Getting Diagnosed with the Help of a DaTscan
Last updated: May 2023
My wife, Tracey, drops me off at the imaging center, just a mile or so from our home. It’s 10:00 AM on a Wednesday morning. Dr. Hill, who would become my movement disorder specialist, had ordered an imaging test called a DaTscan, something he rarely did, because, as he put it, "you’re young and your symptoms are so subtle, and we need to be sure it’s Parkinson’s so we can treat it." I was 48.
Tracey wants to come in with me, but given that we won’t get the results immediately, I tell her I’ll just go in by myself and that I’ll text her when I’m finished. We plan for her to pick me up a couple of hours later and drive me home before our 2 daughters get out of school.
I check-in and take a seat in a small waiting room with textured walls the color of beach sand. Sitting alone, I hear soft music playing in the background. Coffee, cookies, and other snacks are available on a small counter, but I have no appetite for them.
Prepping for the DaTscan
After a few minutes, a young and artsy-looking woman appears and invites me to follow her into the bowels of the imaging center, to the prep room. She has short, spiky blonde hair with light pink streaks.
We sit down and she asks me a series of questions as she checks boxes and writes short notes on a printed form. At one point I interrupt her: "How often do you do a DaTscan?" I ask. "Rarely ... and we’re one of the few places in town that has the machine ... it’s expensive. You must have good insurance," she says.
She gives me a Xanax tablet to relax me and prepares an injection of a radioactive isotope, iodine 123. It will make my head glow for the camera when she sticks me into a machine that wraps around my head like it’s the contents of a burrito.
Watching her work, I try to absorb the multicolored peace sign tattooed on the inside of her pale wrist. I wonder why she chose it and whether it helps her feel calm. The drug kicks-in and I begin to feel more relaxed. I show her the slight tremor in my index finger, and her forehead wrinkles and her lips puff out. After a moment of silence, she says, "They ordered this scan for that?"
My head begins to hurt
I sit there for a few more minutes before she escorts me even farther back in the building to the imaging room. There, she hands me off to another tech, who’s all business. He’s wearing blue surgical scrubs, has curly, graying hair, a stocky build. He looks about my age and he doesn’t have much to say.
When he walks me over to the hard gray table, I lie down on it and try without success to feel comfortable. He positions my head, straps it down tightly, and returns to the other side of the room, taking his seat in mission control.
My head begins to hurt. My scalp burns. "Try not to move," he says.
A wandering mind
The room is cold and almost dark. Only a small desk lamp that hangs over his control board permits me to catch periodic glimpses of him in my peripheral vision. The scan starts, and for about 20 minutes he presses buttons that operate the camera tube. I hear its geared movements whine against the white noise of a loud, chilling fan.
Finally, the camera stops moving. He flips the switch for a faint light, which allows me to see him approaching the table. When he unstraps me, the burning sensation on my scalp subsides, but my head still hurts. He helps me stand and walks me back to the same room I was in earlier.
Still drowsy, I shuffle over to a hospital bed and lay quietly on my back. This room is cold, too, even after the artsy woman brings me a thick blanket and some juice. As I cover up and fight-off sleep, my mind wanders: from family, to Michael J. Fox, to disabled people I’ve known, to work, and back to family.
I can’t get warm.
The ride home
Half an hour later, the man who did the scan returns and asks if I have a ride home. I tell him I do and text Tracey. A few minutes later, she lets me know she’s arrived and he walks me to a side door that leads to a covered parking area, where Tracey is waiting for me in her car, just as I’d asked her to do.
When I get to the passenger door, he opens it, looks at me, and with sadness in his eyes says, "Good luck." I thank him, close the door, and wipe my eyes as Tracey drives away.
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