Hey, thanks so much to everyone who had kind words in response to the last post. (I’m sure that Hucky is currently running himself ragged around two or three hundred wandering sheep. Also I’m guessing that from now on he’ll get to have as many pig ears as he wants.)
Anyway, I had myself a good cry this morning, then headed out to visit my friendly neighborhood surgeon and her crack team of dastardly mammographers. Not really. The mammo people don’t belong to her, and they’re not even all that dastardly. If we’re gonna get technical, she’s not really in my neighborhood, either.
Okay, so that entire statement was a lie except for the part about crying. Moving on! Read all about it… the truth that’s stranger than fiction, that could only happen to ME!
First stop: the surgeon’s office. It had seemed to me that it would, perhaps, make more sense to have the mammogram FIRST, but that’s not how it was scheduled. The nurse pulled my file and took me back to an exam room, then asked me where my mammogram report was.
Me: I haven’t had it yet. I’m having it in an hour.
Nurse: Oh, I wonder why they didn’t have you have the mammo first.
Me: I have no idea. I called in to ask if they wanted me to come later, so that could be done first. But they said no.
Nurse: Well. You’re just here for a med follow-up, anyway.
Me: I am?
Nurse: Aren’t you?
Me: I guess so…?
Nurse: Yes. So. How are you feeling?
Me: Well, I’m pretty sure my stomach was permanently damaged, but I’m still having breast pain.
Nurse: Oh, that doesn’t sound fun.
Me: Nope, it really isn’t.
Nurse: I’ll uh… go tell Dr. Surgeon you’re here. Go ahead and undress, I’m sure she’ll want to have a look.
I donned the now-familiar paper shirt and had barely finished folding up my clothes (sweater folded around shirt folded around bra, because the bra must be hidden so as not to reveal that you wear undergarments!) when Dr. Surgeon came in. She asked me the same question about how I’m feeling, and I gave her the same answer about how my stomach isn’t too pleased with me but at least I still have a sore breast. She chuckled.
After a quick exam (“Yep, there’s still two, one on each side”) she explained that she’d need to see the mammogram report to decide what would come next, but probably she’d have me come in for a core needle biopsy. She started doing accompanying hand movements while explaining what exactly she would do, and I must’ve looked a bit green, because she patted me on the arm and said, “Well, let’s just wait and see what the mammo shows.”
Then she asked me if I’d remembered to take some advil in preparation for the mammo. I all but smacked myself on the forehead. “You reminded me to do that, last time, and I completely forgot. No. I didn’t take anything.”
“Okay, I think I have some in my purse. Be right back.” I was still trying to figure out if I’d heard her right as she left the room. I got dressed and Dr. Surgeon returned with a cold cup of water and a bottle of advil. “Wait a sec,” she said, while peering into the bottle. “I keep Tums in here, too. We’ll put those back if you get any. Hold out your hand.” I did as told, and she started shaking the container above my upturned palm. “How many?”
“Ummm… three?” I’ve been known to take as many as five at a time, but I didn’t want to seem greedy. Or drug-hungry.
“Have four!” she encouraged, magnaminously, tapping the dusty pills into my hand.
“Okay! Four! Wooooo!” We laughed together and I wondered if this was standard medical protocol. When patient neglects to take preparatory analgesics, fetch your purse! Offer twice the recommended dosage, because after all, you’re a doctor!
I swallowed the advil while she returned to my chart and grabbed a piece of notepaper. I heard her pen at work while I threw my cup away, and then she handed the paper to me. “Give that to the tech when you go downstairs,” she said.
I looked at the paper. It was a drawing of a pair of breasts–my breasts, I guess–with a horizontal line on the outside of the left one, helpfully labelled “sore duct.” I burst into uncontrollable giggles. “This is… informative,” I managed.
Dr. Surgeon chuckled. “Well, it’ll give them a little guidance.” I nodded. She patted me on the shoulder. “You’ll be fine,” she said. I nodded again and put the paper in my purse. She promised to call after she got the report from the radiologist.
The imaging center is downstairs from the surgeons’ offices. I headed down there (after a stop to grab a snack, lest the advil eat a hole through my stomach) and checked in at the main desk. I signed some forms and then was waved on back to the mammography suite. Their little waiting room was empty, and I sat down with a magazine.
After just a couple of minutes, a very small and very old woman wearing a horrifyingly bad wig came to collect me. The wig looked like it would be called “butterscotch” or “chihuahua” in the Catalog of Cheap Wigs. I couldn’t avert my eyes. Fortunately, she was the most earnest hospital volunteer I’ve ever encountered, and didn’t notice that I was simultaneously obsessed with and repelled by her head. She was too busy running through what was obviously her standard schtick: If you are wearing any deodorant, wipe it off with the baby wipes, undress from the waist up, put the gown on with the opening in the front, store your clothing in one of the lockers, keep your purse and valuables with you at all times, wait in the chairs for the tech to come get you.
There was an informative poster on the wall of the changing room, extolling the virtue of “comfort pads” during mammography. “It’s your right. Ask for one today!” I found this puzzling. Why do I have to ask? If I don’t ask, do they assume I’d like to be uncomfortable? Then again, the box of baby wipes bore a sign warning “DO NOT THROW AWAY,” so perhaps these people were all about stating the obvious.
The tech came to get me and took me back to a room where a second tech was waiting. They asked some questions, filled out my paperwork, and then explained that they’d be doing two films on each breast. I nodded. “Are you okay? You look a little tense,” the senior tech peered at me.
