Thursday, May 5, 2011

Chapter 9~~Biopsy

Photo by
Brendon Stuart

Jo’s biopsy was scheduled on Monday. Larry hadn’t been with her to a doctor’s appointment since their children were born--19, 18, and 14 years before. But she asked if he would take her to this one, and he agreed, a bit perplexed by her need.

After they arrived, Larry sat in the front waiting room near the patronizing attendant while another worker took Jo to the back, gave her a gown to change into, and told her to sit in the room full of gowned women waiting. It seemed smaller this time, and quieter. The chairs were arranged in a square. There were perhaps eight women sitting in them, but only two were talking, whispering quietly to themselves.

When it was Jo’s turn to go further, a nurse led her down a dark hall to the brightly-lit biopsy room. It looked a lot like the room Eddy had had his hand stitched up in just a few days before: clean and white, but cluttered with big chunks of random, metal equipment, like a hyper-hygienic garage. The doctor who had reviewed her mammogram films was sitting on a wheeled stool before an odd-looking padded table with a circular hole cut out near one end. They asked Jo to lie on the table with her left breast protruding through the hole. That didn’t strike her as an attractive idea. It looked uncomfortable. It was forbidding. It made her 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 she did as she was told, presenting her naked breast through the hole for the estimable Dr. Brand to perform his experiments on, numbing her consciousness as much as possible by envisioning Larry reading magazines in the lobby nearby and pretending to herself that nothing unusual was going on.

How would this biopsy proceed, she wondered? She thought she had been told there were two different types of biopsies: needle biopsies and core biopsies, but she couldn’t exactly remember. Ever the optimist, she assumed Dr. Brand would numb her skin with a little cotton swab and then insert a fine needle in a painless and short procedure. So it was disturbing when she heard him turn on a clanking, noisy machine. “I guess he’s doing the core biopsy,” she thought to myself, envisioning geologists with huge metal drills cutting core samples out of Mother Earth. The machine ground on, and she 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 the piece of medical equipment in his hand. The nurse took over her care, leaving the doctor with his machinery, asking Jo very gently to roll over on her back and pressing a piece of gauze to Jo’s breast to staunch the bleeding.

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

“No. Something is wrong with this machine,” Dr. Brand responded without turning to look at Jo on the table. He was standing at the counter now, fiddling with the equipment, turning it off and on while he examined it. Jo stared at his back.
“We also went into a sensitive area that started bleeding,” explained the nurse more gently. “That’s not usual. We’ll have to go back in at another site.”

“Oh, boy!” Jo feigned excitement, trying to be humorous. She felt a responsibility to put the room at ease, as if she was the hostess at a party with two embarrassed guests. As she lay on the table beneath a bright, circular light, the nurse joined the doctor in huddling over the malfunctioning equipment. “It’s spinning the wrong direction,” said the doctor. “The directional control isn’t working.” He tapped it lightly on the counter top, a time-honored technique for repairing broken machinery.

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

“Yes, yes, of course! Try getting another needle extension,” he directed her. “Maybe this one is causing the problem.”

The nurse left the room and came back a few long 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,” Jo offered. The pair of conspirators turned toward Jo in unison, as if surprised that she was still 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.” Jo thought how she’d like to have Larry in the room, fussing with the equipment, making dry jokes. But the doctor was not impressed with her meager recommendation, and turned abruptly back away from her, toward the machine. Jo could see by the hunch of his shoulders that he was ill at ease, angry at the equipment, which meant he wouldn’t be able to fix it.

“You have to love your machines,” Larry had told her before, bending over a broken speaker or a bicycle part 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 much confidence, but Jo turned over on the table anyway, presenting her now-wounded breast through the aperture, dutifully doing as she was told.

The doctor reseated himself on the rolling stool beneath her, plastic goggles over his eyes. She imagined them splattered with her blood. He switched on the machine, filling the room with angry sound. She felt a pinching pain in her breast and brought a gray curtain over her brain, dulling her senses, achieving a kind of semi-consciousness, and willing the time to pass quickly. He didn’t stop this time. He didn’t curse and pull away. So she assumed there wasn’t any unexpected bleeding.

“Did you get it?” she asked hopefully when he finally 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 said cheerfully.

There was more noise; another pinch; long, anxious waiting. Finally, it was over, and once again Jo was lying on her back, with two bandages pressed to two wounds on her breast this time. After a few minutes, the nurse helped Jo to sit up on the table. “We got really great samples,” she enthused, directing Jo’s attention to a computer monitor. “Look at those. Aren’t they beautiful?!”

On the blue screen were several long, white images, kinking and curling around like fat worms. The nurse seemed to be waiting for Jo to praise her.

“I don’t know,” Jo laughed a little. “I’m not so sure they’re beautiful. I’ll hold judgment until we find out what they contain.”

Cut Off will be published in June.


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