February 3, 2008
NIBEM 3: Mammo Day
No soap. No lotion, no perfume and especially no deodorant. The packing list for Survivor? No, just pre-mammogram instructions. Abstaining from these items ensures a better x-ray, and I’m happy to comply. No woman ever wants to endure the mammo experience more than once a year. Repeat visits produce way too much anxiety. I’m willing to do everything I can to get a clear image the first time around.
My appointment was for 8 a.m. yesterday. I never sleep-in anyway so I was happy with an early Saturday slot. Also, an entire workday without soap and deodorant would have been trying for me and everyone around me. On the rare occasions that I forget to put on deodorant I’m sure that my anxiety about possible body odor causes me to sweat more that I would normally.
Mammograms are the only Saturday appointment at the Sansum Clinic. I was sure I had the wrong date when I drove up and no one was there but the security guard. I was assured that the “ladies” would be in shortly so I went back to the car and read the newspaper. When I saw the staff arrive I went in and 15 minutes later I was back in the car. In and out. Short and sweet.
Personally, I don’t find mammograms incredibly painful but they are definitely uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. It’s also the only time that I view my own breasts as if they are detached from my body. Breasts are lifted and manipulated by a strange pair of hands, and then the machine takes over. It’s the compression that’s the killer. The clear plastic shield is lowered in jerky increments, and just when you start thinking the whole experience isn’t so bad, the shield smashes your breast more and then just a little bit more. And then you have to do the other breast. My least favorite pose is the one where they lift your arm and drape it over the machine. It seems like you are actually embracing your instrument of torture. Moaning, grimaces, tightened jaws and clinched fists are allowed as long as you stand very still.
Seven years ago was the only time I’ve ever had difficulties with a mammogram. I got a letter from the radiologist saying I needed to come back in for additional screening. At the time we were in the midst of packing to move back to California, and my stress level was very high. My life was in a state of disruption. Why should my breasts have been any different?
The technician was young, sweet and barely competent. She had to redo the x-rays about 4 times, apologizing profusely each time. At some point in the process I burst into tears. She looked bewildered, and then smiled as she asked if I wanted a hug. My very clearly stated, “NO!” didn’t stop her and she threw her arms around me before I could remove my breast from the lower tray and back away. This didn’t comfort me, and I’m sure the tearful tirade that followed didn’t do much for her either.
In the end, an ultrasound determined that everything was fine. As a reward for my healthy breasts I received a large manila envelope of souvenir breast x-rays to carry all the way across America to Santa Barbara. Here’s hoping my good fortune continues.
NIBEM Note: Have camera, will photograph. The radiology technician looked at me strangely when I asked to photograph her x-ray machine. She didn't respond right away so I told her I was going to email the picture to my daughter to prove I got a mammogram. Sorry, Nora, but that won her over. I'm sure my request probably gave her a good story to tell around the lunch table.