October 5, 2021

Radiation normally happens like this:

I lay on the table with my left arm up and my head tilted right and the techs line my tattoos up to red and green light markers that shine down from the ceiling. The table I lay on moves up and down and front to back. If I’m off from side to side, then they slowly pull the sheet under me while reminding me not to help. Everything is adjusted in millimeters. Once I’m lined up, I have to take a deep breath in and hold it so they can take a computer snapshot for reference. Then they leave the room. The machine arm above me moves slightly to the right and I can hear and see the screen adjusting for the beam. Soon I can hear the nurse telling me to take a deep breath and hold it, and the machine turns on. There is no light, only sound and it lasts 20-25 seconds. When the sound stops, I know I can breathe again before they tell me I can.

Then the techs come back in because they need to put a towel and “bolus” on me, which is a sheet of rubbery material that is supposed to make up for my lost breast tissue. We have to do another deep breath snapshot and sometimes tape the bolus down to make sure it doesn’t slip. If all looks well, then they leave and the machine rotates further to the right. We do two deep breath holds in this position, each shorter than the initial one. The sound changes on these. The first is higher pitched than the second. When they’re done, the machine moves over me and around way to the left. If the bolus has moved, the techs come back in and we do another adjustment. If the bolus hasn’t moved with my breathing, we do one more round here and we’re done. By this time, my arm aches and my hand is numb because through it all, I can’t move. Once, without thinking, I crossed my feet in between rounds and they had to completely readjust me.

Today, as we finished the second one on the right, the machine didn’t move. I lay still, waiting. And waiting. Finally, a tech comes in and says the sensor is acting up and she needs to move it manually. It moves in spurts. Finally, it’s in position and she leaves. We continue. I take a deep breath and hold but there is no sound. Soon they tell me I can breathe but not move. I wait. Eventually, they come back in and say the machine still isn’t working correctly and they called someone in to look at it. They ask my doctor about adding the last round to tomorrow’s treatment while the machine is being checked.

Ultimately, I’m given the option to wait for the machine to reboot or have one more round tomorrow. At that point, I said it didn’t matter, so we wait the 11 minutes for a reboot. The manager comes in to apologize and explain what’s going on. We make small talk and after another readjustment, we are ready to go. Only we don’t.

After all that, the machine wasn’t fixed, so I have to have an extra round tomorrow. I’m assuming the machine will be fixed overnight. I’m not loving the idea that my health is dependent upon this fallible machinery, but here we are. The curtain has been pulled back. Now I know it’s not magic. But you know what I’m thankful for? The device is so precise that it won’t work if it’s not right. That my techs are not only skilled, but legitimately nice. That we were almost done, so I can make it up tomorrow without issue. Fingers crossed this was the only blip I’ll have going forward.

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