The Mammogram… and the current state of our healthcare system

Healthcare.  It’s been on everybody’s mind lately.  People are worried sick about it.  “Am I going to lose my health coverage?  Is the website working yet?  Will I have to same type of coverage as the elite members of this country such as the president, senators, and Kanye West?”  All are legitimate questions, without clear answers, answers that have torn apart friends, family, and parts of this country as a whole.  Along with these answers comes the blame game, with our problems always being somebody else’s fault.

The truth is, these issues have been apparent for quite some time… years even…  well, I at least have known of them for a while now.  I could’ve sent a warning to my friends much earlier, but hesitated.  I was acting on selfishness and cowardness when I should’ve thought of others and how my story, no matter how embarrassing it may be, could have prepared them for the future.  Well, better late than never, and who knows?  It may still save a few souls here and there, even though my silence has cost many all ready a great deal of pain.  You only have one life to live, and you must do what you can with what you got to make it count.  That’s my motto.

It all happened a couple years ago during a Christmas party in an old apartment in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle.  There was a holiday theme, and all in attendance were mingling about in the appropriate attire to match the occasion, sharing with each other the spirit of the Christmas season.  For some reason, I had my shirt off (which baffles me to this day, for I rarely rip off my shirt during any party or likewise occasion, ever), and after talking to somebody for an extended period of time, they noticed something unusual with my chest.  One breast was bigger than the other.  This was something I had known ever since my teenage years, and didn’t think too much of it.  “So, one of my boobs is bigger than the other.  Who cares!?”  But as the news spread around the party about my abnormality, worry and panic set in.

“Oh let me just see it,” one girl asked.  I didn’t mind.  She was probably a babe, so I let her feel for herself the non-symmetrical phenomenon that was my boobs.  “Oh my gosh, it’s true!” she exclaimed as she caught the attention of others, drawing them into close quarters with my naked chest.  “Let me see,” asked one.  “I don’t believe it, I wanna feel,” said another.  Before I knew it, a dozen people from both sexes were crowded around me in an attempt to examine the build up of unusual tissue around my left nipple, all of which began touching and feeling it at their own free will!  I don’t mind if a few hot babes grab them here and there, especially since I was eager for a chance to show off my newly sculpted pectoral muscles.  But it was getting to the point where things were starting to get uncomfortable.  To some, it could’ve been classified as sexual harassment, although I couldn’t bring myself to make that accusation.  After all, every one that touched both of my boobs seemed genuinely concerned for my health, and was only grabbing them for medical reasons.  So I just stood there in an inept position as I watched the reaction of people, one after another in shock as the squeezed each nipple, realizing the irregularity of my body.

“You really should get that checked out,” one suggested, followed by nods of approval.  Enough people agreed, and counseled me in their own personal way.  I forget who was all involved in the decision that night, but I know it wasn’t Ben Woodward.  He usually has some pretty good sense about these things.  In fact, I don’t really remember much of Ben during the whole party, which leads me to believe that he was actually being really cool about the situation and in general.  However, his coolness wasn’t enough to convince me from doing something about my condition, so the next week, I made an appointment to visit a doctor and clear up whatever defective generation of tissue build up there may be inside my body, if there was any issue at all, which I highly doubted.

I entered the doctor’s office with a slight agitation, and the nurse reminding me of my weight insecurity wasn’t helping the situation.  What was this build up of tissue in my left breast?  Will I need surgery?  Chemo?  I was just beginning my life, and life was good.  This is the last thing I need at a time like this!  But better to take care of these things now rather than later, when they could be much worse…  That’s my motto.

The doctor entered and did his regular examinations before proceeding to copping a feel, which I guess I allowed in an indirect way.  He squeezed, and massaged, and rubbed, and felt all around my chest as I stood there in anticipation of his diagnosis.  He had a look of puzzlement on his face that was impossible to determine whether it was a sign of hope or doom.  So I waited, heart pounding for several minutes for his decision.

“Well, my professional opinion is it’s just some build up of residual tissue.  I don’t see any signs of a tumor or-“

“Great news doc!  I agree with the diagnosis, and gee, look at the time.  Gotta go.  It’s been a pleasure-“

“BUT…”  One of most disappointing phrases a man may ever hear.  I looked back with concern, halfway out the door.  I wasn’t going to like the next words out of his mouth.  “I’m going to have to refer you for an ultrasound.”

“You gotta be kidding me,” I thought to myself.  It killed me inside, but I had to respect the man’s recommendation and his years of study and practice.

