The Craziest Thing: A Radioactive Service Request Incident

By Rick Toothman, Field Service Engineer

As told by Rick Toothman:

Recently I received a nuclear medicine service request on a system. The complaint reported by the biomed engineer on the ticket was that one of the heads was going up and down. Confused, I called the technologist to clarify. He described a problem where periodically throughout a study, a frame would have substantially fewer counts than the last.

“Ah,” I thought to myself, “he meant that the count rate was going up and down, not the physical head itself.”

I arranged to come take a look at the system. I didn’t have to look long to identify the problem. In fact, I didn’t really have to look at all. I could feel the heat radiating off the head even before I took the cover off. Inside, I found the main cooling fan had seized up and was acting more like a heater than a cooler. I pulled it out and redirected some of the airflow. I was satisfied that the customer would be able to finish a 2-day study the next morning, I buttoned the system back up, ordered a new fan, and scheduled a return visit for around noon the following day.

The next morning, I woke up to a voicemail from the biomed engineer: “Don’t go to the site today. There’s been an incident on that camera.” I was immediately in panic mode thinking something had gone horribly wrong. I hurriedly called the biomedical engineer back and he filled me in on the situation.

The biomed engineer informed me that they were scanning a patient this morning, and the patient lost control of their bladder. Apparently, it made a pretty huge mess and the engineer said that it was going to take a few days to find a qualified hazmat cleanup crew.

Because a nuclear medicine study requires the patient to take a dose of radioactive materials so an illness can be easily detected, the contents of the bladder were also radioactive causing an even bigger mess. The engineer stated he would call me later with an update.

I imagine that the wave of relief that washed over me was similar to that of the patient’s in that moment. It did take a few days and there were several new problems with the system after the incident. Thankfully we were able to get it working and scanning patients again, but it will never be the same.

That system will now forever be known by all parties involved as the “P-Cam.”