Friday, 29 May 2020


I travelled the thirty miles from home to Belfast today. It was a journey I hadn’t done for ages. I was going to the Cancer Centre for my CT scan. My appointment was at 9 am. Due to heavy traffic and congestion, I would normally have left home at 7.30 am to get there in time. Today, I left home around 8 am and got to the hospital in half the usual time. And the multi-storey car park was half empty, rather than full to the brim. More signs of how much normal life has changed in the past ten weeks.

At the entrance to the Cancer Centre were two nurses kitted out with PPE. One took my temperature with an ear thermometer, whilst the other asked me a series of questions about symptoms and filled out a questionnaire. With her mask on, the questions were hard for me to make out, so she had to repeat several of them. When the questions were finished, I was given the document, which detailed my temperature and my responses, and I was allowed in to the Cancer Centre. I went to Radiology reception, handed over my document and was given my CT scan form to take to the CT scan reception.

After that, the procedure was much the same as usual. I sat and drank a litre of contrast, one cup every ten minutes. And when I was finished I was called in to the scanning area. I changed into a gown, removed all metal objects and was taken into the scanning room. A CT scanner looks like a large ring doughnut with a narrow bed attached to it. I lay on the bed, which moved me inside the machine. The scanner whirred and growled. A disembodied voice told me to ‘Hold Your Breath’, the bed moved, the machine howled and the voice told me ‘Breathe’. This sequence took place a couple of times and then the scan was finished. I was inside the machine for perhaps five minutes. But in this time I got the same radiation as in 800 X-rays.

I changed and walked out of the Cancer Centre to see a new sign above the entrance to the main hospital building. The City Hospital is now called the Nightingale Hospital and at the entrance there were now two security guards. I went back to my car and munched on some oat biscuits and a banana. You are not allowed to eat in the four hours before a scan. Normally I would have gone to the hospital cafe and had a good breakfast, but of course the cafe was closed, as was the shop. I started my car and began the journey home.

But this was not the end. The scan itself has nothing to trouble you. The result is what matters. You don’t get that until you meet your consultant for a review. I have no appointment as yet. The letter giving me the appointment would normally come two weeks beforehand. So I knew I had at least two weeks of high anxiety before I could find out the result of my scan. Indeed, it could be longer. In these abnormal times, who could predict how long it would actually be before I got to see my consultant.  I swallowed hard and gripped the wheel. As with so many times on this cancer journey, I would have to take it just one day at a time.

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