The PET-CT Scan (AKA When I Offered to Bite My Nurse)

Today I faced a major fear of mine (having a cannula inserted), offered to bite a nurse, and experienced some kickass cool technology thanks to the NHS.

For those not interested in the nitty gritty, the tl;dr of the day is; attended a PET-CT scan appointment in order to take a closer look at the ‘growths’ identified on my MRI scan. I had a cannula inserted (almost painless, but felt so unsettlingly gross whenever I tried to bend my arm), was injected with radioactive glucose and some dye (hence offering to bite the nurse to see if I could give her super powers a la Spider Man – she was not amused) and used a space-age machine that made me think I’d wet myself and/or shot up with some fine old whiskey. 7/10 day, would recommend.

If you are interested or are facing something similar, here’s some explanations and a walkthrough of how the process went, along with some cool/gnarly photos.

What is it? PET Scan

Positron emission tomography (PET) scans are used to produce detailed 3-dimensional images of the inside of the body. The images can clearly show the part of the body being investigated, including any abnormal areas, and can highlight how well certain functions of the body are working (source).

To have this done, you’re injected with radioactive sugar. Yep. Seriously. Thankfully there’s no risks associated with this, though you are warned to avoid “radioactive splashing” when you go to the loo afterwards…

In my case I was having the works – a full body scan to investigate if the worrying ‘malignancies’ (the ‘oh shit that shouldn’t be there‘ bits) identified on my initial MRI scan were widespread through my body or not.

Spoiler; they are.

What is it? CT Scan

PET scans are often combined with CT scans to produce even more detailed images. This is known as a PET-CT scan. A computerised tomography (CT) scan uses X-rays and a computer to create detailed images of the inside of the body (source).

This involves another injection, where they add some dye to your system, and results in one of the weirdest feelings ever; the sensation of wetting yourself in the machine and then this gorgeous warmth snaking its way through your veins like an intravenous shot of expensive whiskey. Lush.


The PET-CT Machine at the Royal United Hospital in Bath

Getting a PET-CT Scan: The Process

The PET-CT scan was booked for me via my GP and the local hospital after my initial MRI scan led them to believe I might have a form of cancer (at that point they were thinking Leukaemia, though it would turn out to be Hodgkin’s Lymphoma). Here’s a quick run-through of the details.

Preparing For My Scan

I received a handful of paperwork for this scan, including a background form to fill in and some strict instructions. I wasn’t allowed to eat/drink/chew anything (except water) for 6 hours prior to my appointment, and was told I should avoid caffeine for 12 hours prior to the scan (including caffeine added to painkillers such as paracetamol! Who knew?!).

For the appointment itself, which ended up taking about 2 and a half hours, I wore some baggy, metal free clothes (PJ bottoms included!). I brought along a water bottle, some entertainment (phone, book, and laptop) and a snuggly jumper to keep warm as there’s a lot of sitting still during the process. Interestingly, they’re very concerned with making sure you stay warm, because apparently shivering can mean that the dye they inject doesn’t reach the necessary areas of the body.

During The Scan

The PET-CT Scan appointment can be quite time consuming, as you have to sit around waiting for the dye to get to the right parts of your body. Yawn.

After saying ciao to my parents and partner, I was ushered through to a quiet little ward and given my own cubicle. Once we’d gone over the forms a final time, two lovely nurses appeared and got me ready to face one of my biggest fears; having a cannula inserted.

Look, I HATE needles, okay? Ever since I was tiny I’ve had a phobia of them – but a cancer diagnosis guaranteed I was going to have to face it pretty damn quickly (with the aide of some Diazepam prescribed by my wonderfully supportive GP!).

Of course, the whole cannula experience was way less traumatic than I expected. Putting it in didn’t hurt at all, and the only thing I really disliked was how aware of it I was when I bent my arm. If I just left my arm straight then I could completely forget it existed.

Then came the wait. I had to sit around for about an hour whilst the glucose worked its way through my body. Finally I was ready and it was time.

After laying down on the metallic bed the nurses used my cannula to inject the final CT dye, and then the machine began its magic. I was passed back and forth through an open-ended tube for about 30 minutes. All was pretty boring until the last ten minutes, when they activated the CT part of the scan.

I thought I’d wet myself.

This warmth spread out from my nether regions but, thanks to the way I was strapped into the machine, I couldn’t even reach down to check whether I’d somehow inadvertently abandoned all sense of dignity entirely and was now lying in my own tepid piss pool. Horror and confusion abounded.

Suddenly, the warmth was moving through my veins. I’ve never experienced anything like it, but I can tell you that it felt bloody lovely. Like a hug from the inside, or that rush of heat experienced after a good shot of whiskey. I could track it from my groin right the way up to my scalp, and it was blissful.

It was over in a moment but it’s definitely an experience that will stay with me. I’d quite happily volunteer to undergo it all again just to feel it once more!

After My Scan

After the scan, I was free to leave as soon as I’d had a cuppa and had my cannula removed. The only caveat was that I should avoid crowded places, pregnant women, and flushing the loo with the lid up due to the fact I’d remain radioactive for about 5 hours after the procedure, and that I should drink lots of water to help flush the stuff from my system.

In all honesty, it was a really interesting experience. The worst bit is definitely the waiting for results once it’s all done.

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