Ten people. TEN.
This is how many people I dealt with while getting my annual mammogram. How did something so personal turn into an assembly line? As if getting my boobs pancaked and my skin yanked so tight that I felt it all the way up to my ears isn’t bad enough. I get to be treated like a cow in a roundup.
Before I go off on a complete diatribe, I want to be fair. I’m ALWAYS a wreck at mammogram time. My mother died of breast cancer. The final ten years of her life were hell as the cancer spread to her lymph nodes, her spine and her brain. I learned to administer shots. I watched as her brain fluid was removed from a shunt in her head to make room for the chemo to go in. I know too well the consequences of a mammogram that reveals something bad.
To add insult to injury — in a brilliantly stupid move — I booked my mammogram the day after I went to roller derby camp. My breasts were the only part of my body that didn’t hurt. I guess I didn’t want them to feel left out.
My first visit wasn’t terrible, just very impersonal. It felt a whole lot like a bureaucrat’s idea of the quickest, most efficient way to herd women through their yearly indignity. The person I made the appointment with was not the person I checked in with. Once checked in, I was sent to a phone booth in the lobby to call a centralized area of the hospital that dealt with insurance before moving on down the line.
I was given a fluffy robe and a locker. After a quick stop in an interior waiting room, the boob smashing was performed by a really nice technician. In the end, I was told that a doctor would take a look at the results and I would receive a phone call in a few days. In, out, done.
A week later, I get the call. Something was wrong. I must return for further tests, possibly an ultrasound. The woman at the end of the line obviously had a sheet of paper in front of her outlining the proper way to kindly defuse panicked patients. The answers to my (what I thought were reasonable) questions went something like this:
“Ma’am, I don’t have that information, you’ll have to speak to the radiologist when you come back.”
“Yes it’s a possible cyst, but don’t worry, 90% of the time it is not cancer.”
“All I know is that something was seen and they want to run further tests.”
And the like.
By the time I returned for “further tests,” I was a total wreck. I had spent most of my time thinking about my mother’s ordeal, the horrendous pain, the unbelievable indignity, the treatments that had rendered her unrecognizable.
I thought about the day she posed for her last picture with her grandchildren — the former model smiling for the camera, her head so swollen from steroids she had to wear a neck brace.
By the end, my mother — a relentless degree-gatherer — lived in a world of hallucinations and oatmeal.
I didn’t come in for “further testing” in the best frame of mind.
A whole new crop of folks were there to greet me. I told each of the receptionists that I would like to see the radiologist and my mammogram results prior to any more testing. It was very important to me to see what they saw. I was escorted back to the mammogram room and the technician began her spiel. I interrupted, and asked once again to see the radiologist. I was told that I could see the doctor when we were finished with the mammogram.
I insisted. The technician’s response was unbelievable, she rolled her eyes at me — ROLLED HER EYES — and said, “That’s not the procedure here.”
Very near tears, I again insisted.
After more eye-rolling and arguments about “the way things were done here,” she finally relented and stormed from the room. Left alone, I went from near-tears to embarrassed full-on-bawling.
Mortified by my lack of self discipline, I entered the radiologist’s office in full blubber mode. The doctor explained to me that an area in my left breast was a cause for concern. She showed me a dense area that the initial mammogram couldn’t see properly and wanted to see some different views. Armed with this knowledge, I was able to continue the tests feeling more at ease.
The second round of X-rays were sheer torture. Any kind of composure I had regained was ripped out from under me. Sensing that I was an emotional wreck, the eye-rolling technician had become very kind toward me as she twisted my left breast nearly upside-down, clamped it between two glass panes, and hand-cranked the gnarled mess down harder to obtain a better view. My skin from my chest through my neck to my forehead was so taut I thought it would split. It hurt like hell — and back came the tears.
After releasing me from the vice, the technician assured me that she “made it go away,” meaning the new views were clean and I had nothing to worry about. I forgave her the eye-rolling escapade and thanked her profusely.
In the waiting room, I sat trying — once again — to regain my composure. This was getting embarrassing — which just exacerbated the situation. Now that I was alone, I started imagining how everyone beyond the waiting room doors were talking about the crying crazy lady they had on their hands. Not helpful.
A new woman (person #9, in case you’ve been counting along) entered the room and told me that the radiologist, after looking at the new results, wanted an ultrasound performed. What? I told her that I would like to see the new X-rays. I was escorted to the ultrasound room.
After a short wait, a very sweet ultrasound tech (#10) greeted me and asked me to lie back on the table. I again asked to see my X-rays. #10 said the radiologist would be there shortly to go over the ultrasound with me and we should just get started. I said I’d rather wait until I could see what we were looking for. #10 left the room and returned with the radiologist, sans X-rays .
At this point, I was told it was unnecessary to see the X-rays, as they didn’t show anything conclusive. The ultrasound was ordered because of my family history.
What? Why did I have the second mammogram? How much was this going to cost? Is this just more “procedure” to jack up the price? Who can I talk to about this?
I gave up. I was in no emotional state to argue anymore. I felt like I had no control over my medical choices, no rights as a patient, was mad with no outlet — and felt helpless as hell. I cried unabashedly throughout the entire ultrasound.
In the end, I did receive a clean bill of health. Hopefully I’ll be finished fighting my insurance company before I have to go through this again next year.
They’ve declined to cover every bit of this.