Sunday, October 4, 2009
Smashing the Atom~~One Boob at a Time
Now I hate tests.
Because of my advanced decrepitude, I fall into that medical demographic called Tests-R-Us. And, since my birthday rolls around every September, it's Test Month. I do appreciate that these things are important and I enjoy extraordinarily good health (other than being roughly the size of the Hindenburg), in no small part because of preventative screening, I'm sure. Except for requiring an emergency c-section during the birth of my daughter~~a baby so humongous I couldn't have popped her out with a shoehorn and an overhead crane~~I've never had surgery in my life.
Well, I take it back. There was the matter of the jigsaw puzzle I made out of my right leg during the Queen Mother of all rollerskating mishaps when I was twelve. I will be forever grateful to the orthopedic surgeon who happened to wander into the ER room that New Year's Day. I can still see the look of relief on my mother's face when he turned to her and said, "I can fix this."
Anyway, I saw my doctor for a routine visit back in August and I knew what was coming by the look on his face as he went over my records. "Hmm," he said, "I see it's time for your annual bloodwork, your pap smear, your colo/rectal exam, your pneumonia shot, and your mammogram."
Becky, his nurse and co-conspirator took his notes away and told me to meet her at the nurse's station and she'd have my appointments all lined up. "What do you want to do first?"
'Heroin," I answered.
So, for my birthday month, I got shots, learned what it will be like when I am captured by aliens and am victim of the anal probe, had my blood sucked out by a woman with a barbed needle and absolutely no understanding of human anatomy, and~~last but not least~~I got a mammogram.
Two days after my birthday I hopped on down to the radiology lab, which now has new exterior packaging and is called the Women's Imaging Pavillion. It's even separate from the regular radiology lab.
I know all this because when I arrived for my mammogram, I went to the wrong building. I walked into the regular radiology lab to find myself in the presence of a county jail prisoner in jail yellows, accompanied by two deputy sheriffs. They were the only people there. They all watched curiously as I walked up to the counter. "I have an appointment at 11:15," I said, very quietly, to the receptionist.
The woman behind the counter asked for my name, which I provided, then looked at her computer screen. "I don't see your name. What are you here for?"
This poor guy behind me has probably been in jail for 6 months, I thought. ". . . er . . . uh . . . my annual mammogram," I whispered, with great subtlety.
Unexpectedly, the woman behind the counter developed the vocal skills of a tobacco auctioneer working without a microphone. "A MAMM-O-GRAM? OH, MAMM-O-GRAMS AREN'T ADMINISTERED HERE. FOR A MAMM-O-GRAM, YOU HAVE TO GO DOWN TO THE NEXT BUILDING."
I really did not want to turn around at this point. But since the only exit door was across the waiting room behind me, and since I lack the ability to walk through walls, I pivoted to see the prisoner sitting, open-mouthed, his eyes rivited on my not inconsiderable chest. In that moment I knew absolutely that Waldo, or whatever his name was, would be back at the jail giving the guys in his cell block an earful in an hour. For the purposes of his story, I would be transformed from an upper middle-aged matron into the hottest babe in shoe leather~~probably sporting several tattos and enough body piercings to set off airport metal detectors.
Resisting the urge to pull my jacket closed, I scampered off and drove around to the next parking lot where I parked and went into the proper building. I knew it was the right one because there was a sign out front with a ballerina-shaped line drawing of a woman on it, with Women's Imaging Pavillion in script so fancy I could barely make it out.
Considering that men are victims of breast cancer, too, I wondered where they go for their mammograms.
Upon entering, I couldn't help but notice that the waiting area was substantially different than the sterile metal and naugahyde one I had just left. The room was huge, high-ceilinged, with skylights offering indirect natural light that accented several floral arrangements, artistically scattered on tables here and there. The furniture was soft and low, in muted tones of mauve and grey. The dulcet-voiced woman behind the pink granite reception counter took my name and told me to have a seat.
