Dear Mammogram Machine at Beth Israel Hospital,
Maybe if your 8 × 10-inch rectangular plastic plates were set up to look like hands, we’d know how to place our breasts within them. The squeezing and squashing would seem normal. I could imagine you as a first-time lover. “Be more gentle,” I’d whisper. And you’d loosen your vice grip.
I know it isn’t your fault, but the metal, plastic, and tiny bits of radiation all make me weary. I’d imagine that’s the usual reaction of a lot of women whose breasts get crushed between those plates.
Do you take that in? All the fear and anxiety?
They are our breasts, for goodness sake. The font of femininity and tools of seduction. Yes, of course, they are feed bags too.
My first visit to see you was routine for someone my age. I figure within the year the elderly Russian technician has placed at least 3000 breasts in your grasp. I calculated that as 2 breasts, 6 patients a day, for 250 days (I gave her some days off).
Did a man design you, Mammogram Machine? If they detected colon cancer by pressing a guy’s prick between some plastic plates, I bet someone would create a better way. Yes, I know a tube get’s stuck up in there to snoop around. But try the speculum sometime. That’s no joyride either.
The letter requesting I return, “showed a finding that requires additional imaging studies for a complete evaluation. Most such findings are benign (not cancer).” I have to say, that last sentence did not temper my panic.
The technician for my second mammogram didn’t seem so skilled. She had to take at least 4 images of my right breast. If they would let me, I’d take a photo of the women who were called back. I’d label the pictures, “Faces of Dread.”
Mammogram Machine, have you met the ultrasound machine? The sonogram taken of my right breast showed the questionable spots more clearly. I think you two should coordinate more often.
The radiologist, after the second mammogram and the sonogram, immediately told me to go down the hall and schedule surgery. Do they not teach you tact at that hospital? I don’t make great decisions when I am terrified, by the way. But you weren’t there. She gave me the bad news in front of the ultrasound machine. I tried not to cry.
On the street, far away from your cool stare, I called my boyfriend. He was gentle and loving and sweet. “I barely have breasts!” I say aloud. “A questionable growth on my liver, not that I want one, would make more sense to me. I use that organ quite a bit.” But you don’t hear any of our conversation, Mammogram Machine. You are oblivious to it all.
The morning of my surgery, I reported to the cancer center at Beth Israel. My surgeon was Filipina, like me. It was as if my sister would be with me in the operating room.
But I had to face you prior to the surgery so the radiologist could stick a hair-like rod into the questionable section and the surgeon would know where to cut. Except the rod had a hook on the bottom, like a fishing rod. So the surgeon could fish for cancer or whatever else might be floating around in there.
This time, I got to sit in a chair while my right breast was put into your plates. The angle was wrong. The technician made me stand again. I liked her. She was very apologetic. Not like you, Mammogram Machine. You seemed aloof and steely.
I pictured myself as a Botero sculpture, voluptuous and ample. That way my bosom would overflow. And even when the technician clamped down on the breast with your plastic plates, I told myself it was an annoyance that would be quickly over.
But you knew. That’s right. I’m more like a Giacometti, lithe and long. I can tell by the technician’s face this isn’t going to be pleasant. She gently pushed me closer to you, asking me to slightly turn to get a better angle. I tell my body to go slack so that she doesn’t have to pull at my barely-A cup breast.
It took an hour, and another technician, and the radiologist to get me into the right position. Were you toying with us, Mammogram Machine? Did you see the spots but just wanted to hold fast to my breast? I meditated in the room to take my mind away from the scene.
The noise you made reminded me of the X-ray machine at the dentist’s office. Or an old photocopier when the light ran over the paper. It would be different if you sounded like a cooing dove. That might calm my nerves.
I got good news. Benign. No cancer in the bits that were removed. But I’m still miffed at you, Mammogram Machine. I get the rationale, you were only doing your job. I just wish our last interaction was better.
I’m told it isn’t the end of our relationship. I’m to come see you again in September. I wish I could say I’m looking forward to it.
An Open Letter to the Mammogram Machine at Beth Israel Hospital
Dear Mammogram Machine at Beth Israel Hospital,