If you’ll recall a couple of weeks ago, MySweetCharity posted about a waiting room. Here is a follow-up of what happened:
Thursday, August 2
I feel like I’m going through Ground Hog Day for breasts. Wasn’t I just here a couple of weeks ago for a mammogram? Only this time they lead me through a different door. A woman opens a metal closet door and hands me two warm pink tops (a smock and a cape). It seems the closet is actually a warming closet. I am told to go into the little dressing room marked “Pink” and to put on the two tops (“Leave them open in the front”).
This is different than two weeks ago when I only got one unheated top and immediately was introduced to a mammography machine that cost as much as a condominium. Within 48 hours the machine and the people who decipher its readings saw something that earned me a return match with another mammography machine and a sonogram. But before this showdown took place, it took an excruciating two weeks to get my old films from my previous imaging center sent to my new breast home. During that time I had received notices that my films had not been received. They encouraged me to get on it. But I had signed all the waivers releasing the information. In fact, I did it twice — once at the first mammogram and a second time when the first notice arrived. Of course, these notices in pink envelopes would arrive on Friday after the center had closed for the weekend, resulting in a long weekend of wondering what the problem was. It got to a point where I started thinking my postman was my health care provider as he left these envelopes in our mailbox. Perhaps this was what they meant by government-controlled health care. Neighbors stopped walking their dogs on our side of the block because of the crazy, rabid woman screaming inside our house. When the films finally arrived, the readings earned me an immediate appointment.
Now I sit in a carpeted hallway lined with chairs and a very nice coffee bar. There are women who like me are on the second segment of a journey that will hopefully end this morning. All races, colors and ages are here. We are a melting pot waiting our turns. No one speaks. One woman listens to music via ear buds. Another reads a magazine. I wonder if she’s really reading or just going through the motions. A young woman — perhaps in her mid 30′s — joins the group. She looks like she must be a runner with her muscular calves. She also looks like she’s farther along her journey than the rest of us with hair that appears to be freshly reborn. The expression on her face is one of having been through this procedure and others too many times for someone her age.
The door at the far end of the hallway opens. One woman who has already had her mammogram hears her name called by a man in a white lab jacket with a clipboard. She anxiously gathers her purse and book and follows him. I’m one of the newbies here and wonder what happens behind that door. I know that the four doors across from me contain the mammography machines, but what is behind that door at the end of the hallway?
I learn that every inch of the way the technicians, nurses and professionals ask your birth date. Only two have asked my name. Maybe it helps to keep things a bit impersonal at this point.
The Olympics are playing on a TV hanging from the ceiling. It seems a bit ironic. Those of us uncertain of our health watching the healthiest in the world. They’re competing for a medal. We are fighting for our lives. Their lives have been about being in London. Our being here in this waiting room is about living.
Am called into a mammography room where I see films of my previous mammogram. Areas are circled. It’s the right breast that is being scrutinized. Before I can photograph it on my iPhone, I am asked my birth date and introduced to the very upscaled mammography machine. My right breast that I now refer to as Ethel is manipulated like silly putty in between two clear plates. Clara, the technician, apologizes for the discomfort. I lie and say it’s fine. Ethel is a hefty gal and is rearranged and photographed from all angles. I ask how they squeeze smaller breasts between the two plates. Clara says something. I register a surprised look as if I didn’t believe her. With a smile, she holds up a blue plastic spatula. The idea of a $3 spatula coming to the aid of the ultra-expensive mammography machine makes me laugh.
I am told that the film will be sent to a radiologist and not to get dressed but to return to the waiting room. Hmm. Not a good sign. I see a sonogram or my name being called by the man in the white jacket in my near future.
As I take my place in the hallway of waiting women, one woman leaves one of the mammogram rooms and heads directly to the bathroom. She looks a little green around the gills. Who could blame her? This morning we are all in the same foxhole.
