I didn't have any of the dreaded side effects from the RAI, except headaches which were not severe and they responded to Excedrin. The hardest part was the isolation. The body gives off radiation for some time after RAI therapy. Some patients are put in the hospital for a few days after treatment, staying in a special isolation room to prevent others from being exposed to radiation. Once you are allowed to go home after treatment, you must follow instructions on how to protect others from radiation exposure.
I was surprised at how difficult the isolation was. Bruce and I could only be in the same room for one
hour a day and had to stay 6 feet apart. He was chasing me around trying to
get a hug. And I wanted to be caught! I slept in the guest room, used a
different bathroom, had to wash my eating utensils by hand. We could not be in a car together for more than an hour, not that there was anywhere I could go without threatening people with radiation. I couldn't prepare food for him (or even touch his utensils), launder clothes or linens together. I had to flush the toilet three times whenever I used it.
As much as I hated being in solitary, I was actually pretty nervous about coming out of isolation and also allowing anyone to use the guest room or bathroom for many months afterwards.
Apparently, there is some consternation about allowing irradiated patients go home for isolation. A friend sent me an article from USA Today about an investigation that found one case where a patient going home on the bus in NYC set of the radiation detectors as the bus passed through the LIncoln Tunnel. About 7% of patients go to a hotel instead of going home. In one such incident, nuclear plant workers set off radiation alarms when they reported to work. It was later found that they had stayed in a hotel where linens from an RAI patient were washed together with other bedding and then put back into use.
The International Atomic Energy Agency notes that when
releasing patients treated with I-131,
unanticipated alarms are possible, or even
likely, by radiation-detection systems at international
borders, airports, train stations, bridges, tunnels, and other areas. Therefore, if travel is planned within four months of RAI therapy, you should carry a form from the doctor explaining your condition.
There is a great website for patients about RAI therapy: ThyCa.org. It has a tremendous amount of information including low iodine recipes and other tips. They also have a humor page which includes a song to the tune of "Leavin' on a Jet Plane..."
my bags are packed
I'm ready to glow
I'm standing here
Outside the door
Radiation!" on the sign
But the floor is covered
and so's the phone
the doctors hover
they're ready to go
already I'm so scared 'bout R A I
So kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you'll call for
Close the door, let's start
this nuking show
'Cuz I'm stayin' in i-so-la-tion
Don't know when I'll be home
Oh babe, I hate to glow.
Scripture reference: Genesis 2:18