Life Redefined: Are We Becoming Weapons of Mass Destruction?
Throughout the past week or so, there has been an abundance of news stories on the dangers of radioactive iodine (RAI) to others. I want to talk about this because SO many of us have to take RAI and it seems we all are given different precautions to mind after given the treatment.
In 1997, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission omitted the requirement that patients receiving radioactive iodine be isolated in a hospital until their radiation levels are low enough that s/he will not cause harm to general public. Since this ruling, patients are released to their home for isolation.
I’ve taken the radioactive isotope I-131 four different times; two of these times were treatment doses of 150 millicuries and 100 millicuries. Here’s the perhaps startling information: regardless of whether I had taken 150 millicuries or 5 millicuries, the rules I was told to follow after leaving the nuclear medicine department did not change at all. I was never kept in the hospital for isolation, but was discharged with only my conscience keeping me isolated from the public. Oh, and a laundry list of rules to follow. One set of rules deals with the precaution that, and I quote from the rule sheet I was provided, “All bodily fluids will retain/excrete this material at high levels for approximately 3 days from discharge of the hospital.” In other words, I had to flush the toilet three times every time I went to the bathroom.
The next set of rules covered time and distance. Here’s what I was told regarding contact with others while I was still considered to be radioactive: “The less time spent with you during the 3 days following your discharge from the hospital, the less exposure loved ones or the general public will receive. A three feet ‘buffer zone’ between you and anyone else is a safe distance. Most important, keep a minimum of three feet distance from pregnant women and children under 16 years of age for 3 days after discharge from the hospital. Children at these ages are more susceptible to radiation exposure, so too much radiation can be potentially harmful. With every step back from someone, his or her radiation exposure decreases exponentially. The three-foot/3 day rule should be implemented for adults as well. You may continue with normal activities, however, be aware of your surroundings. Will there potentially be pregnant women or young children in close proximity to you? If so, it might be a good idea to just avoid going there.”
Sure, these are great guidelines, but there is NOTHING that keeps me from going to a crowded mall or airport or grocery store, etc. while I am radioactive. When I’m standing in line at a store, I now consider the fact that the person standing right next to me could quite possibly be radioactive. I don’t know about you, but I find that to be scary.
There have been reports recently of waste setting off radiation alarms in landfills. The source: radioactive iodine. I have to wonder, has my trash set off alarms at the landfill? Are the employees who handle trash from patients such as me being unknowingly succumbed to harmful levels of radiation? I take the radioactive iodine in efforts to better my own health, but I now consider the possibility that, while beneficial to me, it is detrimental to those around me.
What about patients who travel hundreds of miles away from their home to receive treatment? What are they supposed to do? Sure, they could drive back home, but many patients simply would not feel like driving a long distance. And with many insurance providers refusing to cover a hospital stay that is not viewed as necessary, many of these out-of-town patients check-in to hotels after taking the RAI. This seems like a good plan, but consider the workers at the hotel who have to clean the bathroom and change the sheets once the patient leaves. These employees are now being exposed to potentially harmful levels of radiation.
A patient recently set off radiation detectors in the Lincoln Tunnel when traveling on a bus from New York to New Jersey. How did this happen? This patient reportedly ignored the precaution to avoid public transportation for the first three days after receiving RAI. However, earlier this year, a patient in the UK set off radiation alarms when driving off a cross-Channel ferry. The source of the radiation was I-131. The startling thing: this man had received the RAI two weeks prior, yet he still triggered the alarms. I’ve always been assured by the workers in the nuclear medicine department in my hospital that I am safe to use public transportation after three days, yet they provide me with a document that I am supposed to carry with me for three months after receiving the RAI in case I set off radiation alarms. The purpose of this document is to prove that, in the case that I do set off the alarms, I am not a terrorist. Yes, having this document is a good thing, but I now wonder about the potential harm I am causing to those around me.
As a result of these incidences, representatives in multiple states are challenging the 1997 ruling of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. It seems to me like this is a no-brainer decision: keep patients isolated in a hospital until safe to be in public. However, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission won’t easily overturn their decision for two reasons: 1) maintaining and staffing isolation units in a hospital is expensive, and 2) there is no concrete evidence indicating that radiation exposure from a patient who received RAI is harmful.
In my mind, the root of this issue is lack of awareness. Sure, who wants to participate in a study to see if being exposed to radiation from a patient who received RAI is in fact harmful? I’m not envisioning an abundance of people voluntarily enrolling in this one. But, what if people were more aware of these potential risks from secondhand radiation exposure? What if more people spoke up to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission? Could we make a difference? I think so, which is one of the many reasons why I value this community so much. Your words are making a difference, so keep sharing and speaking out. We will be heard.
What precautions did you have to follow after RAI? Were you isolated or were you free to go home? Do you think all patients receiving RAI should be admitted to the hospital for isolation?
Radioactive Iodine in the news:
Tags: Are We Becoming Weapons of Mass Destruction?, exposure to radiation, I-131, Life Redefined, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Radioactive Iodine, RAI, thyroid cancer patients, thyroid cancer treatment, Written by Joanna Isbill