I informed my boss the next day at our group meeting that I had to schedule another appointment.  “I have to go in for some testing tomorrow,” I told the group.  I was immediately shot with an array of strange looks, and immediately realized I had uttered one of those phrases that came out the worst way possible and wished I could take back.  I sensed what they were thinking, but I didn’t know what would be more embarrassing; letting them think I have an STD, or telling them the nature of my impending risk of breast cancer, and the fact that I’m getting an ultrasound.

I kept my mouth shut.  My professional relationship with my Catholic coworker has suffered ever since.

So again I found myself inside a hospital waiting room, checking into my ultrasound appointment, lingering in agony until the moment my name is called.  I needed something to get my mind off the procedure, fast.  It was stressing me out big time!  On the counter I rifled through a barrage of magazines geared towards woman’s health issue.  There were the usual “Shape,” “Woman’s Health,” and “Bridal Monthly,” and “Pregnancy” magazines, but then something else caught my eye.  “So you’re having a baby,” and the many other health pamphlets scattered around the office table.  For a moment, I forgot all about my procedure and became intrigued about the subtle details of pregnancy.  I learned that it’s normal to feel sick and make multiple trips to the bathroom during the early stages of pregnancy, and how one may experience unusual spikes in their appetite.  The real eye opener was the section that begins with the woman’s water breaking and going down the list of steps involved in birthing the baby.  I was a bit disgusted at the level of detail portrayed in the pamphlet, yet at the same time, it was at a level of interest that kept me reading, wanting more, just like the show “Keeping with the Kardashians.”  I was sucked in with horror, yet amazement.  I needed to know what happened next, deeper and deeper into the vile depths of this pamphlet, each section more-

“Excuse me sir, we’re ready for your ultrasound.”  I looked up to a waiting room full of women, all eyes fixated on me, wondering why the hell I was nose deep into this pregnancy pamphlet and getting an ultrasound.  I slowly set the pamphlet down and cautiously made my way out of the room, as if it were a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” me being vastly outnumbered by the crowd of women watching my every move.  Any sense of panic or sudden movement would turn the room into a frenzy in which there would be little chance of survival.

The room mimicked that of an alien probing station, a circular space with a large table in the middle for the specimen to lie, and a long and skinny mechanical eye with the ability to examine any part of the body it pleased.   “Take off your shirt and lay on the table,” the nurse instructed.  I wasn’t really thrilled about taking my shirt off, even with my transitioning chiseled body, so the nurse probably wasn’t that much of a babe.  Regardless of my thoughts, I did what I was told.  I had to do what I could to understand the fate of my left breast, and allowed the nurse to splatter a blob of gel with the consistency grape jelly all over my chest.  This substance was rather warm, making the situation even more uncomfortable than it needed to be, and for several more minutes of unnecessary medical exploitation she took the metal probe and pressed it against my body, moving it all around the general area of my breast with a film of gel in-between looking for the best view of tissue on the large screen hovering above us.  By the way she was taking her sweet time moving the probe all over my delicate body slathered with medicinal oil, I could tell she really enjoyed her job.

“I can’t see anything wrong with your breast.”

“What a relief,” I thought to myself.  Christmas was just around the corner and my worries were behind me.  Sensing my probing was over and done with, I cleaned the warm goop off of my body and put my clothes back on as the nurse finished up her paper work.

“I’m going to refer for a mammogram.  Please go to the 9th floor and hand them this referral.”

“Whoa…  WHAT!”  She didn’t even hit me with a misleading and disappointing “But.”  She went straight for the throat.  I didn’t even get a chance to strike back, or even think!  But you know, I guess better safe than sorry…  That’s my motto.  And so I gathered what was left of my shattered and dwindling dignity, crept past the preying bird-like women in the waiting room, and made my way to the next stop on my breast cancer journey; the equivalent of Level 8 on Super Mario Brothers 3.

“Excuse me mam, I’m here for an appointment.”  I set the referral note on the desk.

“All right, what are we doing today?” she asked, her face glued to the computer screen.

“Um, I’m here for a mammogram,” I politely responded in a soft voice, avoiding any unnecessary attention.  The last thing I needed was another ultrasound incident.  I waited a few long seconds, where I sensed an extreme case of ADD with the receptionist, as she kept typing away on her computer, forgetting that she had responded to me mere moments before.

“I’m sorry, what was that hun?”

Again, I responded with quiet hesitancy.  “A mammogram mam.  I’m here to get a mammogram.”  My patience was running thin at this point, but again, I replied with gentle poise.  I wouldn’t let them break me, no matter how bad of humiliation I may suffer.

