Last month I had my annual mammogram. This is a routine exam I have done every year at Memorial Sloan-Kettering’s downtown diagnostic center. For anyone unfamiliar with what this exam entails, it is an x-ray that is a screening and diagnostic tool for breast cancer. The procedure is one that is not particularly pleasant, but it is important so I do it. A friend’s description of it being akin to laying a breast on a cold cement floor and then having a refrigerator slam down hard on it is an accurate account of what a mammogram entails.
Since I am minimally breasted, the technicians are challenged, but they have always managed to get the shot, even if that means I depart the premises significantly welted. A few weeks after my exam they send me a form letter announcing the results. It usually starts that they’re “pleased to report that the result of your breast examination on [date] showed no evidence of cancer.”
This year was different.
I got a phone call.
The second I heard the caller, a very pleasant woman, say she was calling from the diagnostic center, an alarm bell rang so loudly in my head that I was initially deaf to what followed. All I was thinking at that moment was:
Me: I’m gonna die!!!!!!!!!!
While I proceeded to hyperventilate into a brown paper bag, the Caller calmly continued.
Caller: The doctor couldn’t read the image of your right breast.
I groan loudly and hope my family remembers that I want to be cremated.
Caller: We think everything is normal. We just need to retake that one image to be sure. This happens occasionally.
Realizing that this is probably nothing more than a routine snafu, I resume thinking about other things such as US Open Tennis, what films I want to see at the upcoming New York Film Festival, and how close I came to accidentally gargling with toilet bowl cleaner instead of Cool Mint Listerine. I was very tired, not paying attention to what I was doing, and they both smelled minty.
The one thing that does make me think of having to take this test again is that The Flusher, the crazy drunk neighbor that lives below me, is uncharacteristically nice to me. I call him The Flusher because he has this annoying habit of flushing his toilet repeatedly. One night, when a friend was visiting, we counted 77 flushes in a row. He has also done this when I’m showering. Every so often I nearly suffer a third degree burn. The Flusher, reeking of alcohol at 8:30 in the morning, is returning from a cheap beer run just as I am leaving for work.
The Flusher holds the door for me. He never holds the door for me. Ever. Immediately, I’m suspicious. He also speaks. The last time he spoke to me was so many years ago, he still had hair to comb over. He issued a torrent of anti-Semitic slurs in my direction. I’m not Jewish. I do not feel warm or fuzzy towards this guy.
The Flusher: Ya got a lear there.
Me (confused): I’ve got a what where?
The Flusher points at the radiator cover where tenants often dump their junk mail. Isolated from the pile of junk is an envelope addressed to me from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Apparently, it was delivered in someone else’s mail box. The Flusher’s? I take my letter.
Me: Thanks. I didn’t notice that.
The Flusher looks at me spooked. He might now think my name is Marked For Death. He probably fears my ghost. It was just a form letter about calling the diagnostic center to set up the second appointment. When The Flusher figures out that I still have my health, I expect that he’ll revert back to his regular loutish self. If he’s feeling sentimental, he might call me something anti-Semitic.
On a very hot and humid day, I return as scheduled to the diagnostic center where I have the one image of my right breast retaken. When the attendant asks if I remembered to not apply deodorant, I assure her:
Me: Yes, I’m not wearing any – much to the dismay of all my fellow passengers on that 2 train.
They do not make me sit for very long in the waiting room. I only have to hear a single bastardized version of Barbra Streisand’s first huge hit, People. When I was last there I recognized several songs I loathed that I had not heard in decades such as Anne Murray’s Snowbird.
The procedure itself was swift, which is as close to painless as a mammogram can be. They made sure I went with their gold medal technician this time. Within ten minutes, I was given my diagnosis, a clean bill of health, so I was free to slather myself with deodorant and not see them again for another year. Phew!