Just Flesh

I just finished reading Anne Lamott’s new book (thank you, Shirl) and am about to employ one of her techniques. I’m going to go on a cruise. When she needs a break, she takes a cruise, as she calls it, by nesting in her bed with magazines, blankets, pets, and chocolate, and stays there until she feels recharged. I do that sometimes, but probably not often enough.

Today I need it. I went to the medical center, and my experience there was as unpleasant as the last visit was pleasant. First, as I walked from the parking lot, a fighter jet flew over so low and loud that it set car alarms off. They fly from Moffet air field. The sound hurt, and the vibration invaded my body. Everyone outside the center looked alert, surprised, and dazed. One woman was pushing a baby carriage to her car, and that poor child was quite distressed. As was the mom. And I felt momentarily angry on behalf of that child.

I went to the mammogram department. The machine wasn’t working. They compressed my breast three times and the machine read “error.” She promised I hadn’t been exposed to radiation, that the machine wouldn’t even process the shot. She went out and came back, turned off and back on the machine, hoping that would work. I guess it did, because she took five more x-rays. Each one also hurt, because she pressed my breast harder than the last visit. They’re trying to get a good look at a four centimeter cyst. One that I’m pretty darn sure is benign, because I’ve had it since 2003; it was drained once, partially, and refilled again.

On the last shot, she had me standing next to the machine with my arm draped across as if I were hanging out with my best girlfriend. Except that she pulled my shoulder up to a point of discomfort; I had to stand on tiptoes to tolerate the pose. And then in her hurry she forgot to release me. She took the film out and was hurrying to get out of the room. I said, “Um, can I–” She, absently, “Yes, yes, you can sit down.” Me: “But I’m stuck!!” She: “Oh, I’m sorry, I wasn’t looking at you, I’m sorry” as she released me. All the while, I was breathing shallowly because it hurt.

I was told to get dressed and wait in the waiting room; my ultrasound wasn’t scheduled for an hour. While I waited, I read, and I observed patients interacting with staff. One receptionist was especially snippy and dismissive toward a woman who came in to schedule an appointment for her husband. “Is he an established patient? What’s his chart number? I can’t help you if he doesn’t have a chart number. Go to the front desk.” She wouldn’t even let the woman finish giving her answer.

The ultrasound technician, a man, called my name. I followed him into a room; he handed me a gown and said “Everything from the waist down is off.” He left. He returned and said, “Lie down.” Then he put goo on my breast and did the exam. Not a word was said. My past experience in Austin was quite different; the technicians were kind, asked how I was, saw that I was comfortable. This one barely acknowledged me. When done, he said “You can get dressed.” I asked, “Do I wait here?” “No, in the waiting room.” Again I sat, waiting. About ten minutes later he walked by and said, “Okay, that’s all for today.” No explanation. No comment that the doctor will review this, or that they’ll contact me further. Nothing. I was dismissed.

And given what I’d seen of how visitors were dealt with, and how hungry and tired I felt, I decided to just leave. I’ll call the woman with whom I scheduled the exam and follow up. My understanding was they were to get a release faxed from Austin that I could sign, so they could obtain the other films. However, when I asked the mammo technician, she had no clue what I meant.

I felt all teary and edgy. So I went to In-n-Out for lunch — a bad-for-me lunch, but what the hell. I sat reading more of Lamott’s book, which was probably not wise, because the essays were poignant, about the death of her mother, and life’s hardships, and while her essays usually end with a gem of truth or light, I’m more susceptible to tears when I feel this tender.

When I got to work, I decided bribe the students with the promise of a recess in the nearby park if they worked hard. Thus all 60 kids got a break, and it gave us coaches a bit of breathing room.

Yet I feel heavy, achy, sad, pissed off, disconnected, crowded, compressed, and edgy. The energy in Silicon Valley is fraught with tension. My coworkers, some who have lived elsewhere in California, say this is not the case in less dense areas. I’m not accustomed to supercharged urban living. People are not nice. It’s hard to describe. Everyone’s in a hurry, brusque. People step in front of you in line. People tend to ignore each other. Speak curtly. Dispense with the social niceties that make life a little smoother.

Which leads me to the conclusion that good mental health makes imperative a bit of TLC. I’ll start with an actual water experience, a long hot soak. I’ll smooth lotion on my skin and tell my body I love it. Then I’ll curl up with needlepoint, because my brain doesn’t want more words coming in. And maybe I’ll just go to sleep. A body needs rest. We don’t, as a rule, get enough. Well, I aim to change that tonight.

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5 Comments on “Just Flesh”

  1. kat Says:

    as you know i had a similarly awful experience with my ultrasound. i don’t understand how people can be so insensitive around something that’s so obviously nerve-wracking. grrr…

    i’m very glad to hear you are being gentle with yourself. i really need to do the same.

    enjoy your cruise! xoxoxo

  2. Shirl Says:

    Ah, you’re welcome, Kathryn! I’m glad you’re choosing to “cruise”. *smile*

    I’ve had wonderful luck with mammogram technicians, but have had horrible luck with doctors dismissing things or failing to explain things. Yikes!

    Glad that the final results were good. Take care!

  3. kcd (kathleen) Says:

    dear kathryn, i am so sorry you were treated that way by the mammo tech and the ultrasound tech. i am a newly-graduated ultrasound tech and i’m appalled by this CRAPPY and inconsiderate “patient care.” it was more like “patient lack-of-care.” it’s your body. it’s your life. every moment we, the sonographers (ultrasound techs) are with you, we are responsible for our part in your health. you need to be treated gently, with respect, and, in your case, with enough information (some patients don’t want any information. i always ask.) we CANNOT give a diagnosis (we are not trained to do this), but depending on the radiologists’ preferences, we sometimes can discuss what we see with the patient).

    i apologise, i am glad it’s a cyst, and i hope i get to do your ultrasound next time. 🙂 take care of you.


  4. Julie Says:

    I have just been hired as a Breast Health Nurse and hope to give much comfort and release of worry in the care of my patients. Thank you for showing me the value of staff that truly cares.

  5. Kathryn Says:

    Oh Julie, you’re quite welcome. I have never heard of a Breast Health Nurse, but I certainly would prefer to work with one!