But she kept on keeping on with her typing, and again my answer was ignored.  Whatever was on that computer screen was much more interesting than me, a major blow to my ego.  I mean, what administrative bull crap could be on that computer that is much more compelling than my presence?  It was kind of making me mad!  I kept my cool though, for there’s no need to draw attention to oneself during these types of situations.  That’s my motto.

“I’m sorry, one more time sir?”

“A MAMOGRAM, MAM.  A FREAKING MAM-O-GRAM!  I NEED TO CHECK TO SEE IF I HAVE BREAST CANCER, AS STATED ON THE REFERRAL NOTE I GAVE YOU!!  WHY THE HELL ELSE WOULD I BE HERE?!?!”

They say every man has his breaking point, and I had just hit mine.  I had caught the attention of the entire room now.  I was like Tupac, all eyes on me; everything I had tried to avoid…  Oops.

“Well why didn’t you just say so sir?  Please have a seat and we’ll call your name whenever you’re ready.”

I did as she told me, making awkward eye contact with everybody in the waiting room.  I had to give them the nod of acknowledgment, letting them know that they were all right, and I knew I was in the right place.  I’m not quite sure why we do that when we’re placed in stiff situations, but it’s something we all do.  I didn’t dare look at any magazines or pamphlets this time, even though there was plenty to read on the subject of a woman’s breast.  I was very tempted, but refrained, and just waited with a steady fortitude along with the other woman in the room for my breast test.  There was no way I was making that mistake twice.

After an excruciating fifteen-minute wait, I was called in for the exam.  The nurse ripped off my shirt and grabbed the hunk of flesh that comprised of my enlarged left breast, pulling it onto the bottom glass portion of the machine and setting the top portion in place.

“Ok, I think we’re all ready,” she stated, which was great news for me.  The sooner I could get this procedure done and over with, the sooner I can get out of this discomforted sitting position, out of the hospital, and on with Christmas.  The machine started, and the procedure pressed on and on…  Literally.  It pressed on my boob, and didn’t stop.

“Mam, I think this is good enough,” I stated, voice raising with concern.  I had no idea if it was good enough or not as far as the breast screening process goes, but all I knew is that it hurt like hell, and I was done with this mammogram as far as I was concerned.

“Just about one more minute,” She responded.

“Ah hell no!”  At the rate this is going, there’s not going to be any breast left to examine!  This was far enough, time I draw the line.  So I pulled out… or at least I tried.  The machine had a killer clamp on my boob, and the harder I pulled, the more it pressed and resisted.  The friction between the two glass slabs and my breast was too great to overcome.  I was left in agonizing pain with only two outcomes.  Either the nurse would show an ounce of mercy and let up on the examination, or my left boob would pop like a zit, squeezing puss all over the machine, and probably alleviating my breast cancer worries for the near future.

I scream out loud, but the machine that had turned my breast into a pancake took the breathe out of me.  All that came out was a quiet and exaggerated “Eep.”  For a moment, I was surprised and a little impressed at the amount of surface area in my breast that had been created by the machine.  The amazement was short lived unfortunately by the fact that my boob was on the verge of explosion at any second.  My heart raced, and I could barely hold on.  My face turning a pale blue, heavy breathing, body going faint.  This was the end.  If only there was another way…  If I could take back-

“All done!”  The machine lifted and my breast slowly formed back into shape like a dashpot.  I began to regain consciousness at a rapid pace.  A Christmas miracle.  “The results look good! No signs of cancerous cells or tumors.”

“Oh gee, like I didn’t see that one coming,” I thought to myself, although my demeanor was that of liberation, for that meant no more testing for me.  I was off Scott-free!

“Now we’d like you to come back in three years for another check-up so we can ensure-”

“No way.  Nuh uh.  Not gonna happen.  I’m done…  I. AM. DONE!”

“But sir, we really recommend-”

“Nope! I ain’t putting up with that bull crap again.  No more check-ups, screenings, weird jelly, ultrasounds, and/or mammograms for me!  Screw you guys, I’m going home!!!”

What a complete and utter nightmare.  I swear those nurses were putting me through unnecessary torture just for their amusement.  I can just picture them colluding amongst themselves on how to screw me over and make me go through hell on Earth just to point out the obvious.  “Hey, here comes this one dude, let’s make him go through all the bull crap we have to go through just because we can, haha.”  Whatever.

A wise man once said, “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.”  One thing’s for sure.   I learned my lesson, that I’m never getting a mammogram…  EVER Again!

That’s my motto.

Merry Xmas,

-Grizzly Chadams

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