This happened to me

By Shamus Posted Tuesday May 22, 2007

Filed under: Personal 43 comments

When you’re in your twenties and you go to the doctor because your body stops behaving according to the understood specifications, the usual approach is for the doctor to give you a prescription and a few hints on the value of sobriety and regular sleep.

But once you reach A Certain Age, the same malfunction leads the doctor to conclude that you’re probably nearly dead and your only hope is to undergo a battery of tests so bizarre that they border on practical jokes. This is how I spent my Monday night.

I was sent to the hospital, where they bombarded me with x-rays. Then, as if I was some fraternity pledge, they made me chug a half gallon of nasty liquid. In this case, it was “orange” flavored barium sulfate, which they thoughtfully keep in a refrigerator at one or two degerees Kelvin. I could use many words to describe that drink, none of which are synonymous with “tasty”. Ingesting that much freezing goo pretty much robbed my body of the capacity to generate heat. I made sure to keep moving regularly so that none of the hospital staff would mistake me for a cadaver and have me wheeled off to the morgue.

Once my body temperature climbed high enough to match that of the room, they made me take my pants off for another round of x-rays. After that came an iodine injection, and the technician retreated behind a screen (to laugh at me in secret, I’m sure) while I dealt with the consequences of that. This was followed by another blast of radiation, which seemed sort of tame by this point. After that I guess they were out of ideas for weird stuff they could do to me, since they gave me back my pants and let me go.

The hazing is over now, I’m home, and I’m wearing pants again, but I could think of many ways I’d rather spend an evening. I expect the doctor to call in a few days and tell me to stop being such a sissy.

I don’t really begrudge them zapping me and filling me with strange substances, but I do miss the lost time. A whole evening! With NO INTERNET! I nearly died. Sheesh.


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43 thoughts on “This happened to me

  1. Knastymike says:

    Sweet, let us know what superpower you get.

  2. mom says:

    Call you mother!

  3. Vegedus says:

    You never told us what malfunction that were in your body. From the sound of it, you could be having cancer AND the flu.

  4. Shandrunn says:

    Ah, X-rays. I had a photo taken at the dentist once.
    “Please allow me and the nurse to retreat behind a lead screen before we activate this radiation machine RIGHT NEXT TO YOUR HEAD.”

  5. mom says:

    Well, at least it got you out of the house

  6. ZzzzSleep says:

    Quoth Shandrunn
    “Please allow me and the nurse to retreat behind a lead screen before we activate this radiation machine RIGHT NEXT TO YOUR HEAD.”
    The thing is, they’re being exposed to that every day they go to work, so they’re doing everything possible to minimise exposure.

  7. Melfina the Blue says:

    Aww. Feel better, and be thankful you didn’t have what I like to call the “hellish fizzy drink”

  8. WysiWyg says:

    Oh, don’t complain. By the sound of it you at least got to see the doctor fairly soon.

    If I ever feel ill I have to probably wait half a month just to get an appointment, then I have to wait at least half an hour before the doctor have time for me (for some reason they have the same doctor to take care of the emergencies), then you talk for about five minutes, then you are sent some 25 miles (imperial, for your benefit ;-), to sit and wait for at least an hour (if it’s in the middle of the night, I haven’t actually tried getting X-rayed on regular hours) before undergoing all that you just told us. Oh, and of course, you have to wait at least half an hour between all the different steps, because the poor sod that has to take care of you has to take care of at least 10 others at the same time.

    And still I love our way. Why? Because it’s free.

  9. Marmot says:

    That was… dunno… tragic? I can completely understand how menacing such examinations and treatments feel! But why were you sent to the hospital in the first place? I hope it wasn’t anything serious, despite their “deadly serious” approach!

  10. Deathblade_penguin says:

    Is being addict to the internet an illness that a Doctor can find?

    If some, i’m worried…

  11. Dude – I hope all is well. I hate going to the doctor, too, but I can’t begrudge them aggressively seeking out what might be wrong.

  12. Ryan says:

    Oh, man, I remember having to take barium sulfate when I was young. My mother told me it took me several HOURS to down the stuff. I can still the taste of that liquid chalk. Blegh.

  13. AR says:

    All I’m getting from this story is that you have access to health care. That must be pretty awesome. Congratulations!

