The compression plates of the imaging machine are cold. I shrug out of one side of the gown while the technician positions my breast and my body for the best imaging angle. The plates compress uncomfortably, and I grimace slightly. Hold your breath. Hold. Hold. Hold. Aaaand, breathe. The machine releases me and I step back. We set the stage for the next one. Diagnostic imaging is more involved than the standard mammogram, requiring specialized compression plates and sometimes torturous positions, stretching my right breast into flattened alien shapes. Impatiently, I push away the closures I can’t figure out how to tie in order to close the gown properly. Honestly, medical gowns are ridiculously useless.
Hold. Hold. Hold. Release. Step away. Lather, rinse, repeat.
As one technician finishes with me, the next one takes over and leads me to another room with the ubiquitous examination table. I unwrap my stupid gown and rest my arm above my head. The gel for the ultrasound is warm. Thank heavens for small favors. During both exams, polite technicians handle my breast, moving it into the necessary positions. The women are good at not letting anything show on their faces, but I get a sense that things aren’t great. This technician finishes and takes the results to the doctor. She returns in a few minutes and brightly tells me the doctor just needs a few more images of my breast, so back to mammography I go. We’re looking at black spots close up and personal.
Again. Hold. Hold. Hold. Release. Step away. Again.
After the second run of images from the mammogram, I see a definite shaded mass in the right breast. This could simply be a “dense area” I tell myself. But there are also dark spots. I am trying to be very zen, and tell myself that this is fine; I’m just dense. But the joke falls flat to my anxious ears as I sit and wait — in the waiting room, of course — for the doctor to come in and talk to me. I step away to use the restroom, only to discover upon my return that the doctor’s come and gone during the three minutes I’m gone.
The nurse who updates me cheerfully relays the doctor’s message that we should “continue with the scheduled surgery” — which is highly disconcerting, as this is news to me. I don’t know about any surgical date actually being set; we’ve only talked about the possibility at this point. This disconnect of information makes me anxious and escalates my anxiety to irritation. Clearly, this shows on my face and the nurses falters a bit and loses some of her chirpiness; sadly, I take perverse satisfaction in this (yes, I am a bad person and yes, I realize I’m going to hell). She scurries off to get the doctor so he can deal with me instead.
I get the sense this is going to be a long process, and I am already not suffering fools gladly.
A new face comes into the waiting room; it is apparently the aforementioned doctor. A grandfatherly man with a grizzled beard and a dismissive, pat-me-on-the-head demeanor sits down next to me. Already I take an irrational dislike to him. We hash out what he has read in my chart versus what I’ve been told and, after ten minutes with this man, I’m no better off than I was before he came in. I notice distractedly that the nurses keep other patients out of the room while we are having this exchange, and my agitation increases. This doctor is handling me, and it is offensive to the adult in me (which, ironically, makes me want to lash out like a petulant child). I learn precious little about the dark mass and the black dots on my images. No, he will need to examine those in further detail (it takes a Herculean effort on my part to not tell him to stop wasting my goddamn time but go back and read the goddamn images in said goddamn further detail while I await a more goddamn informed conversation). But what is clear is this: we’ve found the mass in the outside duct that is causing the bleeding, and the duct will need to be removed and biopsied no matter what else we find.
Like that’s a surprise.
On my way out, I stop by the lab and have them draw blood for a full pre-surgical workup. As I wait my turn outside the door, a small girl is crying hysterically from inside the lab. I instantly feel a kindred spirit with the girl; she is able to express her fear and frustration, the pain and the poignancy of the moment that I simply cannot. I am envious of her ability to get away with her emotional outburst. I hear a woman offering the girl a handful of stickers and, as the crying abates, she asks her, “Now do you like me better?” and the little girl, with stickers in hand, loudly states the obvious truth: “No.”
You go girl. I’m right there with you.
And they didn’t even give me a goddamn sticker.
Previously in this saga: