One part of being a medical professional that no one really prepares you for is how to deliver bad news. If you watch those who have done it long enough (read: emergency doc) you’ll see the professional approach: sterile, blunt, quick. You have to do it that way, because you have a bunch of patients still alive to attend to. OK, not this blunt:
But that’s a learned skill. Those who haven’t done it as frequently have obvious tells: the grimace when your hopeful face meets their eyes, the sympathetic tilt of the head: I’m not going to tell you what you want to hear. It’s the same in human medicine as it is in veterinary medicine- humans are humans after all- so I’ve become extra sensitive to the way people talk in the confines of the exam room.
Last week I was fortunate enough to experience that singular medical test known as the mammogram, a tool developed by someone who I can say with absolute certainty never actually had to have one himself. If you’re not familiar with the process, fill a Ziploc with jello, place it on the concrete, and drop an anatomy textbook on top of it. That is kind of what it is like. Then do it in the other direction. Anything that has a knob dedicated to “Newtons of pressure” is never something that should be applied to one’s boneless bits outside the confines of the torture chamber. What sicko looked at a trash compactor and said, hmmm, I wonder what would happen if I put someone’s chest in that thing?
Nonetheless, we do it because it’s the best we got right now, and after the first time I went through this and they found all sorts of things they decided to biopsy, one by one, before saying, “No worries, it’s fine” I’m a bit jumpy about these things. Like I said in my post about preventive care, when in doubt, slice some out. So I go through this every year.
This time around, I had an ultrasound technician and someone else- maybe a trainee- in the room with me, casually discussing the whorls and swirls of my hyperechoic lesions like I was an earless blob of flesh attached to a lump of interest. They took photos of whatever it was they saw and sent me on my way. As I was in the dressing room, I heard a discussion in very hushed tones, the sort you use when you absolutely do not want someone to know you are talking. So I froze, turned on my mom ears, and listened.
brllb lrb whoosh she might have cancer brlb shhhhh
I’m not 100% certain that is what they said, but it sure sounded like it. I mean, what else would one be discussing in a mammogram office? Horoscopes? She seemed kind of moody, she might be a cancer….Or lunch? She might have a Casear but be quiet, they might be hungry out there in ultrasound… It’s not like the office was busy. I was the only patient there when I walked in. Who else were they trying to hide the discussion from?
I pulled back the curtain, and there, two feet away, was a woman probably the same age as me, holding the ubiquitous pink crop top medical shawl thingie tight to her chest as she waited her turn for the dressing room. We gave each other the tight smile of comrades in arms, comammrades, before heading our separate ways.
I looked up, and saw the technician standing in the hallway. She avoided my eyes, the trained response of one who gets asked questions she can’t answer on a daily basis, and said, “The doctor will have the results tomorrow.”
“Thanks,” I said. “Have a good day.”
“You too,” she said. “Good luck.” (note: not the best verbiage in this situation.)
So I spent the next 24 hours jumping at every ring of the phone, certain I was fine at the same time I was certain something bad was going to happen. And then, right at 9:30, my doctor’s office called. I grabbed it on the first ring.
“Hello,” said the nurse, and I immediately breathed a sigh of relief, because no one ever makes the nurse (or in my case tech) call when it’s bad news. “Your test results were fine. Have a great weekend.”
And yaay, now I would, except now I started thinking about the other woman in the waiting area. I can’t say I was hoping they were talking about her and not about me. I actually hope they were talking about me, because in that case they were simply wrong and everyone’s fine. But if they were talking about her, all I can say is, I hope she had the Caesar.