At under-40, I have to undergo the squeeze machine early. My doctor requested it after an early hysterectomy. Believe me, I have no desire for even more pain, so I put it off a bit, but I’m going to brave it out. There’s no nice way to say it: I am going to get my boobs squished.
My eye muscles began twitching days before the appointment, and they are still twitching a few days after. A telltale sign of the stress I cannot hide, it annoys me further.
I launch into the entire scenario in-cerebellum: All right, Mrs. Deike-Sims, lift your shirt up so we can squeeze your boobs in this vice grip. It will be almost, but not quite, more pain than you can possibly imagine.
Excruciating but silent pain, wincing, the sound of a dental-like x- ray machine. Bzzz. Fade out. A figure slumps into a breast-exposed pile of human flesh on the floor.
A voice, as in a tunnel, echoes, “There, now that wasn’t so bad, was it?”
No reply. Total darkness.
I look up the number to a local mammogram headquarters. I dial and set the appointment for early in the morning, right after I drop the kids off with no time to dawdle. Or think.
On the day of my appointment I have this strange puking sensation but shake it off. Must. Go. Am. Full. Grown. Woman. Capable. Of. This.
My mood was completely bitchy, insanely irritable.
I fill in the paperwork handed to me from the clerk. I scribble wildly on the forms, which are barely legible, and I am somewhat embarrassed when I return them, attempting to smile apologetically.
Once inside the changing room, I turn to the garment before me _” a half-gown that will barely cover my top half. The attendant re-enters and deposits two nickel-sized pasties next to the “gown.”
I didn’t know I would wear pasties for this particular event. Neither did I know there would be ball-point-pen-sized bee-bees on my pasties. Apparently they mark my nipples on the x-ray. Wow. Didn’t know that was important, but do now. The imbedded bee-bees poke me as I push them gently to my pink areoles. These things you only learn by doing. No one tells you about the bee-bees.
I throw my middy poncho over my breasts, which are bare, except for the pasties. I am a badly dressed exotic dancer. Tossing embarrassment aside I exit the room, feigning nonchalance, strolling into another room, following the x-ray technician.
The tech asks me some questions, and I answer her in quipped comments, effecting to be nice, but not feeling successful. I marvel at her professionalism and comforting demeanor under the circumstances.
I confess: “Look, I’m totally freaked out, OK? I just thought I would say that.” I explain my early entrance to the land of the squished. Finally, I ask her, “So, does it really hurt?”
“Sometimes,” she responds, “But we’ll try to make it really quick.”
Thumb smashed by a hammer flashes across my mind. It’s not gonna be that bad, I reassure myself. Not that quick, either, as it turns out. She maneuvers my body around a machine that pivots horizontally and wraps my arm around it, telling me to “Grasp the handle.”
The tech then slides a flat block x-ray slab into the machine and places my right breast onto a foot-sized square pane of glass at the bottom of the machine. I am now a biology specimen. She explains she will be easing the machine down, bit by bit, and that it will hurt. I remember breaking the glass in natural sciences class, twisting the knob too far until a loud pop erupted. I hope she has many years of careful experience. Then, I say a silent prayer that the slide shows “normal” tissue.
Here I am, having my breasts smashed beyond belief, not breathing and holding this pose then that pose. And I’m expected to come back several times before I die.
The machine lowers bit by bit as promised. On the last descent, it squeezes the life from me in an embrace. “Holy Mary,” I hiss.
“Just a sec,” the tech responds.
After many moments of reassuring babbling from the tech and defeated whimpering from me, it’s over. The pamphlets on the table say that age 40 is a good time for a baseline mammogram. For me, this first one is just something to compare all the other ones to. I’m taking care of me, I think. It’s preventative.
The x-ray technician showed me my x-rays, which look amazingly normal. I do a victory dance in my head. I feel good.
As I leave the room, fully dressed, I float to the counter. The clerk announces a balance of $25.40. A little resentful that preventative medicine is not covered at 100 percent, I neatly write in capital letters at the bottom left corner of the check under the “for” section, “BOOB SQUISHING.”