“I’m sorry I’m not wearing any pants,” I said, for the third time already, today.
“It’s okay,” said the technician, because what else are you going to say to that sort of thing?
I had my first mammogram.
It all started a few weeks ago, when I went to the doctor for a desperate case of WTF, Period Edition — Mood swings that typically left me in a heap of tears and self-loathing, cramps like a kick in the gut from an angry robot (robots are strong, guys), blood that flowed like boxed wine at a bunco party.
She did the usual poking around, and when she got to my breasts, she poked a little more deliberately. Turned out I had a lump and would need to have it checked.
But there was no “booby” talk this time. No murmurs of reassurance. No promises of fixing what was broken. It was all business. Serious medical business. There was a job to do, and it was getting done.
I had initially wanted to go to the appointment alone, so that I could deal with any news I got in whatever way felt right, without worrying about whomever was escorting me. But a friend convinced me that wasn’t a good idea, and my teen daughter was not about to let me out of her sight, anyway. I dressed in some finery, convincing myself that bravery wore lipstick, popped some painkiller on the advice of twitter, and we headed out to the local hospital.
The waiting room was filled with elderly women, escorted by slightly less elderly women, and I thought it concrete proof that women live longer than men, but it’s not necessarily a comfortable or worry-free 5-10 years. I was called back rather quickly, which is the beauty of being the first appointment of the morning, and shown to a small dressing room, not unlike the ones in a department store where voices whisperlie that those ultra low cut jeans look fabulous on you and you should ignore the giant tsunami of fat rolling over the top, because all the cool kids have it. I was handed an extremely short gown, and a robe that was even shorter, wondered if Hugh Hefner weren’t going to pop out and deem me unfit for the grotto, in a new reality show “Who Wants Legionnaire’s Disease?” I was told I could keep everything on from the waist down.
“Um, I’m not wearing pants,” I said, gesturing down to my dress in a way that was embarrassingly obvious.
“Oh, well, that’s okay,” the nurse said, “I’m sure we’ve seen worse.”
I was shown back to a small room with a big machine. There was no question what it was for.
“This is Theresa, she’ll be performing your mammogram, then you’ll have an ultrasound to examine your lump.”
“Hi, Theresa. I’m not wearing pants.”
Theresa took a series of pictures of my breasts. I slipped first my left arm out of my gown and robe, while they hung off my right, then switched. My girls were kneaded, prodded, and pulled across a flat plate, then another plate came down and sandwiched them in a way that I didn’t know was possible. The pain was something akin to Mike Tyson punching me square in the tit, and then throwing in his infamous bite/tear. No joke, it was horrible.
When it was all, um, grammed, I was told a doctor would look at the scans and while I waited. I was shown to a room with a large table full of magazines, a television blaring a Meredith Viera-heavy segment of the Today show, and a single cup coffee maker. Two women, also in shorty robes, but wisely wearing pants, sat, flipping through magazines. No one spoke.
“Does anyone know where the bathroom is?” I asked, “I’m pretty sure that Theresa just squeezed the pee out of me. Anatomy lesson, your bladder is in your right breast!”
Both looked up, one pointed to a door down the hall.
I started to worry about trusting these people with my extremely vulnerable parts.
When I returned to the waiting room, a third medical person was standing there, waiting to talk to me. She said that the pictures from my breasts showed some abnormalities and I would need another set, to see if maybe it was a problem with the scans.
I was a fool for not heeding the obvious red flag in the restroom.
“I’m Diane. Theresa is busy, but it’s good to get different people to do them, anyway, because we all have different techniques.”
I don’t need technique. I don’t need style. I need a clean mammogram so I can get on with my life.
I had the second set of pictures, after apologizing to Diane for not wearing pants.
“I just didn’t know you could, you know?”
The second set of pics were unclear, as well. Theresa, who had finished with her patient, was called back into the room to see if she could figure out how to capture my apparently rogue breasts. The two women pored over the scans on a monitor in the corner of the room, and spoke as if I weren’t just feet away, about how the concerning spots appeared in some, but not others.
“Sorry!” I wanted to shout over to them. “Sorry about my breasts!”
Another set of pictures were taken, with both women working together to “roll the breast” and “position the lump, properly”. They were politely frustrated.
I was shown back to the waiting room, where two different women in robes — again, pants — were sitting quietly. One woman and I spoke about how she was here for her bi-yearly recheck, having defeated breast cancer a few years before. The other woman chimed in with the story of how her mother and grandmother had both died from breast cancer, and she got checked every six months, just in case.
I got nervous.
Diane came back in, and said they needed another picture or two. By this time, Mike Tyson had punched my tits numb, and I just wanted to get it over with.
After the last set, I was shown to an ultrasound room. I sighed and told Kim, the tech, my pants story, but it had lost some of its whimsy and I was over being embarrassed.
The ultrasound was just like the ones I had when I was pregnant with my children, but a little higher, and decidedly more grim. This was not the room where they saw a penis, or lack of, and told excited parents whether the bun in their oven was an Apple or a Moses. The good news that came from here was “life”.
After the unsexy, goop-assisted breast massage, sans happy ending, but while I was still lying flat on my back, pantsless, a man in a white coat came in and introduced himself as the doctor who had been looking at my scans, behind the scenes. I didn’t even bother with the pants apology. It was obvious I wasn’t wearing them, and he didn’t seem fazed.
He told me that the spots in my breasts were inconsistent, from mammogram to mammogram, meaning they were probably in my skin and that’s why they jumped around so much. He saw my confusion and assured me that was good. He also said I would need to come back in six months, just to make sure that was the case.
I was sent back to the dressing room, where I finally put some clothes on, four hours after donning the gown and robe, and stopped by the receptionist’s desk to schedule an October appointment.
Guess what somebody is getting for her 40th birthday? Titty punches!