My Maddening Mammogram
By Cynthia Good
A few minutes after 7 a.m., heading out the door, my husband calls out, “Wow. They sure start those mammograms early.” Thing is, they told me it wouldn’t take as long if I got there first.
After dropping off my youngest son at school I head over bright and early for my 7:50 a.m. appointment. It has been a while, actually a few years, since the last one. I wasn’t sure exactly how much time had passed, just that I didn’t look forward to doing it again.
Knowing there would still be a wait, I came equipped with morning phone calls scheduled for work, my MacBook and BlackBerry, notes for a speech I needed to write and a TV segment that would run the next day.
In the waiting room, the morning news mentioned the Master’s golf tournament's current conundrum. The Augusta National’s male-only club membership Chairman Billy Payne couldn’t have anticipated that their biggest sponsor IBM would actually have a female CEO this year. Still, he refused to bend the policy. (Just watch. One day that’ll cost him.)
During a conference call with one of my writers, I’m urged to take my cell phone “outside the office, please.” I am then scolded for not getting a mammogram in the last few years. They’re just looking out for my health.
Fifty-three minutes later they’re ready for me. The receptionist points toward the corner, sending me off to find my way through a maze of corridors until I discover a line of dressing rooms with navy blue and coral colored smocks. Then I continue on to another holding area.
This room has no television or radio, just a few uncomfortable chairs. The temperature is lower. Finally, after a 32-minute wait, Julie the technician comes for me. It’s clear this has not been a good morning for Julie, which is not good news for me. About the third time I put my arm in the wrong place on the cold X-ray machine, despite her best efforts at being patient, her annoyance is obvious. “Don’t put it there. Put your arm here. No don’t bend your knees. You’re too stiff and this is really going to hurt unless you relax.”
Relax? On the third X-ray I raise up my hand in sudden pain just as she says, “Hold your breath! Oh no! Now we need to redo that one.” She shakes her head in disappointment. As her frustration increases (understandably!), the slats confining my breasts become pressed together more tightly – or so it seems. I can't look.
At this point, she begins turning the screws so tight, “So we can get a good picture,” that on the final twist of the knob, my nipple is smashed so flat that I let out scream – a loud, blood curdling scream. I would scream three more times as she tightens the screws in my personal torture chamber before we’re done.
Panting, I utter, “You hate me.” (I realize I have crossed the line here and am probably this technician’s worst nightmare. I am so sorry.) But she’s a feisty one and barks back, “I don’t hate anyone. Look, my grandmother died from breast cancer. I do my mom’s mammograms.” Wow. She does have a soul and is doing something good and having to deal with the likes of me all day. So I feel for her and forgive her – and I move on to the next holding tank.
There’s still no TV or radio or hot water for a cup of tea in this part of the waiting area. But luckily there’s a box of Kleenex next to me, since I start crying like a baby. I immediately write to Gail, my head of sales and a breast cancer survivor, knowing full well that no matter how rotten my day has been, it’s nothing compared to the brush with death, the surgeries and all she had to endure. “Mind over matter, “ she offers kindly.
Cold now as the temperature keeps dropping in subsequent holding areas, a nice patient there for the same experience loans me 15 cents so I can walk to the earlier holding area down the hall to buy myself a cup of Jasmine Green Tea. This raises my spirits.
Forty-two minutes and two work-related phone calls later, they come for me again – this time for my sonogram. A sweet, soft-spoken technician takes me into a darkly lit room and chats while taking images. It reminds me of when I was pregnant with my sons and how exciting it was to see their little hearts beating on the screen. This makes me happy. She talks about her own kids – her two girls and 16-year-old son – the same age as mine. He writes poetry just like she does. This is the best part of the day. Though she won’t tell me what the pictures show. Do I have cancer? “I just take the pictures,” she tells me.
Then it’s back to yet another holding area. Still no music, TV, coffee or restroom in sight – just the chance to sit and wonder, do I have breast cancer? A woman, also named Cynthia, sits next to me and complains that it’s cold and there’s no TV. But she is prepared with a good book and her own water bottle. The woman at the other end of the couch says she’s "been waiting since just after 8 a.m. This is ridiculous.” We’re all a bit frustrated. This is not a pleasant – but certainly worth it all if it’ll save a life.
Now it’s 11:40 and I’ve had it. I walk all the way back to the first waiting room to see if somewhere in this maze there is a restroom, and to inquire whether they have forgotten about me. I pass a smart woman who has brought her own pillow and is now sleeping soundly.
Back at the front desk I tell a receptionist that we’re back there cold and thirsty. A coordinator overhears this and, minutes later, finds me to say she has offered water and blankets to everyone and everyone said, “no thanks.”
I return to my holding area. Cynthia tells me the second I left a nurse came out asking for me. Finally I get in – to the final room – to learn what these pictures will say about my fate. I ask the fantastic doctor – the reason we all come to see since she’s the best in town and is nearly as delightful as the experience is horrible, “Did you hear me scream?” She says, “No I didn’t. We don’t go in there anyway when patients scream – only when the technicians do.” She has a sense of humor. “Really,” she says. “Sometimes people faint.”
My pictures show I am fine. I am not going to die. Not from breast cancer. Not right now anyway.
I glance at my BlackBerry where my empathetic friend Meg writes, “I had a mammogram last week and she pinched the crap out of me. It's just barbaric!” So at least I’m not alone. Four hours and 10 minutes after I arrive I head for the exit – very thankful for a good doctor, friends, good health and a sense of humor.