Last Wednesday I had to go drink a barium smoothie. Barium is a silvery metal that gets used for contrast material when doing X-rays of soft tissue, in this case my throat. I’ve been having this intermittent problem where I feel like there’s something stuck in there when actually there isn’t. I already went for a fun morning at the hospital where I had a camera stuck up my nose so they could see down there and even though they said they didn’t see any problems and it was probably just an unusual case of acid reflux, they decided to send me for a throat X-ray as well.
I’m not a really big fan of X-rays generally, but I’ve had the barium thing done before and it is particularly unpleasant, though not painful in any way. You’re not allowed to eat or drink anything for six hours beforehand so they try to schedule them in the morning. I showed up at the hospital at the appointed time but there was quite a long wait before it was my turn, so I sat there shivering in my stylish hospital gown, with all my clothes in what looked like a plastic shopping basket, trying to look nonchalant as the waiting room filled up. But we were all there for the same thing, so there was a lot of feigned dignity going on. One woman asked if I’d had it done before, I said yes and though I didn’t like it, it didn’t really hurt or anything. She had her test and when she came out again said, “Well, I wouldn’t recommend it as a cocktail…”
Eventually I did get called in, and then because I am a female of a certain age, we had to go through the whole rigmarole about whether or not I might be pregnant. I couldn’t remember the date of my last period exactly (it had been about three weeks, but I couldn’t remember the date) so there was a mild fuss. I thought about pointing out that even if a woman could remember the exact date of her last period it was theoretically possible that she could have become pregnant in the meantime (though this was not actually a possibility in my case, if you get my drift), but I decided against it. Finally I just said to the nurse that unless there was some sort of divine intervention taking place without my knowledge, there was absolutely, positively no earthly way that I could be pregnant. Believe me, I would know if there was, and there hasn’t been that sort of possibility in quite some time.
I understand why it’s important to go through this every time I get an X-ray, but still, when they keep rephrasing the question eventually it just sounds like they’re saying, “So just to be clear, there is NO WAY you could possibly be pregnant? Well, aren’t you a sad sack who can’t get a date?” I mean, what do they do if you’re pregnant and you break a limb or something? Surely those women still need to get X-rayed?
Anyway, this post is not about pregnancy. It is about barium. I’m not sure what barium tastes like in its natural state because they put this horrible flavoring in it and blend it into a disgusting gloopy smoothie. It’s like gritty toothpaste mixed with lead. Luckily I only had to take a few sips this time, but they also do this thing where you have to basically take an alka-seltzer and then try to avoid burping. I know, I know, the whole point of alka-seltzer is to make you burp, but apparently it helps them complete the test somehow; the doctors assure me they’re not doing it just for kicks to watch you make weird faces.
I’m told that nothing unusual showed up during the scan, though I’d also like to register how dispiriting it feels to watch your internal organs being photographed. Personally I feel I’ve lost all sense of personality when I see my little skeleton up there on the screen. But apparently all is well with my insides, so I can’t complain.
After the barium smoothie I went out for a real smoothie with friends, something that made my insides feel infinitely better. Hopefully that will be the end of my barium-related experiences for a good long while to come.