A Day at the Gantry
In proton vernacular the radiation treatment area is known as a gantry; it resembles the inside of a gigantic washing machine drum. It is roughly 12 feet in diameter and 10 feet deep; it is painted in hospital white. There are currently three such gantries at UFPTI. The gantry in which I am treated is staffed with seven technologists (three or four per shift) most of whom are attractive, super-friendly attentive young women. The one male staffer I have encountered is clean-cut and no less friendly or attentive. On our first meeting this young gentleman alluded to the church group of whom he is a member and with whom he interacted the prior weekend.
Extensive efforts are devoted to ensuring that a given patient is properly identified thereby guaranteeing he will receive the appropriate degree of radiation using the lens designed especially for his treatment. Likewise extensive efforts are made to properly align the patient and his prostate.
A typical day in the barrel -like drum occurs as follows:
---The patient arrives thirty minutes early and dutifully empties his bladder. On cue from a technologist he consumes 15 ounces of water.
---A technologist escorts the patient to a small dressing room. The patient exchanges his street clothes for a hospital gown which is as you might expect open in the back and in this case for good reason.
---When summoned the patient takes a fifty-yard stroll down a hall to the treatment area. A gantry crew member scans the patient's identification tag and has him confirm his identity by reviewing three computer screens each with his printed name and one of which displays his recent photograph.
---The patient mounts the gurney and positions himself in the body cast designed during his three day workup for the purpose of properly aligning and immobilizing the lower portion of his body. Gantry staff make minor adjustments to the patient's positioning as needed based on laser technology.
---The prostrate per se is properly positioned and immobilized by the introduction of a measured amount of liquid infused by one of the technologists directly into the patients rectum or within the confines of an elongated, well-lubricated elastic balloon. This procedure is the most emotionally and physically discomforting aspect of treatment. I am not sure how the crew decides who will carry out this task. I do know the administering technologist changes from day to day. Perhaps its a democratic rotation. Conceivably its the short straw method. Then again it may be the way in which my sister and I decided who's turn it was to do the dishes when we were children. This process consisted of a potentially endless debate of "it's yourturn," "no it's your turn" until we reached some sort of trade off compromise or the ultimate arbiter in the matter, our mother, decided whose turn it was indeed.
---With the push of a button a technologist rotates the automated gurney into the washer drum portion of the gantry.
---Xray machines roll out, one on the side, one from the top, for a final check on the alignment of the patient's prostrate. The beam zeros in on four gold marker's inserted in the patient's prostrate during his three day workup.
---When all systems are go the proton beam is unleashed on its cancerous target. There is no sound or sensation to signal its operation. The patient knows he is being radiated when the gantry crew quietly leaves the area. In a matter of minutes the crew returns. The treatment officially ends when the balloon is removed and/or a technologist assists the patient with his dismount from the gurney.
---A return stroll down the hall, a visit to the bathroom and redressing completes the process.
Although the treatment plan varies from person to person, typically prostate cancer patients undergo 39 such treatments on consecutive workdays.