Friday, May 21, 2010

A Medical Story

The waiting room is the sort of “we’re trying to be accessible” sterility common in the enlightened age of making the patient feel better, even if not making the patient better. Why is there always a fish tank? Are fish supposed to keep me calm? Make me forget that I’m sitting here waiting for someone to call my name so someone else can stick a needle in my breast?


Yes, the fish have driven that thought straight out of my mind.

But it’s no big. I’m one of the lucky ones. There’s nothing wrong with me, other than an oversensitive nature, a propensity to self diagnosis terminal illnesses, and a horrid fashion sense, but none of those will kill me, or cause me any sort of pain other than psychic. I’m healthy, and I know it, so I’m lucky.

Doesn’t mean I enjoy waiting for the needle.

But that’s because I’m impatient. As a general rule, I don’t like waiting. But I’ve brought along my Nano with music and books, so even though we’ve shown up early (I thought for sure they said 2:30, but they say they said 3:00, but I think it was a trick because I’m known for showing up late) I can keep myself occupied.
This is a simple procedure which has taken three previous visits to get arranged. For the first visit, I called and said, “I need this aspirated.” They gave me an appointment and the doctor said, “I’m sending you for a mammo and an ultrasound.”

“Okay,” I said, “But I just need this aspirated.”

“We’ll see what the mammo and ultrasound say.”

So I made another appointment for the mammo and ultrasound at the desk downstairs, which was personned by a clerk who had a lovely speaking voice that she obviously wished no one to hear, and so she utterances were barely more than a sigh. “What?” I kept saying, and she would sigh back at me, “mumble mumble,” but somehow I ended up with an appointment.

Let’s overlook the fact that they, by which mean the medical profession, wished to mammogram a breast with a  cyst the size of a softball.

The radiologist looked at the films and the ultrasound and said, “Wow, you really need that aspirated.”
“See, that’s what I said,” I say to him.

“We can’t do that here,” he continued, “But your doctor can do it in the office or we can do it in Tacoma.”


My medical facility is over 2 hours away, so each little visit costs me an entire day of my somewhat valuable time. At least if I’m billing at my normal hourly rate.

I get home and email my doctor, “Hey, so they say you can do it or they can do it, so do you want to take a stab at it?” A stab at it – get it? Ha, I’m so funny.

He replies, “I’m referring you to a surgeon. Call and make an appointment.”

A surgeon? For a simple needle in the breast?

I call and make an appointment with the surgeon.

I go in and see the surgeon.

He’s a nice surgeon, and we discuss the relative merits of the IPad, along with other subjects of the day. He also says, “I’m not sure why you’re seeing me today.”

To which I reply, “Me either. I thought maybe there was something you knew that I didn’t.”

“No,” he replies, “Looks like you need an aspiration. Your doctor can do it in his office, or radiology can do it in Tacoma.”


“So I’ve heard,” I tell him, “I think we better go with Tacoma.”

“Good idea,” he says, “It’s huge,” referring to the cyst that has taken over my life.

This I am aware of, hence my quest for someone to please stick a needle in the damn thing and be done with it. Oddly enough, by  the time I get to the surgeon the pain has greatly dissipated, which is part of the Treatment Plan for my medical insurance. “Delay treatment for as long as possible, as most issues will go away on their own, or the patient will die, either way, but at least we won’t have to deal with it.” I hear it’s been a huge cost saver.

“Go downstairs and make an appointment with them at the appointment desk,” he tells me, then apologizes if he hasn’t been very helpful. I reassure him that it was very helpful, since being referred to a surgeon suggested I might need surgery, a notion he has been kind enough to correct.

We go downstairs (I say we because charming husband accompanies me this time, insisting on this opportunity to spend time with me) and I stop at the desk that says, in loud letters, “Mammography Appointments Here,” or something.

“I need an appointment for an aspiration,” I say, and the clerk looks at her computer but finds nothing.

“In Tacoma,” I add.

“Oh, we don’t make those appointments here,” she tells me.


She calls Tacoma and verifies with them that they will contact me to set up an appointment, and to wait patiently by my phone. At least this clerk talked out loud, as if she wished to communicate with me.

All of this is how I ended up in the waiting room watching the fish.

Minutes later we are called in. Charming husband accompanies me. I am asked questions, to which I reply with sensible answers, and I sign a form that probably waives my right to sue should I end up dead. We wait for the room, and at last it is ready.

We’re led into the room, and I’m given a lovely cape like pastel garment I wouldn’t be caught dead in on my worst day, and while I change the tech and charming husband talk about his alma mater, which the tech’s son has graduated from. Or something.

I lay on the table, and the ultrasound tech comes in. She lifts up my cape and says, “Wow, you don’t even need me. It’s right there.”

Damn right it’s right there. It’s not visible to human eyes, but to medical professionals there’s obviously something going on in there.

She puts it up on the ultrasound and there it is, filling the screen, my sworn enemy, the cyst the size of Manhattan.

The radiologist comes in, a lovely woman, and she lifts up my cape and says, “Wow, it’s right there.”

Yes. It is right there.

But they still want the ultrasound, so we can see the needle going in, see it getting smaller and smaller.
The first prick is an anesthetic, and I say, “Ow.” The second prick is sharper, and I say, “Ow.”

The needle fills up quickly, and the cyst is smaller.

“Wow,” says the radiologist, “that’s already 20 cc’s.”

In again, and the needle fills up with another 20 cc’s.

This time I take my eyes off the screen and glance at the needle. It’s a disgusting looking greenish fluid, not the sort of thing I’m happy to see, but at least it’s outside of me, instead of inside.

In with the needle one more time, for a total of 60 cc’s, and this time the cyst on the screen falls in on itself, out of fluid and momentum and self-respect, deflated, and suddenly it is nothing.

And just like that, I am cured. A steri-strip and a bandaid, and I’m good to go, once, of course, I’ve exchanged my cape for my clothes, an ice pack inside my bra.

Just like that, my breast has become mine again, and not the residence of an alien life form.

We leave the facility and we stop for happy hour tacos at the place in Tacoma that has happy hour all day on Mondays, the place we stop at every time I’m in Tacoma on Urgent Medical Business, which means, every time I’m in town to have one or the other of my breasts pierced with a needle.

I’m hoping to make Tacoma just the place I drive through on my way to Seattle however, and not a place I stop in at. Nothing against Tacoma, I’m sure it’s lovely, but I prefer to keep my distance since every time I go there someone sticks a needle in my breast.

And I get my revenge, however indirectly, by having my tacos with fish. The fish in the tank don’t care, but it’s the best I can do. 

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