Gina’s Review: All women can relate to this dreaded examination, so if any men have trouble showing empathy, they can put their finger in the freezer and then close the door. Ok, that wasn’t funny, so I am even more appreciative to Cheryl for sharing this good-humored story!
I got “the squeeze” yesterday. I risked the plague and the discomfort of having my breasts squashed between cold plastic plates for the sake of maintaining my good health. This is not the best endorsement for choice in medical care, but I chose the facility initially because it had ample parking, which helps to decrease the level of stress inherent in the visit.
Two years ago, I found a lump in my breast. This discovery was made following a long year of flooding and moving from another state and forgetting to get a mammogram done at the regularly scheduled time. I cursed myself and my cluttered, faulty memory. After this unsettling find, I forged ahead with getting an appointment and settled in for a couple weeks of angst.
Not knowing where to go, I took my doctor’s recommendation, and went to the radiologists associated with the local hospital. Being newly relocated, I vaguely knew where it was. None of the streets here travel in straight trajectories. I drove the car this way and that, according to the GPS system, which may or may not always be totally accurate. Arriving at a full parking lot ratcheted up my anxiety. I did not know any alternative places to park. All the street parking seemed to be likewise occupied. I sat in utter despair until a car pulled out of a space and I struggled to get my vehicle in good claiming position. I parked and gave myself some time to calm down for the event ahead.
I arrived at the desk of one indifferent receptionist. Young and probably overdue for her lunch, she never made eye contact with me. She pointed to the little machine where I would “pen” my initials indicating that I received their policy and privacy information. I had not received anything, but signed anyway. I’m sure every woman who had a mammogram that morning did as well. There were laminated copies on the counter, which my receptionist did not even bother to point out. I glanced at them and asked if this was what I had signed off on. Yes. Easily offering the recipient 20 minutes of careful reading, I gave them a quick scrape with my eyes and placed them back in their chained position on the counter. I could have received a copy to take home if I had asked, but was not informed that this was an option.
I needed to pay upfront and was advised I should get this extra view that would not cost anything more, but required my signature nonetheless. I was immediately suspicious and asked why I had to sign for it. It was special and recommended beyond the regular screening. Recommended by whom? I wondered. I felt that this transaction would be the first in a long list of bullying events perpetrated on fearful women who forgot to get their mammograms last year, resulting in high revenues for the hospital and big bills for me. I acquiesced. I later got a bill for this thing that wouldn’t cost more (apparently meaning any more that day), with no explanation of how it differed from the usual view by the unknown qualified individuals who might have recommended it.
I settled into the overflowing waiting area to read a magazine article on the best taco places in town. I took a picture of the list with my phone just as I was called to the back recesses of radiology happenings. The technician who greeted me was warmer in her manner than the receptionist as she instructed me to undress from the waist up and to wear the provided gown open to the front. I clutched my backpack and the front of the gown to my chest as I made my way to yet another waiting area.
After a long and careful review of my screening, it was determined I should have an ultrasound for the lumpy bit. At least I got to lie down for this part. A slimy gel and a wand were applied by the technician, accompanied by lots of clicking from the nearby apparatus. My mind, in its agitated state, drew a picture of her as Glinda, the good witch of Oz. I imagined the clicks as the sound of the desperate banging of my heels, by which I might be sent back to the comfort of my own home. And then it was over, the resulting report to be interpreted by a qualified specialist. The lump was a cyst they reported, while I was still wearing the hospital gown they provided. I should return mid-year for a follow-up. Relief and putting my own clothes back on came at the same time. I wondered if they would tell me straight out like that if the results were not favorable or leave that bad news for my doctor to disclose in the privacy of her office.
Perhaps it was the surly receptionist or the lack of parking which drove me to find a different facility to do the follow-up later that year. This new place was still connected with the hospital but far enough away from town central that parking was wide-open. I could have my choice of spots. Perhaps it is not the distance from town, but the name of the facility which is off-putting. It is the radiology department of the Hope Breast Cancer Center, down past the outlet mall in a sprawling medical center of sorts.
Yesterday was the third visit to my newly chosen facility. It is a quiet place where the receptionist behind the plexiglass is a bit older and more attentive than the surly young woman of my previous experience. She asks if I want to take a copy of whatever I am signing off on and points to the laminated copy chained to the desk if I want to read it. I trustingly read the large print. When I left the house, I inadvertently grabbed the mask with the baby Star Wars characters, which fits my husband’s face. I had to twist the ear elastic a few times to pull it snug with my face. This created little wings which jutted out from my cheeks. The receptionist looks me over to confirm I am fully prepared for close contact, but makes no mention of the weird wings, bless her.
I notice the women employees in the office behind her. One is not wearing her mask. Of course, she is the one who comes to retrieve me (mask back on) and leads me to the curtained dressing room where I am once again instructed how to wear the gown. Does the stunned look in my eyes lead them to believe I have never done this?
A different technician conducts the placing of things, as always into a macabre, contortionist-type pose. I think this one trained with the Cirque du Soleil. I am asked to grab way over here with one hand while holding the opposite side of my chest away from the machine with the other. She places her hand on my back and gives me a nudge into the contraption, flattening my sternum against the side of the cold plate and squashing my cheek above it. This maneuver feels rude as I stand half naked, embracing the screening device like a long-lost robot lover. I am instructed to look towards her. Is she kidding? She’s about 6 inches away from me. I take a deep breath and hold it as I turn toward whatever effluvium she may be exhaling. Thankfully she steps away in only a few seconds while buttons are pushed and the big machine makes a jerky rotation around my compressed flesh. Repeat this tortured tango three more times and we are done.
I am asked if I want my results by mail or email. I am alarmed by this question, mostly because they usually tell me all is well right then and there. Then I remember my previous scans were processed as an issue, a lump in need of clarification. I am finally back on a routine visit schedule. At least, this is the explanation I comfort myself with. Two hours later I receive a call from my doctor’s office to inform me everything is normal. Few things in life are normal right now, so I’m happy I have this one little victory to celebrate. Next stop, colonoscopy, where at least the medical team will be hovering further away from my face and the gown definitely opens in the other direction.
Take good care of yourself,
Guest Editor Gina has hugged the robot lover a few times. She asked for more description of this torturous procedure, so hopefully I have made her happy. She can be relied upon to help sift through the serious stuff and find the means to help people relate. (See above review)