The hallway door opens and my name is called by Julia, who will assist Dr. Phil in performing the sonogram. She was born in Cape Cod, but moved to Great Britain as a child, which explains her accent. She leads me to a room and has me lie on the examining table on my left side. She wants to know if I’m cold because she can get a blanket. I’m fine. . . at least in the temperature department. The rest will soon be determined.
Within a couple of minutes Dr. Phil enters. He explains what’s going to happen. As he starts sliding a elongated mouse around the top side of Ethel, we joke about the Olympic badminton teams that were eliminated the night before and how the Cowboys have been using the same strategy. Then Dr. Phil’s and Julia’s faces focus on the screen more intensely as his hand slides the mouse over a very specific area. His voice loses the light spirit. We stop the jokes. We just stop talking. Finally he says that there’s a spot and he wants to do a biopsy.
That word “biopsy” sucks the air out of the room. I had only come here for a couple of non-invasive tests that would prove everyone had been overly cautious. Now, he’s talking about a procedure that is done if you’re nearing the point of being a member of the Big C Club.
While I’m trying to appear cool and in control, Dr. Phil asks if I’m on any blood thinning medications. I say only aspirin every other day. . . and low dose at that. He suggests that it might be wise to wait a few days until the aspirin is out of my system because it might create some major bruising. It would then take three to four days before the results would come back. Shit! He doesn’t know whom he’s talking to. I am the child of a double-breast cancer survivor.
My mother had her first mastectomy in the 1950′s. Her second one was the late 60′s. Those were days before mammograms and sonograms. Her first bout was tantamount to Civil War battlefield surgery. They took everything including her right breast, her lymph nodes under arm and a large patch of skin from her thigh to mend the chest. There were no recovery groups to help her post surgery. While I remembered watching her stuff Kleenex into her bra to fill the void, I never recalled seeing my mother in a swimsuit or even wearing a sleeveless blouse. She would laugh and say she saved a heck of a lot of money on not needing deodorant.
Without hesitation, I look at Julia and Dr. Phil and tell them, “If you’ve got the time, let’s do it today.” Dr. Phil looks a little surprised. Yes, he has the time. I tell him, “I’m not a topless dancer, so I don’t care about bruising.”
Dr. Phil and Julia leave the room to prepare for the spontaneous biopsy of Ethel.
I start mulling over what I will do to try to keep my mind busy. Am I in denial? No. I just know I can’t do anything more than have the biopsy and wait. I think about all the women I’ve known over the years, who have had biopsies done. Did they experience the same fears and stupid courage? Did they talk it over with their family? Should I have gone home and over dinner said, “Oh, what do you think about my having a biopsy?” No. My husband’s response would have been, “Why are you even asking?”
I recalled a friend who years ago was on the Komen board. When I asked her where she had her mammogram done, she said she had never had one because she didn’t want to know if she had cancer. I never understood that way of thinking. Now, it was more of a mystery than ever. I not only wanted to know. I wanted to know immediately.
Julia returns with paperwork that legally advises me of rights, wrongs and agreements. I sign them. She gently explains everything that will happen. Dr. Phil will return and make sure that I understand all that will happen. He will have me sign more papers acknowledging my agreement. I ask her what would happen after the results came back. What if. . .? She says that if the results demanded it, I would meet other doctors. But she quickly and gently waves me off saying there is no need to be discussing that unless it is necessary.
I don’t want to tell her, but I am having an out-of-body experience. My head is nodding, but my mind is floating somewhere around the room.
Dr. Phil returns with a young resident, Dr. Michael, who graduated from Tulane and has been studying medicine at UT Southwestern.
Dr. Phil sits on a stool as I sit up on the examining table. He looks directly into my eyes. We definitely have an eye-lock going on. He briefly reviews everything and asks my name and birth date. Normally I would have said, “Marilyn Monroe,” but we’re way past that. I answer honestly and hold my breath. I’m scared, but I know I’ve made the right decision.