I had sifted through several printed advertisements for local atheticians, dermatologists, and plastic surgeons, as well as a stack of magazines~~not a Popular Mechanics or American Rifleman among them~~and had just settled down to read an informative article entitled Sex After 50, when a perky woman in a scrub outfit with pink flowers on it came out and asked me to come with her. "Hi, I'm Ashley," she told me by way of introduction as she ushered me down a long hallway, "I'll be your mammographer, today."
She was so perky, in fact, that I expected to hear the 'keep your seatbacks and tray tables in an upright position and here is the oxygen mask' talk at any second. She opened a door into a tiny dressing room, with another door on the opposite wall. "Take everything off on top," she said. "You can leave your necklace on, just turn it around so it hangs down your back." She gestured to a small basket on top of the cabinet. In it were individually-packaged moist towlettes, an aerosol can of anti-perspirant, and some tri-fold brochures about the Women's Imaging Center. There were also several discount coupons for a local spa. "Use the towelettes to wipe off any deodorant you may have used," she said. "There's a gown in the cabinet. Put it on, open in front, and come out the other door when you're ready."
I thanked Ashley for her help. She left and I did as she'd instructed, reaching into the cabinet to extract the 'gown', which turned out to be a shawl kind of thing that just draped over my shoulders, hanging down in the front and back, and sized for someone with the dimensions of a rhinocerous. I had just put it on when Ashley tapped on the other door. "I'm ready when you are," she called.
I strolled out of my feminine little cubicle, covering my front with one half of the front of my bolero, cavalierly tossing the other around my neck. "I'm ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille," I declared. Ashley laughed and I noticed she had a heating pad on the mammogram machine. She was holding what looked like some small bandaids~~with pink flowers on them, what else?~~and said, "Let's put these on, shall we?"
Before I knew it, she whipped the fronts of my bolero back over my shoulders and smacked the bandaids~~one for each side~~on my chest, like little blindfolds. "Do I get a cigarette, too?" I asked.
"Oh, there's no smoking in The Pavillion." My humor was clearly lost on her. She took the heating pad off the machine, and for a little woman, proved surprisingly powerful as she dragged me into its clutches.
Now, for those of you who've never had the inestimable pleasure of a mammogram, let me tell you all about it. The machine itself is tower-shaped, with a set of clear plexiglass 'shelves' that protrude from one side. Controlled by foot pedals, these shelves are actually a set of large flat pincers, between which the anatomical parts in question are squeezed, one at a time.
"I hate this," I said, as Ashley used the foot pedals to raise the shelves up to the level of my chest. Then separated them so 'I' would fit in between.
"Well, to be honest, not a single woman has ever come in here and said, 'Whoo-hoo! I just looooovvee this!'" she remarked, as she plopped half my chest onto the bottom shelf and pushed and shoved, until it, with its pink, flowerdy festoon, was in the position she wanted. "Don't move," she said.
I heard the servo whir and the top shelf of the machine began to descend. In short order, my bazoom had taken on the dimensions of a large, white pizza. There was another noise, Ashley said, "All done," and the shelves came apart.
In a matter of seconds, Ashley shoved down that side of my bolero, pulled up the other side, whirled me in place and was taking the other picture. "I'd like a dozen wallets and an 8 X 10 for the family album," I told her as she wiped off the shelves.
Ashley led me back down the hall to my cubicle where I thanked her. "But, tell me," I said, "if I broke my leg or needed to have my knee x-rayed, would I come here, this being the Women's Imaging Pavillion, and all?"
"Oh, no," she answered. "You'd just go to regular radiology for that."
So, while I got dressed I wondered just who the Women's Imaging Pavillion was fooling. Are there really women who wouldn't go for mammography if they had to go to regular radiology for it? Is the minor embarrassment I felt when the purpose of my visit was announced so vociferously at the wrong building really enough to prevent women from availing themselves of life-saving prescreening? C'mon. Big girl panties are availble on aisle five.
As I walked out of the huge, luxurious building, I wondered how many free mammograms could be performed at the regular radiology building, if several million dollars hadn't been spent on The Pavillion.
Oh, and a couple of other things before I forget: Those little pink bandaids hurt like a bitch when you pull them off. And~~if men had testicular exams with machines like these, they'd invent ones that were much, much more comfortable.
For now, I'm just Linda.