It’s 9 AM when the young woman in scrubs greets me in the waiting room. Erica is armed with an instant read thermometer. She points it at my forehead and, satisfied with the result, invites me to follow her. We pause at a station equipped with a bank of monitors, where her partner, Caitlin, confirms my date of birth. We then move on to the inner sanctum, home to the robot I’ve come to visit.
CLINAC looks like a cross between a giant Transformer toy and an outsized Kitchen Aid appliance. It squats silently in the middle of the room like a wise Buddha. Erica and Caitlin help me onto the glass and metal table. My legs rest on a plastic mold that conforms to them, my head on a concave headrest. I’m given a large rubber ring to hold with both hands. The purpose of these objects is to help me remain motionless while the robot does its stuff. But it’s hard to keep still.
The women shift me slightly; pulling the sheet I’m lying on one way or another, poking and prodding, until I’m where they think I should be. I’m not sure where the freckle size tattoos on my hips and belly come in. Maybe the red eyes behind the amber disc mounted to the ceiling can sense them?
I close my eyes and listen for the sounds. First, there are chirps, as the robot takes X-rays. In between, I hear footsteps and feel small jerks, as small adjustments are made to the table’s position. When everything is just so, I hear whirrs, as the robot’s huge mechanical arms move in an arc above me. These are followed by a series of whines, as CLINAC zaps its target from different angles … like a Star Destroyer, equipped with heavy weapons, circling its prey. And then it’s over … one more sortie closer to the mission accomplished number of thirty-eight.
It’s all about precision … bombard the enemy positions with minimal collateral damage. The robot has “Intel” on the tumor’s likely whereabouts based on reconnaissance imaging. It learns the unique terrain and uses sophisticated software to plan its attacks.
This is the latest battle in a campaign that began three years ago, with a cancer diagnosis, followed by surgery, followed by eighteen months of remission, before blood work revealed my invisible enemy was preparing another assault. It’s an ongoing struggle. But I have much to be grateful for.
I have a support system. My brother, daughter and grandkids live nearby. The pandemic robbed us of close physical contact but we make due. My friends are scattered across the globe but we’re in touch electronically. I’m a Rotarian.
I’m on familiar ground. I’m a Medical Family Therapist and spent years working with patients dealing with serious illnesses. I know the language. And, when the vocabulary gets too technical, I have a translator. My wife’s an M.D. … and a fierce bodyguard and inspiration.
Most of all, this rollercoaster ride – giddy one minute, terrified or depressed the next – is making me more aware … of who I am, what I’m made of and the priceless value of time. And time is what it’s all about – not just fighting for more future but squeezing more life out of the present and even learning to savor the past. I spent years trying to encourage patients facing life altering medical issues with such ideas. Turns out there are truths in those clichés, valuable lessons to be learned … from experiences, fellow travelers … and, yes, even a machine.
Credit: Google News