  14. Deoxy says:

    Last paragraph really stole the show! LOLing at work, here….

    Oh, and I’m also laughing (but not in a good way) at WysiWyg: “free”? HA! Tell another good joke like that! What you mean is “at no ADDITIONAL cost” – it’s most certainly not free, and the care right sucks in comparison (as you yourself point out).

    And KnastyMike had a better comment than mine, anyway…

  15. Gothmog says:

    Hope ya feel better soon!

  16. Joey the Lemur says:

    Mmm… orange-barium slushie…

  17. -Chipper says:

    I hope the tests show something benign and humerous. :-)

    Shamus said, “I expect the doctor to call in a few days and tell me to stop being such a sissy.”

    I had a doctor once who sprayed stuff up my nose to numb it, and then put a scope thru my nasal passageways to the back of my throat. I wasn’t sufficiently numbed so I started gagging. He actually said, “Oh, don’t be such a baby.” I almost didn’t go back. But he was the best surgeon in the area & in the end I’m glad I did.

  18. Roy says:

    Oh, and I'm also laughing (but not in a good way) at WysiWyg: “free”? HA! Tell another good joke like that! What you mean is “at no ADDITIONAL cost” – it's most certainly not free, and the care right sucks in comparison (as you yourself point out).

    Yes, yes. Every rational person in the world understands that the cost of the care comes from somewhere. And I think that all of us understand that if it isn’t coming directly from the patient, it’s coming from taxes. When people talk about free public education are you quick to point out that they really mean “at no ADDITIONAL cost”? I completely understand that our roads are paid for “at no ADDITIONAL cost” too. That doesn’t stop me from appreciating that they’re free when I go to use them, versus a toll road that requires me to pay when I use it.

    As someone who has gone large periods of time without access to any health care, because I couldn’t afford it, I can assure you, that any wait would have been preferable to the no care I was getting.

    Sorry you had to go through all that Shamus- sounds downright ghastly. Hope you’re back on your feet, again.

  19. bbot says:

    The barium is used to provide greater contrast against whatever they’re trying to image. X-rays are great for looking at bones, since they’re much denser then flesh, but it’s tricky imaging soft structures, like the digestive system. Once it’s filled with barium, though, it stands out nicely. I’m sure you already knew this, though.

  20. Joe says:

    Chipper: reminds me of a sadistic surgeon I had… I went in for some reasonably critical minor surgery… He said “OK, hold on tight, because this is going to hurt. A lot.” After he was done, he packed and dressed the wound, told me to change the dressing that night and come back the next day. When I changed the dressing, I didn’t know when the dressing ended and the packing began, so I ended up taking it all out. The next day, he looked and said “wait, you took out the packing… I figured that would hurt too much for you to do, I was going to do it.” and I could just hear the regret in his voice.

    But other than his sadistic streak, he was a fine doctor…

  21. Stark says:

    What, the good ‘ol Orange-Barium-Nastyness-Infused-Hyper-Cold-Liquid-Hate wasn’t fun for you? I thought everybody loved that stuff… well, compared to the old stuff… which didn’t even have the benefit of being slightly orange flavored. That was truly nasty stuff.

    Really, it could have been worse Shamus. I’ve got 2 words for you “Catheter” and “Camera”. Combine ’em and see what fun you can have!

    And, just to get in on the debate… as someone who has had the good fortune to been in both the Canadian system (‘free’) and the US system (‘pay’)… I gotta say, if you can afford to pay for the insurance (huge IF there, I know) the US system is the way to go. Care is tons better since you have a choice of providers and doctors seem more motivated to do a good job as well. Free markets tend to result in better products after all. Not to mention that when you go for tests like Shamus did they happen now (well, within hours anyhow), instead of sometime in the future (maybe just a day or maybe a week, a month, who knows!).

  22. Shamus says:

    Yeah, I complained about how long it took, but considering we’re talking a doctor visit, an Xray, and a CT scan, it went pretty quick. Saw the Doctor at 5, got the Xray by 5:30, drank the goo at 6, and got the CT scan at 8. (You have to wait 2 hours for the goo to go wherever goo gets to.) So, I don’t think I could have gotten it done faster if I was Bill Friggin’ Gates.

