Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Amazing X-Ray Ride

It's health check time here at NAIST and everybody from the first year graduate students onwards are getting poked, probed and perforated. Height, weight, waist ("Do you Metabo?" You bet I do.), blood pressure, eyesight, hearing, EKG, blood sample, urine sample, chest X-ray and stomach X-ray. A health company has set up shop here at the university assembly hall for a few days, with buses parked outside containing the X-ray equipment. I have to say that people take health check-ups a lot more seriously here than I'm used to from Sweden. I've had more check-ups here the past five years than I had my entire previous life.

X-Ray Bus
X-ray Bus

New to me this time was the stomach X-ray. The throat, stomach and intestines don't show up well on X-ray, so you drink something that does. The "something" is barium sulfate. Barium is a heavy metal, so it shows up great on X-rays. Heavy metals are normally a bad idea to ingest, but barium sulfate is not taken up by the body so there's no problem; it'll go right through you. To make sure your stomach is easy to see you're supposed to not eat or drink anything the night before or the morning of the examination - no breakfast, no water and not even coffee; if you think I'm normally cranky...

Anyway, the stomach is empty and shrunken (and complaining bitterly I might add), so to make it unfold you swallow a powder - baking soda, pretty much - that, together with a shot of citric acid produces carbon dioxide, the fizz in fizzy drinks. The gas blows up your stomach and makes it easy to see. Yes, you will want to burp a lot, and no, you're not allowed to; that would deflate your stomach. The barium itself is a cup of sweetened and flavoured muddy white sludge, rather like chalk dissolved in Calpis.

You lie down on a rotating table with handles for you to hold on to, then they tip the table around every which way and ask you to rotate on the table ("Now please lay on your left. Your left. Your other left.") so that the barium sludge spreads and covers your entire stomach lining. Occasionally they'll ask you to hold still and hold your breath to take an image. It's over in about five minutes, at which point the novelty has well and truly worn off and your stomach - hungry, gas-filled and dizzy from the constant rotation - is most definitely getting unhappy about the state of things. Afterwards you're asked to take a mild laxative and drink plenty of water to avoid constipation from the barium sulfite.
So, you drink too much sweet, heavily carbonated slurry, then go on a machine that flings you around until you feel disoriented and faintly sick. Once you've left you crave some real food and stomach medicine. If they'd add some greasy popcorn and loud music it'd be hard to tell apart from an amusement park ride.

1 comment:

  1. I had a ride on the x-ray bus back when I was teaching at a Japanese high school. Unfortunately my Japanese wasn't good enough to understand that I wasn't meant to have had breakfast.
    Spent the rest of the day feeling terrible. It wasn't just that my stomach hurt but it was clear my Japanese ability had let me down again!


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