Sunday, November 18, 2007

Chapter 7 ~ Biopsy

Photo by
Brendon Stuart

When I told my friend Angela I had a biopsy scheduled, she asked if I wanted her to go with me. That was the moment I began to realize that something serious was happening. Taken off guard, I said no, I would probably go myself, or I could ask Lawrence to come with me if I wanted company. Lawrence hadn’t been with me to a doctor’s appointment since our children were born—19, 18, and 14 years ago. But I asked him eventually, motivated by Angela’s offer. He agreed to come along, a bit perplexed by my need. He sat in the main waiting room reading a magazine while they took me to the back, gave me a gown to change into, told me to sit in the room full of gowned women waiting. It was a small room. The chairs were arranged in a square. There were a dozen women in there, but only two were talking, whispering quietly to themselves.

When it was my turn to go further, a nurse led me down a dark hall to the brightly-lit biopsy room. It looked a lot like the room Eddy had his hand stitched up in: clean and white, but cluttered with big chunks of random, metal equipment, like a well-kept garage. The doctor who had reviewed my mammogram films was sitting on a wheeled stool before an odd looking padded high table with a circular hole cut out near one end. They asked me to lie on the table with my left breast protruding through the hole. That didn’t strike me as an appealing idea. It looked uncomfortable. It seemed forbidding. It made me feel a bit like a torture victim and a bit like a circus side show freak and a bit like a kinky sex industry worker. But I did as I was told, presenting my naked breast through the hole for the estimable Dr. Brand to perform his experiments on, numbing my consciousness as much as possible by envisioning Lawrence reading magazines in the lobby and pretending to myself that nothing unusual was going on.

How would this biopsy proceed, I wondered? I thought I had been told there were two different types of biopsies: needle biopsies and core biopsies, but I couldn’t remember. Ever the optimist, I assumed Dr. Brand would numb my skin with a little cotton swab and then insert a fine needle in a painless and short procedure. So it was disturbing when I heard him turn on a clanking, noisy machine. “I guess he’s doing the core biopsy,” I thought to myself, envisioning geologists with huge metal drills cutting core samples out of Mother Earth. The machine ground on, and I felt a painful pinch, and then the doctor made a muffled curse and rolled away from the table on his little stool.

“What’s wrong?” the nurse asked.

“There’s too much blood. Get the gauze.”

He had protective goggles on, like a welder, and seemed both upset and annoyed as he fumbled with my breast and the piece of medical equipment in his hand. Soon the nurse took over my care, leaving him with the machinery, asking me very gently to roll over on my back and pressing a piece of gauze to my breast to staunch the bleeding.

“What happened?” I asked. “Did you get the biopsy?”

“No. Something is wrong with this machine,” Dr. Brand said with irritation, turning it on and off while he examined it over at the counter, his back to me.

“We also went into a sensitive area that started bleeding,” explained the nurse. “That’s not usual. We’ll have to go back in at another site.”

“Oh, boy!” I feigned pleasure, trying to be humorous, to put the room at ease, as if I was a hostess at a party with two embarrassed guests. As I lay on the table beneath a bright, circular light, the nurse and the doctor huddled over the malfunctioning piece of equipment. “It’s spinning in the wrong direction. The directional control isn’t working,” said the doctor, tapping it lightly on the counter top, a time-honored technique for repairing broken machinery.

“Did you push the button?” the nurse asked.

“Yes, yes.” He was impatient. “Try getting another needle extension. Maybe this one is causing the problem.”

The nurse left the room and came back a few long, silent moments later with a new part, but once it was swapped out, the problem wasn’t resolved.

“If it’s still not working, you could always go out and get my husband in the waiting room. He could probably fix it,” I offered from the table. They turned toward me in unison, as if surprised that I was there.

“Oh, really?” the doctor asked, momentarily intrigued. “Does he work with medical equipment?”

“No. Not specifically. He’s just good at fixing things in general.” I thought how comforting it would be to have Lawrence in the room, fussing with the equipment, making dry jokes. But the doctor was not impressed with his credentials, and turned abruptly back away from me. I could see by the hunch of his shoulders that he was ill at ease, angry at the equipment, which meant he probably wouldn’t be able to fix it. “You have to love your machines,” Lawrence had instructed me often, bending over a broken radio on his workbench like a parent over a sick child.

Eventually, the doctor decided to continue with the procedure. He would use the machine in a different way, compensating for its malfunction. This didn’t inspire confidence in me, but I turned over on the table anyway, presenting my now-wounded breast through the aperture, dutifully doing as I was told.

The doctor reseated himself on the rolling stool beneath me, plastic goggles over his eyes. I couldn’t stop myself from imagining them splattered with my blood. He switched on the machine, filling the room with angry sound. I felt a pinching pain in my breast and let out a short cry. He didn’t stop this time. He didn’t curse and pull away, so I assumed there wasn’t any unseemly bleeding.

“Did you get it?” I asked hopefully when he withdrew the machinery.

“Two more. We’re not quite finished yet.”

“We have to make sure we get good samples so we don’t have to do this again,” the nurse told me.

There was more noise, another cry, and more anxious willing the time to pass quickly. Finally, it was over, and once again I was lying on my back, with two bandages pressed to my breast this time. After a few minutes, the nurse helped me to sit up on the table. “We got really great samples,” she enthused, directing my attention to a computer monitor. “Look at those. They’re beautiful!”

On the blue screen were several long, white images, kinking and curling around like fat worms. The nurse seemed to be waiting for my approval, my commendation for the fine work they had done.

“I don’t know,” I shook my head, laughing a little at her naivete. “I’m not so sure that they’re beautiful. I’ll hold judgment until we find out what they contain.”

Read the next chapter HERE, or buy a paperback copy of Count All This HERE.

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