Saturday, March 5, 2011

Wham, Bam, Thank You Mam

            This is a continuation of the blog post I wrote on Friday as I awaited a follow up appointment I was asked to make after my first-ever mammogram. If you haven’t read it, you can check in out here.

            I headed across town for my new appointment a little before 9:45. It isn’t far, but you either hit all green lights or all red lights crossing the City of Champions. I was lucky enough to hit all green lights, which I took to be a good omen. I have the unique ability to interpret just about anything into a good sign—I think I may put that on my resume one of these days.
            So I found a parking space (another good sign) and headed into the hospital. The Women’s Imaging Department is not far from the Emergency Room, but it has been clearly decorated to create a calm atmosphere. Rita (my new best friend) greeted me warmly. I thanked her profusely for getting me an appointment that morning. She assured me it was a win-win situation. Someone had cancelled moments before I called.
            I took a seat in the waiting room and took out my journal to write. I only jotted down a paragraph or two before Karen, the tech who would be taking my new mammogram called me in to change into my elegant hospital robe. She reminded me in voice and demeanor of my friend Pat who has stage-managed many of the plays I’ve been involved with. Pat is in the medical field herself and has a great balance of authority, compassion, and no-nonsense practicality. I felt instantly comfortable around Karne and found myself telling her the same sort of inappropriate jokes I would with Pat.
            “I want to explain why you’re here,” she said. “There was some calcification in the last picture we took. Most of the time that’s normal. Since that was your first mammogram we have nothing to compare it to so we want to take another picture with the magnifier so it will be bigger.”
            I stifled a giggle, “I’m trying not to make a crack about you taking pictures that will make my breasts look bigger. Besides, you’ve probably heard them all.” I said.
            “I probably have,” she laughed. “But don’t let that stop you.”
            Karen asked if I had any discomfort with the first mammogram. I told her that I hadn’t—in fact it was not as bad as I had anticipated. She looked slightly impressed.
“Maybe nursing my kids for a couple of years desensitized me a little,” I suggested.
            “Could be,” she said. “But I don’t think it makes much difference.”
            She took the first picture with the magnifier on the machine. It did was a bit more uncomfortable than the time before. Normally, if something hurts—like a blood test or an injection, I take a big breath. But being pressed up against the machine made inhaling almost impossible. The second picture was done at a different angle and I had to have my arm outstretched. It was not enjoyable. “Oooooh,” I said as the machine was pinched down.
            She seemed impressed again, “Wow, all she says is oooh.”
            I wonder what other women say? Do they swear? Or yell? I was too busy trying to not do either so I didn’t ask.
            When the mammogram was over Karen said, “You were awesome. I really mean that.” I don’t know if they say that to everyone or if I really tolerated the test better than most. I’m choosing to believe that I’m a bad ass.
            I was brought back into the waiting room and told to relax.
            “That’s an order?” I said.
            “I was just going to add that,” said Karen. The radiologist is going to look at the pictures now.” She went on to tell me that most likely it was just calcification and they’d have me back in six months to make sure nothing has changed. I jotted down a few more sentences in my journal. There was a set up in this waiting room with coffee, tea and little packets of graham crackers and saltines. I hoped that didn’t mean I was going to be in here for too long.
            Karen came back in and sat down next to me. She said there was calcification and some other very small spot they wanted to have a look at. Most likely it was a lymph node or a small cyst—both of which were nothing to be concerned about. It became very clear to me that Karen had been very well trained in preventing patients from freaking out. She was absolutely calm and reassuring. “We’d like to do an ultrasound as well,” she told me. “We can do that right now if you want.”
            “Why not,” I said, gesturing to the hospital johnny I was wearing. “I’m here and I already have my shirt off.”
            She laughed and escorted me to the dimly lit room where the ultrasound was to be given. I had an ultrasound in this same room after I lost my first pregnancy ten years ago. If you had asked me the day before to describe the room I couldn’t have told you anything about it at all. But the moment I stepped in I remembered it clearly. Fortunately, I hardly ever see bad omens in anything.
            After a mammogram, an ultrasound is almost relaxing. The tech was a young woman who was just as reassuring and professional as everyone else I had encountered. She couldn’t find the spot the radiologist had seen on the mammogram and wanted to have him take a look. “I’m going to go and see if he’s available. If it’s going to be more than a couple of minutes, I’ll come back and let you know.” 
            He came in moments later, introduced himself and repeated the ultrasound. “It looks like a lymph node,” he told me. “That isn’t unusual. It can be hard to tell on a first mammogram because there is nothing to compare it to. I’d like you to come back in six months just to be sure nothing has changed” He made sure I understood and I was free to go after I had another lovely chat with Rita to make my appointment for September.
            The sun was shining when I went out to my car. I was relieved and tired and ready for lunch. I stopped by the packie* and picked up a bottle of Maker’s Mark bourbon. It’s the good stuff for when my husband and I want to splurge a little. When I was checking out, the clerk asked to see my ID. Apparently, I look pretty young. Now that was a nice follow up to my follow up.

*That’s Massachusetts speak for liquor store