On getting a CT scan

I had my first CT scan today. I’ve lived a rather blessed life when it comes to my health: I’ve never needed diagnostics like a CT or MRI, I’ve never broken a bone. I’ve had one outpatient surgery during my PhD to get my tonsils out, but that’s it.

My GP ordered a CT scan to check my kidneys. I’ve had an intermittent acute pain in my lower back on the left hand side, and she wonders if perhaps I’ve got some kidney stones (I see you Substantia with your gall stones!). I did blood work, and then headed to the radiologist today for a CT scan.

My knowledge of CT scans was minimal. I knew it was a series of X-rays that would provide a comprehensive picture of the area in question. I knew it is often called a CAT scan on TV shows. In my mind I thought it would be much like a normal X-ray, just with different positioning and more machines. Of course, most of my knowledge about medical things comes from decades of watching China Beach, E.R., Scrubs, and Grey’s Anatomy. Turns out, I had no idea what a CT would be like.

They had instructed me to drink loads of water beforehand. You’re allowed to use the restroom at any time during the day, but they want you to be loaded up on water. I arrived at the office with my own robe in tow. I assumed that I would need to be in a gown, and I assumed that they would not have one that would fit my fat body.

My robe

After a basic health questionnaire, Cindy brought me back to the room where the CT would take place. As she directed me to the change room, I saw a large machine in an adjoining room and asked if it was for MRIs. Cindy smiled and told me that no, that it was in fact the CT machine; she said they called it the donut.

The donut

Whoa. Nothing at all like what I expected, and honestly, my first thought was the episode of Scrubs where they have a super fat patient that cannot fit into the imaging machine (no idea if that was a CT or MRI machine). Not a helpful thought, of course, as I tried to size up the size of donut hole to see if I was going to fit or not. It turns out that a CT uses rotating X-ray machines inside the donut to take the imaging, and can be used to image any part of the body, from the head to the toes.

An MRI machine, which is more of a tunnel that could fit your whole body

In the changing room, they clarified some questions on the questionnaire, and invited me to remain in the dress I arrived in for the CT (eShakti cotton knit empire maxi dress); I only had to remove my bra (due to the underwire). When I was ready, they led me into the CT room, and I lied down on the strip of bed provided. The tech asked me to raise my hands above my head and asked if I would be comfortable to keep them there during the procedure. I’m not sure if the arm placement was about fitting into the machine, or concern that arms could get “caught” at the edge of the machine and they ask everyone to do this? It was fine and I settled into position.

The not-designed-for-a-fat-body “bed”

The tech left the room, and the bed was raised to then slide into the donut. A mechanical voice instructed me to take a deep breath in and hold it, then several seconds later, as the bed slid out of the donut, the same voice told me I could breathe. This happened three times, and then it was over. A doctor looked at my scans and was happy with the quality, so there was no need for them to inject me or ask me to drink any contrast (a material that would appear white in the X-rays and provide additional definition of the area if needed). The entire thing took about 10 minutes from the time they invited me back to the room to the time I left.

I fit into the machine just fine, and it would fit someone much larger than me. There were no loud noises, either, which had been a concern once I realized I was going into the donut. There was a clicking, but it was not too bad and it did not raise any anxiety for me. Because they were only scanning my abdomen, it might have been possible for me to have on headphones to distract me or block out the noise of the machine, if needed. If you think that might help you, better to have them with you and ask, right?

I am grateful to the radiology team, Sam and Cindy, for being so lovely during my time with them. And not laughing when I asked to take pictures of the donut afterwards. I’m glad to have had a positive experience with my first CT, and perhaps by sharing my experience (and unfounded fears) I will help reduce the fear and anxiety of other fat people who may need a similar test. Have you ever had a CT? How did it go? Let’s chat on Twitter or Facebook!