After I had a spell earlier this year that my fantastic primary physician team, Dr. Sumner and nurse Robin, suspected was a stroke. A brain scan confirmed I’d had two light ones.
In checking my carotid arteries, he felt unusual lumps in my throat and suspected thyroid problems. He referred me to Dr. Soares-Welch, who ordered biopsies that were sent to the Mayo Clinic and came back with some cells indeed cancerous.
The cancerous cells were surgically removed and two months later, I entered the hospital’s nuclear medicine program, in which I was given iodized radiation requiring three days of virtually total isolation. I never knew such a program existed and suspect about 90 percent of Hall Countians don’t know either.
Several people have urged me to write about it, 1. to educate people that while once considered rare, medical research shows a substantial increase in thyroid cancer; 2. to inform people our hospital has leading edge technology and facilities in this specialized field; and 3. possibly save a life. I thank The Times for allowing me space to tell this story.
When treatment day arrived, after Betty dropped me off to go to her own appointment, they took me to an examining room for a full physical. The ultrasound showed something the doctor wanted to see better so they took me to the room where they had taken the thyroid biopsy that revealed the cancer. It had a much larger ultrasound. Still not satisfied, they did a full body scan, then called my doctor to see if there needed to be any adjustment to my dosage.
Finally, they took me to my isolation room. All floors except the shower stall were carpeted with mats taped down together. All door knobs, handles, the table tray, toilet seat, faucet and telephone were wrapped in plastic. The faucet handles were covered with rubber gloves.
There were two large trash bins, one labeled "Trash" and the other "Linen." Another mat was taped to the floor beside each. I was instructed to put my flexible plastic food trays and other trash on the trash mat and the towels and washcloths on the linen mat. They would put them in the bins. All this had to be replaced when I left. Anything, such as my respirator or anyone I touched, had to be with a rubber glove.
They explained the radiation they were going to put in me would be expelled through urine, bowels and sweat. I needed to drink plenty of water and lemonade and suck lots of lemon drops. I was to take four showers daily. I called Betty to bring me lemon drops. I was eating lunch when she arrived and stayed with me until the medical team (a doctor of nuclear medicine, technician and two nurses) arrived carrying a large sealed box with nuclear symbols. They told Betty to leave and not return until time to get me.
The technician broke the seal and took out a series of canisters and glass tubes until they got to the smallest tube with a big pill in it. They warned me not to touch the pill, just let it slide into my mouth and swallow. It would take two hours for the iodine carrying the radiation to spread so I was to lay still for that long. I took a nap
At mealtimes, they would knock on the door and I’d roll my table over. The nurse would reach in and put in on the table. I’d roll it back to where I would eat, then roll it to the mat and back again. I was eating about 5 p.m. when a technician walked in with an instrument and told me to stand six feet away. He clicked it at me and said my radioactivity level was 15; I could go home when it dropped below 2.
I had two nurses, Tamika and Angie, on the day shift rotating between shift and charge nurse, and only Joyce on the night shift. When they came in to check heart beat, blood pressure, etc., they wore full protective gear and got in and out quickly. They could spend only 30 minutes every 12-hour shift in patient rooms. I slept fairly well in spurts, interrupted about every 90 minutes by nature’s call, ate well, watched news and nearly caught up on CPE credits.
The full week after discharge was the toughest. I had to keep a 5-foot distance from others except for very short times, eat only certain foods using disposable diningware and double wash clothing separately.
It was celebration time when after another full body scan showed my entire body completely cancer free. They said to resume a normal life.
Ted Oglesby is retired associate and opinion editor of The Times. You can reach him at P.O. Box 663, Gainesville, GA 30503. His column appears every other Tuesday and on gainesvilletimes.com.