The Breast of All Possible Worlds
Let me preface this post by stating that I'm absolutely fine - there's nothing wrong with me that years of intensive psychotherapy won't clear right up.
Yesterday I got a call from the Women's Imaging Center about my mammogram last Friday. There was a funny-looking spot (I'm paraphrasing - that probably isn't the technical term) in my right breast. They wanted me to come back for a follow-up as soon as possible. "I have appointments available tomorrow," the woman told me over the phone.
Well, the technician who did my mammogram last week did say that callbacks are extremely common, especially with first mammograms. So I didn't freak. I made my appointment for today and didn't lose any sleep over it.
This one was a little more uncomfortable, but not too bad. The technician squeezed me a little tighter. It still isn't painful - just awkward - until they send you to the inside waiting room.
This may be the most surreal experience I've ever had. I'm wearing my jeans, but am topless other than a loose cotton cape over my shoulders which snaps at the neck and just meets the requirements of basic decency, if I'm careful. My shirt and bra, purse, phone and keys are clutched ineffectually to my chest. I'm shown into a room with six other identically outfitted women watching E!. They look up and smile wanly in greeting as I am ushered in. "Just sit here for a bit," says the technician, "and I'll show your films to the doctor and see what he says."
Ah, the almighty doctor. Do you know, I never saw this person? The lab bustles with young, attractive, healthy, cheerful female technicians, taking X-rays, performing ultrasounds, and reassuring patients. I picture the doctor as the lone male in the building, alone in his dark lair, being fed lab results by his minions. Meanwhile, back on E!, Kid Rock dispenses advice on picking up girls. (Win over the ugliest one in the group, and you're in!)
"Come on back again," says the technician to me after a space of several minutes. "The doctor wants me to get a couple more angles." So she does a "roll" shot, twisting my breast slightly under the clamp before photographing it, then a straight profile. The profile is difficult because the other breast, there's just no way to get around this, is ridiculously in the way. I hold it down and back while the technician lifts my right breast into place and tries to get the clamp secured before it can fall back down again, resulting in a highly amusing slapping sound. We both start giggling. SO not sexy.
Two more shots later, and I'm sent back into the waiting room, where Oprah has adopted a puppy and brought it onto the show and her audience goes completely ape shit. I've never seen Oprah's show before, but I've seen parodies of it on Saturday Night Live, which I never thought were very funny because they were so over the top. It turns out they weren't.
I wanted to have gone home by now. What was the big deal? My first mammogram was supposedly normal; there was some little area they needed a closer look at, and now they've had their closer look. So why am I still here? Traffic's going to be a bitch, coming home... Then the technician beckons me out of the room to tell me that the doctor still isn't satisfied and has ordered an ultrasound. It'll be a while; the line is long.
So I go back to my seat, but now I'm feeling frightened. Why so many tests? There are boxes of tissue on the end tables in the waiting room. Women cope with very bad news in this place. Oprah is going on about how, for the first time in nine years of publication, someone besides herself is on the cover of the April 2009 issue of O Magazine: and the lucky lady is Michelle Obama! (I can only imagine this must be the highlight of Michelle's life, don't you think?) Of course, Oprah is on the cover with her, because come on, let's not take complete leave of our senses here.
I'm not looking at the TV, though my theory is that they're showing us Oprah just so death won't seem so terrible. I'm thinking about heavy stuff. Could this actually be it? Cancer? What really is the value of my life? I may be the family breadwinner, but even with medical insurance, cancer treatment is insanely costly, and if we're doing a cost-benefit analysis...
My phone rings, interrupting this morbid reverie. "Are you still there? Katie needs to be picked up from school," says Jim, "aren't you about done yet?"
"I don't think so," I say, sniffling, "they've taken a bunch of pictures and need to do more tests. I don't know when I'll ever get out of here."
"Well, just call when you do. Hopefully it won't be too late to pick up Katie," he says with mild annoyance, and we hang up; he hasn't asked what the deal is with the follow-up appointment, or how things are going, but it's very inconvenient for me to be hogging the car at this time of day.
An interminable period later, there's an ultrasound, which of course isn't uncomfortable at all, but it seems to me (now in full hypochondriac mode) that the technician lingers for a long time over one particular spot. When she finishes, she tells me to lie down in the darkened room and just relax. "I'll take this to the doctor," she says, "and see if I found what he wanted me to get, or if he needs more images. It'll be just a few minutes."
"Did you see anything?" I asked.
"Was this your first mammogram?" she responds; "this is really, really common. I didn't see anything big. A few little things that are probably nothing. Don't worry!" She steps out, closing the door behind her.
And five minutes later, she's back, flipping on the lights and informing me cheerily that the doctor reviewed the tape and there's nothing wrong at all, just perfectly normal fibrous tissue showing up on the X-rays. "Just keep doing your breast exams and annual mammograms, and have a good weekend!" she tells me. And she leaves the room, and I get dressed, and go pick up Katie (who anxiously demands to know if I am all right) and go home.
Is it going to be like this every time?