“Yes. Well. You’re about to take my breast, which is already sore, and smash it in that machine, right? Yes. I’m a little tense. Oh!” I remembered the highly technical drawing from Dr. Surgeon, and pulled it out of my purse for them. “Look! Dr. Surgeon drew a picture for you!” They put their heads together to look at the paper.
“What does this say?” one tech asked another.
“It says ‘sore duct,'” I explained, “just in case I forgot how to talk on my way down here, or something.” After a couple of chuckles and a brief discussion, the techs decided to attach it directly to my file. I agreed that such a masterpiece shouldn’t be lost.
And then, I could stall no longer. I was directed to stand in front of the machine while one tech stood back by the computer and the other arranged me. And by arranged, I of course mean that she grabbed my breast like a hackey sack and pulled it this way and that. The computer tech reminded her to use a pad. “That’s right!” I quipped, “It’s my RIGHT!” I have to tell you, that quarter inch of white foam may have been better than just the plastic, but the whole concept is still sort of like being handed a band-aid just before having your tooth drilled. It’s a nice idea and all, but doesn’t make much difference.
Computer Tech came over and helped to arrange my arms, several times throughout the process, causing me to break out into a verse of The Hokey Pokey, Tourette’s-style, while she did it. But all in all, it wasn’t too bad. Its not my idea of a fun day, but not as bad as I’d feared, really. They took the films and told me they’d be back in 5 minutes.
Fifteen minutes later they came back. “Well, we’re going to do just a few more!” the Arranging Tech chirped.
“Great! Lucky me!” I tried not to panic. This was my first mammogram; surely they were just being thorough. The machine was tilted and this time Arranging Tech sat on the floor beneath me and reached up to work her manhandling magic. I tried not to laugh. “This is, like, the very BEST part of your job, right?” I asked her as she poked my breast again.
“Ha, well, it’s all about making sure everyone’s healthy,” she responded. Good answer, I thought. Because, really, how else can someone justify crawling around on the floor while reaching up and pulling on some stranger’s boobs?
They took two more pictures of my (afflicted) left breast. I was backing up to sit down again when Computer Tech said to Arranging Tech “Okay, let’s switch it out and do the others.” Together they started taking apart the platform area of the machine and putting a different-looking platform into its place.
“Uhhh… what’s that?” I asked.
“Oh, this is what we use to do what’s called a magnification film. It allows us to magnify a smaller area for a better look.” I nodded. “Okay, right breast this time, move right on up here.” I blinked.
“Wait… right breast? Why are you magnifying the RIGHT breast?” I looked from one tech to the other, but they both had their poker faces in place.
“The radiologist saw something that she wants to have a better look at, is all.” Maybe it was because I was suddenly a bit freaked out about there being something in the breast that is supposed to be fine, or maybe the magnification platform is different, but those films hurt WAY more than any of the others. I distinctly remember realizing that I wasn’t breathing–because I couldn’t possibly breathe, for fear of causing my squashed breast to implode–and that if they didn’t finish soon, I would probably pass out.
Again they took the films and told me they’d be back in 5 minutes.
Fifteen minutes later they came back, apologizing, saying the radiologist was conferring with her colleagues. But they needed to do just one more film.
“Seriously, do I need to be worried?” They exchanged glances.
“Nooo,” assured Computer Tech, “they’re just VERY THOROUGH. We’re almost done.” The last film was on my left, again, and was the pinchiest of the bunch. I made a mental note to send Dr. Surgeon a special thank-you for sharing her advil. I suspected I would’ve been through the roof without it.
Finally I was allowed to go get dressed and wait for the radiologist. I returned to the holding area, which was now full of women in gowns. I wondered if my fifty gazillion films had thrown off their schedule for the entire day. Scary Wig Volunteer showed up again, this time with an enormous platter of pink and white cookies.
“COOKIE?” she asked each one of us in turn. “COOKIE? COOKIE? WOULD YOU LIKE A COOKIE?” None of us wanted a cookie. Go figure. We’re all there in various states of undress, either worried about our health or worried about having sensitive bits clamped in machinery (or both), and not one of us felt like having a cookie.
About twenty minutes later, the radiologist came out and led me to a consultation room. She apologized for the delay, explained that she’d been tracking down and looking at my ultrasound as well as getting a second opinion on my mammogram films, and then–perhaps noticing that I was starting to hyperventilate–told me that I’m “probably fine.”
My breast tissue is very dense (just like me), and they were unable to see anything on the left around the afflicted area. Is that good news? Well, yes and no. It means there’s not a big tumor lurking in there, or anything, but on the other hand, we don’t have any more information now than we did before. On the right, we have calcifications! Which are probably nothing! But might be caused by cancer! But probably not! So, I get to do this all again in another six months, thanks to the betrayal of my right breast. It apparently did not receive the memo that it was to remain healthy and unquestionable no matter what. Stupid dense breast.
Then the radiologist said that she would recommend repeating the ultrasound on the left breast, maybe in a couple of months. I gaped at her. “Or, maybe in a month, if you don’t want to wait that long,” she amended.
“I’ve been having pain for a month, already. You’re saying do nothing for another month?” She looked at my file again and asked what Dr. Surgeon had last said. “She said she’d probably want to do a biopsy,” I answered.
“Oh, well, yes. That’d be another way to go, sure.” She smiled the “please take no notice of the fact that we doctors never seem to agree with one another” smile.
I thanked her and headed out. The whole morning was gone, and I was no closer to knowing anything or solving this problem (it seems). But I’d had three sets of hands on my boobs in as many hours, and that’s probably the best Valentine’s Day I could hope for, really.