Breathe in, the pre-recorded voice instructs. Hold your breath.
There is a whirring sound as an x-ray source spins around you, inside the detector ring of a CT scanner. The table you are stretched out on moves on its track. Your arms are above your head, hands resting on a pillow where the technician had gently arranged them before retreating from the room. The barium shake you forced yourself to drink earlier makes your belly complain, reminding you that you haven’t eaten since dinner last night.
Breathe, says the machine. And you do.
The technician comes back in, saying, “Don’t move, ma’am. I’m just going to start the contrast now. Keep very still.” He presses a few buttons and there is a beep as the IV in your arm empties some iodine-based substance into your bloodstream. It is simultaneously cold and feels like fire in your vein, but you don’t complain. You know it will be over shortly. Still, he sees you grimace and apologizes. “Sorry, we’re almost done.”
He leaves once more and the whirring sound spins up again. Breathe in, the machine says. Hold your breath.
The table moves and you tell yourself not to worry. You are used to these tests now. The voice in the machine has been the same every place you’ve had them. Like an old friend, reminding you…