On Mortality, Banality, and Boobs, Part 2

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At the rather bluntly named “Breast Care Center,” a nurse escorted me back to the same room, where I had learned I would need to have a needle biopsy just a few days earlier. I couldn’t wait to get it over with. The sooner they got the pathology results back from the biopsy, the sooner I would know one way or another what my life would be like for the next few months, or perhaps years.

The nurse told me that a doctor would come in and talk with me in a little while. She left a clipboard and a brand new marker sealed in a plastic pouch on the counter and walked out. As I waited for the doctor to arrive, I idly wondered if the marker was for me to doodle with in case I got bored.

Suddenly, an adorable little boy dressed in slacks and a button-down shirt popped his head into the room. He wore wire-rimmed glasses, and smiled at me from his twinkly Asian eyes. I wanted to pinch his cheeks, give him a lollipop, and then help him find his mommy. He could have been my own son. It turned out he was my doctor.

He opened the marker, wrote something on my chest above the breast in which lurked the “areas of concern,” and then tossed the marker into the trashcan. He explained to me what was going to happen next and then we headed to the room.

Another young doctor and two nurses were waiting for us in the room. I lay on my side on a stretcher and they wheeled me up to the mammogram machine. They clamped my left breast into place and once again I got up close and personal with the cold hard surfaces of the mammogram machine. I couldn’t see anything or anyone, but I felt one of the nurses grab my fingers. She told me I could squeeze hers as they numbed the area with four or five shots of lidocaine. Disembodied voices asked me meaningless questions. I knew no one really cared where I was from, or how long I’d lived in Charlottesville, but I understood that these questions were meant as a kindness and so I gave answers as if they mattered. Every now and then throughout the procedure one of the nurses would give my hip a pat and then let her hand come to a rest there. I usually hate being touched by strangers, but I think I will remember the warm weight of her reassuring hand with gratitude for the rest of my life.

The area numbed up quickly and they extracted a tissue sample and inserted a titanium marker in its place as a permanent souvenir of my visit to the Breast Care Center. As for the tissue sample, they put it in what the nurse described as “our Suzy Bake Oven” to make sure they had enough and wouldn’t need to go in for more. Once they took a few more photos of my traitorous appendage, I was unclamped and wheeled away from the machine.

And now the second young doctor was mashing down my boob with both of his hands…hard.

“I have to do this for the next ten minutes,” he said apologetically, “It will stop the bleeding.”

“OK,” I said and I turned my head away to look at the clock. Making eye contact in such a situation did not quite seem the thing to do. The horrible thought suddenly crossed my mind that the two young doctors who had worked on me that morning, from Asia and India, might easily be one of the many international students who pass through my office on a daily basis for a travel signature or a program extension. I see so many students that it is impossible to remember all of their faces or names. Maybe I helped this young man file for work authorization so that he could be legally permitted to be here pinning down my boob as if it were going to run away. This thought – like so many of the other thoughts that had been racing through my head for the last couple of weeks – had to be shoved away just as quickly as it reared its ugly head.

After the ten minutes were up, I was bandaged and the nurses gave me my post-procedure instructions. It had seemed like an eternity, but the entire procedure was over in less than an hour.

“You’re heading straight home now, right?” one of them asked.

“I was planning to go to work, actually,” I answered.

“No, honey,” the nurse shook her head, “You’re not going to work. You’ve been through a lot and you’re going to be exhausted. Go home, get into pajamas, take some Tylenol and watch a movie.”

And so I did.

Related post: On Mortality, Banality, and Boobs, Part 1

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