“With over a hundred millicuries, there’s no fun and games”

The tech had just invited a resident to watch me taking my dose of radioactive iodine. I remarked that I was eager to photograph the pill. That wasn’t allowed–once the pill was out, it was going into me. No fun and games.

We walked into a small room with a list of regulations on the door. We went over the protocols for my being radioactive. I asked lots of questions–about dos and don’ts in my domestic space (more on that in a moment). Then out came the pill. Sort of. First there was giant lead locker. Inside the lead locker was a lead cylinder that was about half the height of a pint glass. I didn’t take any pictures (no fun and games) but imagine a canister sort of like this but orange and with a flat top:

lead capsule

(photo courtesy The Annoyed Thyroid)

Then the tech and the resident left the room. She peeked in through a window and told me to open the canister. Inside was a little plastic pill jar like you’d get at the pharmacy, and inside the canister was a capsule that had been filled with my exact dose. The capsule wasn’t particularly large. I was to open the lid and dump the pill directly into my mouth without touching it with my hands. Except she wasn’t quite fast enough, so I took it out, then put it back in, then dumped it into my mouth. After that, I had to leave the premises immediately.

Standing outside, waiting for my friend Rob to pick me up to give me a ride home, I positioned myself about six feet away from anyone else, in a spot where nobody would be inclined to stand next to me. He showed up 5 minutes later, and home I went for three days of (sort of)  isolation.

This experience of radioactive iodine is totally different than my last one.  For one thing, I’m not locked away in the hospital; for another, the protocols are much more lax. Last time, I was under the impression that I had to worry about electronics — so much so that I rigged up an elaborate arrangement with my iPhone inside a latex glove and an extra keyboard and mouse so I wouldn’t touch my laptop for three days. My clothes were put in the basement for 3 months after my time in the hospital.

This time, they said I should do laundry before Carrie comes home.  In fact, if we had two toilets, Carrie could be home right now (except that I timed my dose so that it would coincide with her trip to Michigan for a panel on gender studies institutes). I have to have my own toilet until Sunday afternoon.

For the next 2.5 days, Carrie can spend up to two hours within a meter of me, and the rest of the time we could sit across the room from one another.

As for electronics, they said not to worry about them.

My radioactivity apparently spreads two ways.

1. One, it emanates from me, like exposure to the sun. In the file below, I turned on my Geiger counter, hit record on the phone, put the phone down and started walking away from the Geiger counter. At first you get a steady stream of beeping, because the rates are so high it can’t separate them. As I walk toward the other end of the next room (about 25 feet away) the rate goes down.


I am like a theremin in reverse.

A theremin emits an electromagnetic field which the body interrupts and manipulates to make sound. I am giving off a radioactive field that the Geiger counter interrupts to make sound.

Yes, I am planning to make some audio on this basis.

2. Radioactivity also comes out of me in liquid form. I sweat it, I excrete it, and so forth. Hence the toilet issue. The other big thing besides the toilet issue is not throwing up. At the first hint of nausea, I’m to take gravel so I don’t throw up.  Luckily, I haven’t felt really nauseous.

As for how I feel?  A bit tired, but otherwise ok. I have had a couple waves of light headedness, but other than that I’m just lolling around the house. I have dry mouth and eyes something fierce but that’s been going on since I started taking lithium earlier in the week (3 days before the dose and 3 days after to stimulate uptake of the radioactive iodine in my lungs). No of the more bizarre side effects have manifested yet (like loss of taste, though that can come later).

The weird thing about the experience is precisely that I can’t feel it. I need the Geiger counter to tell me something is different about my body. Which is no different from the CT scans that diagnosed my condition in the first place. It’s a complete alienation from my own senses. Phenomenally, it is an experience of submission, and an experience of the limits of my own faculties. A lot of recent scholarship on perception has tried to develop accounts of perception beyond consciousness in one way or another. But this is a completely different feeling. I am left to experience myself not experiencing my own chronic condition, and my own radioactivity.

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