Oh It’s Cryin’ Time Again They’re Gonna Squeeze You

You’re almost done at your doctor’s office door when they drop it on you: “And of course you’ll have the yearly mammogram before the end of the month?” chirped my primary care person last April, with the same merry tone as when she orders up the dread colonoscopy.

Oh, I’d  go get the darn mammogram, of course I would – and I know I am lucky to be someone who can show up and fulfill this yearly obligation. Still, we all vividly remember what it’s like, don’t we ladies? The way the tech lifts and nudges those poor delicate tissues onto that cold glass plate? The mechanical squeeeeeze as she brings the second plate down upon them? The way she then tightens that diabolical vise to ‘hammer’ them flat as a couple of veal cutlets?  It’s a never-changing ritual, only this time as I held my breath the way they make you do, the room started to wobble in my sight, causing me to begin my internal mantra of old,  “I will not faint, I will not faint…”

I didn’t faint  but this was the first time in many, many years that I had come so come close. It would be a real bummer if I had, since fainting right in the doctor’s office means forever after they will label you as a ‘faller’ and snap a plastic bracelet on you advertising the fact to everyone in the place. This is the worst. If you have to faint you want to do so anonymously.

In my childhood and teen years I got to do a lot of anonymous fainting: I fainted all the time in church, first going fish-belly white and then melting down in the pew until large male hands heaved me up by the armpits and hustled me up the aisle toward the back of the church, limp feet dragging behind me. I fainted when a doctor unfamiliar with wart removal burned two cigarette holes in my right arm, scars I bear to this day.

I fainted once in the Men’s Department of a fancy store and woke just in time to hear the manager say, “just drag her behind the counter” because you can’t have a lot of passed-out people standing in the way of commerce.

But looking back now I see that the most embarrassing lapse into near-unconsciousness occurred at my own wedding, up on the altar. Cocooned as I was in a complex wedding veil and a peau de soie gown with full-length sleeves that came to a point at the base of the finger bones, I felt my young self mist over with a sudden wash of fine perspiration. Ah, I can see it all before me even now: Here was the priest intoning away. Here were the wedding guests, a sea of blurry balloon faces out their in the congregation. My bridesmaids were there too but I was unaware of them in this moment of need.  The only help I could look to at all came in the person of my similarly young, similarly perspiring groom. We were each facing the priest and not each other so I had to whisper my SOS to him out of the side of my mouth, like a gangster.

“I’m going to faint! I hissed, my eyes on the priest and my face frozen into a death mask of a smile as we stood there holding hands as instructed.

Fake smiling himself, he hissed right back. “You can’t faint!” he said and punched the side of my leg, pretty hard too, under cover of all that silk.

It worked. I didn’t faint, we were officially joined in marriage seven minutes later and have remained joined, basically thigh to thigh, every day ever since.

All of which leads me to wonder if I shouldn’t bring HIM to my next mammogram to help keep me awake and upright. Though as I think about I’m guessing that even one quick look at this whole Inquisition-style process would have out cold and flat on the floor before the tech had time to even duck back behind her screen to start taking pictures.


How It’s Done (not me however)

Necessary Roughness

mammogramWhat can we say of the yearly mammogram? 

The glass plate is cold, they make you stand so close to the machine your ribs bruise, and then they force you to hold these contorted positions and stop breathing for like a million minutes while they set up the shot

And then, of course, there’s the vise.

That victim of  the revenge of Joe Pesci’s character in Scorsese’s  Casino comes to mind.

head in a vise

Your eyeballs don’t pop out like that guy’s did, but it feels like two things further down might pop for sure.

Oh I know, I know, you don’t really get permanently disfigured during a mammogram, and it’s a crucial diagnostic.

It’s just that you go in with two rough approximations of this shape on your chest:


And two minutes later they look like this:


I think I was even leaning over like this guy by the time we got done – and though he appears to be almost smiling,  I sure know I wasn’t!

Cryin’ Time Again: The Yearly Mammo

♫♫ Oh it’s Cryin’ Time Again, You’re Gonna Squeeze Me ♫♫

Hello children and welcome To Two Good Tidbits Of Info Picked Up Yesterday At My Own Yearly Squeeze-Fest.

Tidbit One: Nobody Faints After 11 In The Morning. This according to the radiology person administering the exam . “I have to warn you, I’m a fainter,” I had just told the woman as she screwed the two icy plates of that Inquisition-style vise tighter together –  but really I said this only AFTER she asked like six times if I was OK was I OK was I OK – which of course began to make me feel that I wasn’t. “Breakfast is the key,” she pronounced. “People only faint if they haven’t had breakfast.”  ( Hmmmm I thought but is that true? Because I faint in extremes of pain as when the quacky old doc in my hometown tried to burn two tiny warts off my arm with something that looked like the hot red coil of his car’s cigarette lighter, leaving me with side-by-side twin scars the size of Cheerios. I also fainted in church religiously ha ha and was heard gurgling under the kneeler Sunday after Sunday and once in the necktie department of the Harvard Coop and they dragged me by the armpits back behind the counter so commerce could continue.)

Earlier, as we stood there before the session started, she fully clothed, I as naked from the waist up as the Venus De Milo, she asked if I did regular self exams, causing me to blurt out my own sad truth, that actually? truthfully? I almost never do which brought us to….

Tidbit Two: Nobody Does the Self Exams. “Nobody does ‘em” she said matter-of-factly and just left it at that. There was no tongue-lashing, no lecture not even a sigh of disappointment at how dumb humans are, choosing all kinds of bad possibilities just because they‘re too dopey to slide their hands around on their bare skin now and then. If I wanted to get sick it was fine with her; she was dead on her feet she said, goin’ since 7:30 this morning and now it was after 5.

“I guess it’s been a long day for you,”  I said and she said “yep” and that’s all she said so darn it all and isn’t that just my luck: looks like once again I’m stuck having to save my OWN life!

oh and Five bucks if you know at a glance why this guy should be mammography’s mascot 😉