Julia wipes an area of Ethel with alcohol and lotion. As I lie on my left side, she is facing me holding my hand and smiling. Behind me are Dr. Phil and Dr. Michael. At one point I see a syringe being passed. I haven’t seen a needle that long since my horse had to have his West Nile vaccination.
Dr. Phil tells me that he’s going to inject anesthesia into the area and there’s going to be a slight prick and sting. Julia never lets go of my hand. Yup, he’s right. Prick and sting and I squeeze Julia’s hand. But I’ve had more pain having a cavity filled. We wait a minute. Then he says he’s going to make a slight incision and to let him know if I feel anything.
Ouch! I let him know I feel something. It’s like a paper cut with a rating of 5. He apologizes and injects something to kick up the anesthesia. It works. I feel nothing except Julia’s hand steadfastly holding mine.
Dr. Phil now plays a very intense video game. He somehow manages to use the mouse and sonogram’s screen to locate the point of concern and then snatches a piece of the culprit. I wonder how he’s doing all of this with just two hands. While I don’t see the tool that he uses to capture the specimen, I’m warned by one and all that it will click like a staple gun and I’ll feel some pressure but that will be it. They’re right. Five or six times the click and an ever-slight kick. Like a jeweler cutting a precious diamond, Dr. Phil takes each one of the specimens to its own little container. They will be sent to the lab to be examined and reviewed by vigilantly trained eyes.
During this time everyone’s eyes are on the screen except mine. I’m positioned so I can only see Julia. She time and again reassures me that I’m doing wonderfully. I tell her that I learned how to lie on my side ages ago and have gotten pretty good at it.
After the last specimen is taken, I receive a trinket. It’s a titanium clip that Dr. Phil inserts in Ethel’s spot of interest. This is to help in the future regardless of the biopsy results.
Dr. Phil and Dr. Michael leave to meet with other patients. As Julia cleans and bandages the area that has been biopsied, she tells me that I am to return to the waiting room and have another mammogram to make sure that Ethel’s new clip is nicely visible.
I return to the hallway. Only one woman is left. I wonder what happened to the others — the young woman with the muscular legs, the woman who rushed to bathroom, the woman with the ear buds. Only the woman with the magazine is still there.
I wonder how I’m going to break the news to my husband. He always takes things so seriously. I dread the idea of having him confused, distraught and anxious, but he agreed years ago “for better or worse, in sickness and in health.” This is one of those situations and he’ll handle it.
Clara opens the door and recognizes me. As we return to her mammography machine, she says that she was a little surprised to see me back for a return bout. I tell her that Ethel had been in need of some attention, so Dr. Phil fulfilled her wishes. She laughs as she once again positions the worn-out breast between the two plates again. Ethel is tired and doesn’t put up much of a fight. Thanks to the anesthesia, she feels no pressure this time as the plates squeeze together.
Afterwards, Clara tells me that I can finally change into my civvies and leave. I don’t have to check out with anyone. . . just walk straight to the elevator.
Monday, August 6
Dr. Phil calls. The only two words I hear are, “Good news!” As he explains something about fibroid tissues, I only think that I won’t have to go further on this journey and drag my family and friends along. When I thank Dr. Phil, I sound composed, unlike my heart. It’s beating overtime. I tell him that there’s been no bruising. He sounds pleased. “Very good. We didn’t hit anything.” I go on and tell him that I hope he’s able to tell many more women, “Good news!” and that we will meet again under different circumstances. He says that we’ll be seeing each other in six months as a follow-up. Better to be safe than sorry.
As I hang up the phone, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for the people who made the machinery, the professionals like Dr. Phil, Dr. Michael, Julia and Clara who hold people together as they make this journey, and for my momentary courage to damn the torpedoes, let’s get this biopsy done.
But I am also somber thinking about the women who were in that waiting room last Thursday and every day, who may not hear “Good news!”