Yesterday I finally had my follow up mammogram and ultrasound. The only reason I was able to move forward with it was that I called the insurance company last Wednesday and learned that my request to see the same radiologist as an in-network provider had been denied.
During that call, when I spoke with the customer service rep — a supervisor, no less — she actually said to me, “Our medical management department is trying to fax the provider today to update them.”
To which I said, “Is anyone trying to update me?”
“Oh, they’ll send you a copy of the notice in the mail.”
“Okay. Can you tell me what it says?”
“Okay. Will you tell me what it says?” Can you believe I had to ask?
“The request has been denied.”
“Thank you. Now I can move forward with making an appointment with another provider.”
Incidentally, the notice that they mailed just arrived today — the day after the appointment I was able to make because I took the initiative to call them instead of waiting around for them to contact me. My insurance dollars at work, ladies and gentlemen!
The appointment yesterday was with a male doctor. I’ve never seen a male doctor before. Well, my cardiologist was a man, and most of his team were male, but they were sawing through my chest and repairing what’s inside, not handling my breasts for breasts’ sake.
So, I was uncomfortable.
I’m often uncomfortable. I look at the things around me in the world — things like cloth medical gowns with tiny floral prints, the kind of prints you’d see an old woman in a nursing home wearing, gowns that don’t fasten with buttons or zippers, that don’t wrap around like a true robe — and I don’t want to have to deal with these things.
I don’t want to have to slide a dressing room curtain closed and strip from the waist up. I hate having to remove my blouse, my bra — the bra a lover touched on another day when I felt so incredibly happy and sexy and satisfied.
And then I hate myself for being such a lightweight, for freaking out when I know I’m safe.
I’m not in a prison camp disrobing for war criminals like thousands of women have done before, like hundreds (please don’t say it’s thousands) of women do now in U.S. run immigration detention centers.
I’m not being attacked or stripped of control, I’m just taking off my clothes so that I can get some pretty awesome medical care.
I followed the instructions and put on the gown with the bad print and waited for a man I’ve never met to put his hands underneath the fabric and touch my left breast and tell me whether or not I have cancer.
When I first sat in the examination room alone, I didn’t see a chair for the nurse. Wasn’t there supposed to be a nurse? An escort?
I didn’t have to wonder for long before the doctor arrived and immediately introduced me to the female attendant who would remain with us. She stood against the wall the whole time. I liked having her there.
The doctor was surprisingly charming. I mean, Jesus, he’s made a 45-year career specializing in breasts — so he’s had practice talking to women. Is it misogynistic of me that I found him sort of charismatic? Am I caving to the patriarchy? I don’t even know what that means, really, I just have trouble wrapping my head around the fact that he was a “he” with nice eyes. I felt much more at ease than I thought I would.
Perhaps I should go back and read Backlash and anything else that is recommended at those super intellectual, snarky hip feminist sites so that I can attempt to deconstruct why I feel so conflicted about a man giving me a simple breast ultrasound.
After talking about where my scar came from and my work as a writer, I couldn’t wait any longer to find out. I asked him directly. “What do you see?”
We were in the dark: the doctor, his female attendant (a.k.a. my bodyguard) and I. The only light came from the video monitor that showed images of what was going on beneath my skin. If I moved, the paper under me made a crinkling noise, and moving felt like participating in being touched, so I didn’t move.
I didn’t think about how when my dad had cancer, it was removed in an out-patient procedure. I didn’t think about how when my mom had a tumor, it was cut out without the need for follow up radiation. I didn’t think about all the things I don’t know about what having breast cancer means.
I want my death to be quick when it happens, with as little nuisance as possible: no hours on the phone with insurance companies, no expensive bills that monopolize all of my Christmas gift money (or put me into debt), no torturous treatments.
I don’t want to have to strip from the waist up or the waist down, or wear horrible floral print robes that don’t close all the way.
I don’t want to have to hate myself for not wanting these things (because I know young children who have endured far worse. And they shine with unbelievable strength and resilience).
Still, I thought, when my time comes, I just want to go quickly.
“I see lymph nodes,” he said. “I’m not worried at all. Come back next year for your regular check up. You’re fine.”