    I’m not really complaining. It was painless and very few of the medical staff made fun of my underpants.

  23. Browncoat says:

    I’ve had a couple bouts of kidney stones (I’ve collected them and plan to have them polished and made into jewelry for my daughter(s)). The last time I received health care “at no additional cost”, I was in the military. They had me drink just a quart of a nasty tasting something or other. After I finished it, they’d come in and take me for my super-special X-Ray. I drank it as quickly as I was able to suppress the gag reflex, they came in and told me they gave me, ahem, the wrong stuff.

    I just downed 32 ounces of the wrong radioactive substance.

    Choices? Well, they can still do the X-Ray, but they’d have to wait an additional 45 minutes for the wrong stuff to glow the right color, or I can drink a quart of the right radioactive stuff. I was irritated (needless to say). I told them I’d drink the new stuff (I didn’t even have a desire to play with the computer at home, I just wanted out!). I drank it and had my magic X-Rays. As they were wheeling me back to the exam room, I asked if we could stop at the restroom. It was a simple request, not an urgent one.

    It was about to become urgent, however. I got out of my chair, carrying my IV bag, stepped into the bathroom, and that’s when the urgency hit. Maybe that’s why the gowns open in the back. For just such an emergency.

    Apparently the radioactive stuff I drank also functions as a laxative. At double the dosage, well, I’ve grossed you out enough.

    Best healthcare related quote I’ve heard recently: “If you think it’s expensive now, wait till you see how expensive it is when it’s free!”


  24. Browncoat says:

    Um. . .could you describe said underpants for us?

  25. DocTwisted says:

    Ugh, I remember having to take the barium smoothie myself once when acid reflux was making my gut churn for a week straight, and I couldn’t hold any solid food down.

    I feel for you, d00d.

  26. Doug Brown says:

    The best part of the barium is when you get to crap stark, chalky white. At least, if you’re as fascinated by your bowel movements as I am.

  27. lplimac says:

    Wimp. Try a barium enema. That’s what real men get when they see a doctor. Then the probe up your a…. well you get the picture. If they’re nice and you’ve been a good boy they may even let you look at the live images! Make sure you can hold it in though. After one of these you don’t want to put on your pants, in fear of soiling them…

  28. Mrs T says:

    It took me three months to get an appointment for a ‘free’ ultrasound to see if I had uterine fibroids. I had no choice in the appointment time, and had to take a half day off work. The ultrasound itself took about 2 minutes.

    Back in the US, my gynecologist had an ultrasound unit in her office and I’d have had the procedure done approximately ten minutes after she decided I needed it.

  29. Stark says:

    Been there, done that Doug! There are other substances they can make you ingest that have even more interesting results (think flourescent colors). I briefly worked for a radiologist in a past career so I’m well familiar with the fun things they inject you with, make you drink (ok, drink is too charitable a word – gag is appropraite) or send in the out door!

    Shamus, the staff was simply glad you had decided to wear some undies at all! That they were spiderman underoos probably didn’t even phase them… ;)

  30. Martin says:

    Haven’t had the barium smoothee yet, but had the
    (dis)pleasure of having a surgical drain removed.

    Doctor: “This is going to sting.”
    Me: (massive inhalation followed by gasp)
    Doctor: “You can breathe any time now.”

  31. Doug Brown says:

    @Stark: Fluorescent colors? You must tell me what they are, and whether they retain their properties when cooked into food. It’s the prank sensation that’s sweeping the nation! The littlest room will never be the same!

  32. Emily says:

    I had to drink that stuff in “vanilla” flavor. Twice, because they forgot to come get me for the test the first time.

    I haven’t been able to stand the taste or smell of vanilla since–and it’s been years! So you have my sympathy.

  33. Deoxy says:


    You must have been in some foreign country or too proud to ask. The poor and indigent still get care in the US – that is, basically, [b]you can’t be denied care[/b] (yes, I know this from experience – not personal, but a good friend). Those who “can afford to pay for the insurance” are subsidizing that, primarily, with the government helping out some, too (though there are reasons to believe that Medicare/Medicaid are actually more harmful to the situation than helpful, due to factors too large and complex to discuss here).

