Thursday, November 30, 2023

I Am Radioactive (And I Can Prove It)


Yesterday I spent much of my time waiting around and doing nothing, in a bleak room labeled “Nuclear Medicine Patient Lounge” or some such. As my 75th year is almost upon me, and because of an abundance of crappy hearts among most of my siblings, my docs decided it would be a good time to really get to know my heart.

A blip on a routine annual EKG at my primary care doctor’s office a month ago piqued the interest of some algorithm, earning me a referral to a cardiac doc. One of the battery of tests I was then subjected to was yesterday’s Nuclear Cardiac Stress Test, which involves a lot of steps, including the injection of some radioactive fluid into the blood stream. The little nukes apparently know their job is to migrate to the left ventricle of the heart, and once there, some huge machine into which you’re stuffed takes pictures of your heart for the docs to interpret.

Prior to the test, I was warned that I should avoid getting too close to children under the age of 12 for a period of three days after the test. There’d still be some radioactivity coursing through my veins, enough to warrant keeping a safe distance from the grandkids.

However, I had no idea how serious this nuclear medicine stuff is until my four-and-a-half-hour odyssey was nearly complete. There were four of us old guys in the morning session, and we took turns getting injected with the isotopes, spending our time in the giant machine that takes the pictures, drinking lots of fluids, and sitting in the dreary patient lounge in between.

It was pretty much 45 minutes of boredom followed by 15 minutes of intense medical stuff, hour after hour. But then, just before the final hour, the genial guy who was our Nuclear Medicine guide came into the lounge with a serious look. He handed each of us a sheet to take with us and said it was imperative that we take the sheet with us any time we left our home in the next three days.

He told us if we should happen to be pulled over by a cop, we’d trip their radiation monitor and would need to show the card explaining that we’re not terrorists carrying nuclear material, just “nuclear medicine patients.” He further explained that Homeland Security has radiation monitors at undisclosed locations around every city of any size, and that if we happened to pass near one, we’d trip the monitor and would likely be tracked down and questioned within an hour. All we’d have to do is show the card to explain why we tripped the monitor.

As it turns out, one of our fearsome foursome was a man who’d just retired from one of those three-letter acronym outfits that’s part of the U.S. Government. I won’t name it, because HIPPA and all that. We’d all introduced ourselves at the beginning, and knowing who this gentleman had worked for meant we all looked at him after our genial guide handed out the cards and gave his little spiel.

He told us more and more law enforcement agencies are being equipped with radiation monitors, and that Homeland Security has radiation monitors in secret locations all over the place, just as our guide had mentioned. After he confirmed and amplified what our guide had said, he emphasized how important it was to keep the card on our person and be ready to show it to a law enforcement officer immediately upon request.

“Unless, of course, you want to spend about two or three intense hours being ruthlessly interrogated by some people who are deadly serious about their profession,” he added. The other three of us sat in stunned silence for a moment afterward.

Message received.

We live in interesting times.


  1. Well, that was certainly interesting and enlightening!

  2. Wow! Hope you got a clean bill of heart health after all of that!

  3. Hope you are OK...but as long as you are radioactive you're the life of the party...stay safe and thanks for the great article