Me in the mask on the last day of treatment.
Once it was decided that I was going to do radiation therapy I started to notice people talking about 'the mask.' All that I knew about the mask was that it was something that I would wear during
radiation to keep me still. When the doctors and nurses tell people about the mask they say things like, “Oh, it can be a little uncomfortable,” or “If you're not claustrophobic you should be fine.” These statements are vanilla at best.
A more accurate statement is that the mask rivals torture methods from the Spanish Inquisition.
On the day of my fitting for the mask I arrive with my custom
fitted mouth piece. (Which is a hard mouth piece that keeps my mouth open while pushing my tongue down, to protect it and my lower jaw. To fully understand the discomfort of this piece I recommend sometime you lie down on your back, keep your mouth open,
hold your tongue down and try to swallow, if you can.)
I stripped down from the waist up and lie down on a narrow table. After I put my mouthpiece in The
nurses come towards me with this steamy, wet, rubbery looking sheet. They drape it across my face, head, and shoulders. At first it was warm and wet, and not all that unpleasant. I had a thought for a moment that this wasn't so bad, not uncomfortable at
all. The nurses began to push hard on my chest and face. The mask began to harden. The sensation was not far from the constricting effect that one feels when candle wax hardens on your fingertips. Except that this material
was constricting my entire face, neck, and shoulders. So much so that I could not open my eyes. Then I understood what uncomfortable really was. As it was hardening the nurses grabbed the four corners of it and pulled it all the way down to the underside of
the table, and clamped it down. My arms and legs were also strapped down so that the mask would maintain it's shape until fully dry. I could not move even a millimeter. I could not talk either, because I had the mouthpiece in, and even breathing and swallowing
took all of my consentration.
Once the mask becomes a hard piece of plastic they run a CT scan so the radiologist
can map out the radiation plan. Unfortunately, the nurses couldn't find my radiologist. I was on that board, strapped down by my head, unable to see, struggling to breathe and swallow, with no way to communicate for an hour and a half. The back of
my head finally went numb from being on that board for so long.
Every day, for a period of 6 1/2 weeks, I had to be strapped into that torture device.
Luckily, I only had to be in it for about 20 minutes. I forgave my radiologist for being late that first day because he turned out to be a genius, and my life was worth the wait.