes the radiotracer – which is made specifically for each individual subject – and sends it up via a dumb-waiter. This compound is strictly regulated by stringent handling procedures for the safety of both the staff and the subject. As it degrades quickly – time is of the essence.
An initial announcement is made over the intercom informing the technician of its location and status. Immediately prior to infusion, it undergoes a quality control check – if passed, the chemist would announce over the intercom that all was a go, and the infusion would begin and the PET scan commenced, which would last for up to two hours.
During this time it would be very important that I lie completely still from the shoulders up – however I would be allowed to stretch my legs if need be. If I had an itch, I was to inform her – Brenda claimed to be an expert itch finder, and promised to remedy any itchy situation for me.
Throughout her talk with me about the procedures that were to be performed she stressed one very important thing: I could say stop at any point for any reason with absolutely no negative repercussions. She gave me some examples of other subjects who tapped out at some point in the process, telling me that if for any reason I needed to stop that I shouldn’t feel bad our guilty about it – that it wasn’t unexpected or even that uncommon.
Once she was finished explaining all this to me, I had about two hours to absorb it. It was intimidating – radiation in my brain. Being strapped in for two hours. The arterial line. As nice as it was to know that I had the option of stopping, there was no way in hell I was going to.
If I could make it from New York to New Haven in the back of a cab without upchucking, I could handle a couple of hours strapped to a TempurPedic wrapped in warm blankets. It was a go for me.