My health insurance carrier approved my full-body PET/CT scan. Thus, I have been looking up what the heck imaging entails and what the results might show. The scan for which I’ve been approved offers stunning detail. The PET scanner and CT scanner are superimposed into one image, showing both the 3-D anatomy and any metabolic or biochemical activity.
If the coccidioides fungi are “hiding” in my bones, joints, or bloodstream, the three-dimensional rendering of my body will light up like a Christmas tree. If my mitochondria are malfunctioning, the radiologist will know immediately, somehow. And if something’s gone awry that we’ve not yet even considered, we will know.
To be perfectly honest, I’m extremely nervous about what they might find.
I know that my body is unwell; I feel it on such a deep level and in every cell of my body, and can see the surface-level damage. What if it’s, like… really bad? Worse than disseminated coccidioidomycosis? Worse that mitochondrial malfunction? Worse than autoimmune disease? Worse than neurodegenerative disease? What if it’s so bad that I’ll never fully return to my old self? Worse yet, what if the scan doesn’t show anything and we’re forced to go back to square one?
I think that I’m nervous because I’m preparing to come face-to-face with the inevitable. After my scan, I’ll collect the disk and immediately rush to my in-laws’ house so that my father-in-law (a retired radiologist) can pragmatically point out all the abnormalities (or lack thereof) as I stand over his shoulder. It is such a vulnerable position, to entrust someone you care about to analyze and potentially deliver either devastating news or a perplexed shrug. Having retired over a decade ago, there’s a chance he won’t even be able to read the imaging.
And yet, regardless of my anxiety surrounding the results, I am in awe of how complex and advanced modern medicine is. Within the next week or so, a doughnut-shaped machine is going to capture 3-D images of my skeletal system and organs; the same machine will capture all metabolic or biochemical activity. This “intelligent machine” will collect my physiological information and then spit out data to support an accurate diagnosis. If that is not incredible, I don’t know what it.
Within a week or two after that, I’ll engage with an exercise machine that will measure my cardiovascular and respiratory response to physical activity, and then spit out the numbers, highlighting any oxygen-processing deficiencies. The struggles I’ve been subjectively explaining with finally be quantified.
All the while, my blood cultures are being analyzed by biologists for bacteraemia or fungemia–active infections within a typically-sterile bloodstream. Within 24 hours, I will have information that no one could gain access to just a century ago.
It’s easy to get caught up in one’s own story. I have this disease, I’m undergoing these tests, I’m adhering to this prescribed treatment, and I’m hopeful for my recovery. This is my experience, and this is how I fit into this huge context, which I’d rather not admit is so much bigger than just me.
Yet, if we take a few steps back, it becomes obvious that my story and yours are one small blip on the radar. Someone invented these incredible medical scans, machines, and test. Someone’s life was surely saved due to the introduction of these medical advancements. And someone’s results likely helped further research studies into their particular condition, potentially leading to quicker diagnoses and better treatment for future patients.
Regardless of my diagnosis and prognosis in the coming weeks, I’m going to try to keep these ideas in mind. Medicine is an incredible gift. Medical practitioners are doing such important work. Medical researchers are literally building a better future. And those of us jumping through the hoops of diagnosis are providing the practitioners and researchers with the data necessary to advance their art: the art of physiological wellness.
Modern medicine has saved me, and my participation just might help save others. I am part of the solution, and so I plan to do my best to set aside the fear and embrace a sense of wonder.