This week, I got a tour of the radiation machine(s) at our hospital's cancer center. The physicist explained the process, from a patient's perspective, of what's involved in receiving radation. Most of his explanation I did not understand. What I did get is that there is amazing technology at our fingertips.
Radiation treatment is very precise. -It happens at the fine point where the cross-hairs of the red laser beam intersect - at the exact height, depth, horizontal, and vertical location. At that exact location a tumor can be erradiated. So, the first step in preparing for radiation is to get measured and for specifications of location of the bad stuff to be precisely noted. This first orientation session involves a kind of giant room with all sorts of GPS-looking devices at work.
Next, because of the precision of the radiation, the patient must be completely immobilized. That means, no moving. Thus, part of the preparation for taking radiation involves devizing a kind of plastic hood that prevents the human from moving this way or that. It's made out of plastic that is fit exactly to a person's body - kind of like how a dentist makes an implant of your teeth. Only this fits over your head and chest. Oh, the final product has little holes in it so that you can breath.
This immobilization hood is prepared for the patient's whose the tumor, with the body, will stay put. The thing is, that sometimes the tumor is on part of the body that moves, like a lung. In that case, they have or they have to use a different radiation machine that can move in synch with the tumor's location. In some cases, they tatoo the person's skin to guide the place where the technician points the radiation device.
In both cases, they titrate the amount and pin-point the location by using these lead-based molds that look like 3-D craters like we might have made in 2nd grade. The crater is thick and solid on the outside, thin and pointy on the inside. That's where the radiation is going. By placing these molded-filter blobs into the machine, the radiation goes only where it needs to - towards the bad stuff.
In all this, I imagine that the patient must feel a bit like an object. Stripped of personality, they lie down in a gown on a cold steel table for measuring and planning the attack. Next, they are immobilized for the laser-beam location to get out with the bad and stay out of the good. Finally, they submit themselves to 5 or 7 or 30 or 35 consecutive days of being zapped for exactly x minutes at a time. Our pastoral ministry is to re-humanize them.
I haven't met a recently-radiated patient in my work here at the hospital. Now I have a deeper appreciation, though, of the oncology patients who do end up being admitted for over-night stays. By the time that happens, they have been through so much objectifying.
Yet, at these cross-hairs, I have this sense that God is present.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. - Romans 8:38-39
How are you in God's cross-hairs today?