Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Strange Brew

My Dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer last week so today he went for a series of scans to see if it has spread. Of course, being Dad, nothing is ever straight forward, as he couldn't have an MRI due to his pace maker (Do you know, I'm almost convinced he enjoys being an awkward so and so :-) )

His first scan was at 8am this morning, but his second wasn't until 2.15. This one required him to be injected three hours before, so his bones would show up nicely.

"So what did you do then, hang around the coffee bar?" I asked.

"Yes," he replied. "They said I could go into Oxford to stroll around if I wanted, but I had to stay away from pregnant women and children, so I thought it was easier to stay there."

Pregnant women and children? Turns out it wasn't a dye he was being injected with (silly me), and he had to stay way from vulnerable groups as he would be fairly radioactive for some hours before and after the scan...


Apparently, he also had to keep his fluids up during the wait to ensure the marker had circulated sufficiently into his marrow, so this makes the patients pee quite a bit. Everynight, the nurses have to sweep through the patient toilets with a Geiger counter to sure it's safe enough for the cleaners to enter them. Sometimes it's not. Perhaps that's the explosive result of having a vindaloo the night before one of these scans ... radioactive poo!

It reminded me of something that happened to me about 12 years ago, when I was still working at Sellafield (before I had my Damascene conversion to teaching). I was on a placement to the R&D labs and whilst there, I cut my finger on a cable tie inside a glovebox when I was taking samples for analysis. The lab did handle plutonium (although the glovebox I was working in at the time wasn't a plute glovebox) so I needed to report this cut and get monitored. This took the form of a full body sweep by Health Physics and then urine analysis over a period of time.

I assumed this would be once a shift for a period of time, e.g. 2 weeks, to ensure no plute had entered my system (damn near impossible, but neverthless...) I cursed the awkwardness of having to drop a sample bottle off every day.

Oh silly me.

I was presented with large plastic bottle like the ones we diluted batch samples in in the lab (now can't remember if it was 1 or 2 litres, but it was huge!). The protocol was to put my labelled bottle on the shelf in the sample toilets in the change room, and every shift, pee into it whenever I needed to go. It wasn't to go back to Health Physics for analysis until it was full...

It took me over a week to fill it. You can't imagine how nice those loos smelt, with over 50 different people's bottles on the shelves, gradually being filled...

It only occured to me some time later that, should I have been internally contaminated with plutonium, my (very radioactive) pee would have had a phenominally long half-life...

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