I talked rapidly as my doctor looked over my chart, hoping
that he would not notice that Iíd not had a mammogram in two
"How long since you had a mammogram?" he asked. I
had to admit to the truth since he had it right there in front
of him anyhow.
"The nurse will make you an appointment," said the
doctor, knowing Iíd probably never get around to it.
"Do you perform monthly self exams?" he asked. It
seems you canít just go to the doctor any more and get a
checkup. They always find something else that needs testing or
checking, so you have to go back.
I arrived at the womenís clinic on the appointed morning
feeling a bit like a watermelon before a Gallagher performance.
"I donít have you down for today," said the
receptionist. Oh, good, maybe I can get out of this after all.
"But we will work you in," she continued. Just my
luck. I donít know how I got mixed up about the day. Selective
memory, I suppose.
I filled out the mountain of paperwork that they required,
answering all the highly personal questions again, even though I
had been to this clinic before, and even though I was there only
two weeks prior to this. Why they need to know how old I was
when I had my first child, or whether Iím allergic to latex Iím
still trying to figure out.
Anyhow, they finally called my name and I went in the little
dressing room and put on the little cape, in preparation for my
grand entrance. Iím sure I looked smashing in the latest
designer medical attire.
"No history and no specific problems? Just a routine
Yes, I nodded dumbly, wondering why I just filled out all
that paperwork since apparently nobody looked at it anyhow.
As I went into the room with the torture machine, my brain
told my body to run away, out through the waiting room, past the
other grim-faced women, and out the front door screaming, with
my cape flying in the wind. But all I did was bravely
step up to the machine and wait for Nurse Gallagher to perform
her sadistic duties.
What man invented the mammogram machine anyhow? It had to be
a man. No woman would ever invent a machine that feels so much
like medical malpractice. No, I donít want to have cancer, and
I know about all the women whose lives have been save by a
simple mammogram. So why am I afraid?
"Do you perform monthly self-breast exams?" asked
Nurse Gallagher, as if I could think of anything other than
being smashed with a giant mallet.
This will only take a few minutes, " she promised, as
the machine hummed and I held my breath, waiting to pass out.
At last the ordeal was over and I gratefully returned to the
dressing room to check out the damage.
"We will call if there is a problem," said the
receptionist. "Your doctor will have the results by
So, Iíll return to my normal routine, feeling a bit black
and blue in unspecified places, but otherwise none the worst for
my ordeal. But not every woman will. Of the eight women in the
waiting room, statistics say one of us will have breast cancer
at some time in her life. This year, 39,800 women will die of
As I strolled smugly out the door, I was very pleased with
myself for taking care of my health. I felt a slight twinge of
pity for the women in the waiting room diligently recording the
history of their life, which will most likely never be read.
Now that it is all over, I canít imagine why anyone would
feel embarrassed or afraid.