Radiation Day 3 – Beam room music rundown and the odd sensation of flashing lights behind my eyelids

Song 1 – “Ho Hey,” The Lumineers

Song 2 – “Yellow,” Coldplay

Song 3 – “Stand By Me,” Ben E. King

(Mr. King, we’re cool. But, here’s hoping we can do better than 1 for 3 with day 4’s music.)

So, after they snap my head to the table with the mask, the team leaves the room, a little bell dings, and the beam starts doing its thing. A couple minutes into the routine the beam starts to make a pronounced buzzing sound. It’s nothing unsettling, but it is noticeable. Mostly, it’s noticeable because it’s accompanied by the odd sensation that bright lights are flashing in my face.

You see, even though the team has never instructed me to keep my eyes closed, I pretty much do the entire time. I don’t know; I guess I feel like if you’re going to be shining x-rays in my face, let’s at least make them have to pass through my eyelid skin before they hit my actual eyeballs. I’m almost certainly being silly, but this whole experience has taught me nothing if not to question assumptions.

Back to that buzzing beam. Once the beam starts buzzing, I start “seeing” flashes of white light behind my eyelids. And, until yesterday I couldn’t summon the courage to open my eyes to see if there actually was a bright light shining in my face. Well, yesterday I thought to myself “you’ll never know unless you try.” So, I opened my eyes and lo, I beheld…the ceiling. Just the ceiling (which does have this kind of interesting pattern that’s suggestive of flowers on it – quite pretty). So, somehow the energy in that beam is tricking my eyes into believing bright lights are flashing before them.

Look – I’m an engineer. I had to study a lot of science and a lot of math to get to where I am. But, personally experiencing this direct (and sometimes invasive) intersection of my physicality, perception, and cognition with technology (and chemistry – I’m looking at you, chemotherapy drugs) is just absolutely bonkers! That is all.

Update: Apparently the flashing lights are totally normal for right temporal lobe radiation targets. Additional fun fact: more central, frontal lobe targeting frequently leads people to smell weird things like chemicals or burning smells. Wild!

3 Responses

  1. Hi Aaron,
    Amon pointed me to your blog so I can follow along. I’m pulling for you. Age and will makes all the difference!

    From one geek to another, aren’t the rays gamma rays?

    1. Looks like it can be either. Though, the machine I’m on is referred to as a linear accelerator (Linac 6, actually), so I suspect they’re x-rays generated by the collision of high speed electrons with heavy elements at the x-ray tube anode. Good lord, it’s been a while since I’ve thought about any of this stuff! Let’s just call ’em high energy photons, shall we?

      1. Ah, right you are! It’s not the Linear Accelerator of your Sand Hill Road days, but it does the trick. Yes, we will call them photons.

        Wishing you energy today…

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