    Also, in larger urban areas, there are doctors that don’t take any insurance AT ALL – and they save so much money on paperwork, office staff, etc, that a doctor’s office visit costs about $20 (cash on the barrel).

    Basically, and not to be too rude about it, the US system is so superior to the Canadian system that it hurts to watch it be inflicted upon our northern neighbors. Sorry, just the way it is.

    Price-controls on drugs? Summary: price-controls are a form of parasitism – they only work when you can get the drugs that someone else (who DOESN’T have price controls) develops (and pays enough for to pay for the R&D for them). So the best part of the Canadian system… is due to the US footing the R&D bill.

    Roads are a different matter (entirely different usage patterns, due to the nature of travel and utterly incomparable maintenance/salary issues). Public education, however, is NOT (the public schools come out badly in every comparison to private schools ever done, even if you exclude schools that cost more than public schools get to spend per pupil, which basically only excludes “prep” schools, since public schools get so much money to squander, I mean “spend”).

  34. Doug Brown says:

    Seems like we’re getting a little off-topic here. Canadian health care system? Meh. What do I have to eat to crap day-glo orange?

  35. Stark says:

    Hmm… sorry Doug, I cannot recall the specfic names – it’s been 15 years since I’ve been involved in imaging. I do recall that they were quite ‘hot’, used very rarely (for one or 2 conditions only as I recall) and thus fairly rare. Very expensive as well. The colors tended toward pinks and reds for the discharge though… the doc actually had a picture of a bright pink turd on his wall. I’m also fairly certain they’ve been replaced by more mundane substances due to the vast improvement seen in imaging equipment over the last 15-20 years.

    Still, bright pink waste when not expected would get your attention. Even better is that, since it’s been ingested, your mucus would likely be fairly radiocative for a few days… so if the timing was right and your local garbage trucks had rad meters (many do now) that tissue you threw away this morning might earn a knock at your door from the local hazmat folks wanting to know why you were disposing of radiological waste in your household garbage! :) Pure comedic gold that!

    And wow, this thread really got hi-jacked… sorry Shamus! I’ll stop now!

  36. Donna says:

    Ack. I’m so sorry. That’s a terrible way to spend an evening. Hopefully your battery of tests will return promising news.

    Be glad they refrigerate the barium until it could freeze your tongue off, though. Otherwise, the taste is so bad it’s beyond human comprehension.

  37. Rev_Blacky says:

    Wait a sec….
    Yours was orange flavoured?
    I remember the barium fun…
    Mine wasn’t flavoured…
    Unless you count frozen chalky barium as a flavour…
    This was for tummy and intestine problems…
    Which means that after plugging me up with chalk white barium poo for a week, they then decided to flush me out, but good, before the colonoscopy and endoscopy…
    I got to keep the pictures of my innards though!
    So many levels of trauma in experiences like that…
    I could go into serious TMI regarding some of the tests, but even I have no desire to relive it…
    Scarred me for life…
    /sobs in the dark, in the corner, in the rain, nekkid, on fire, with nails in my eyes…
    (Oh, they decided eventually that it was IBS)

  38. Margaret says:

    So have you turned on your black lights yet to see if you stil glow?

  39. Old Man Matt says:

    So you took your pants off and got a nice little Iodine injection? Sounds like someone’s been sneaking in a little quality time with Eowyn.

  40. Glen says:

    Having drunk large amounts of barium sulphate at warmer than 2 Kelvin, I would recommend drinking it as cold as humanly possible, because after about a pint of it, your body concludes that you’re drinking something much better kept on the outside. The results are less than pleasant.

  41. Julia says:

    No fun.

    I did that twice — first time with strawberry (and I couldn’t drink strawberry milkshakes for the next 10 years), second time with the orange.

    My younger son was subjected to that around 15 months of age. He was REALLY upset about it. :( But his problem was diagnosed and treated and he was totally fine a few months later.

    Oh, and Knastymike is as much fun in person as he is in comments. :) IMO.

  42. damien walder says:

    In no episode of the Simpsons will you hear Homer say
    “Mmmmm – Barium Sulfate”.

    Shamus – where onr your many sided site are the coffee mugs?

    email to the above at your nearest conveience. pls.

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