Thursday, August 23, 2007

Mammography and Demoralization

Last night was my annual mammography. Yay me.

I want to write about how much I hate the experience. I hesitate to do this, because I don't want to discourage anyone, ever, from doing something so easy and so potentially important. But I hate the experience.

A lot of women bitch about the pain, and while it's uncomfortable, for a larger woman, it's not so bad. A small breast gets tugged and pulled and twisted, but a large breast mostly just gets squished, and it's tolerable. What's really barely tolerable at all is the anger.

When I got there, I was right away angry. Because they'd moved next door and hadn't bothered to call or send a postcard; just waited for you to show up and read the sign on the door. And frankly, when they moved 3 years ago (they are expanding, so they're moving within a larger and larger suite of buildings) they did the same thing. Just let you show up and tell you that you're in the wrong place. So before I even get there, I'm being shuffled like so much cattle.

So I go next door, and I walk in, and right away the girl (very young) asks if I'm there for a mammo, and she gives me a form to fill out. With all the same info they already have on me. Name, address, date of birth. They also ask for age. Fuck them if they can't subtract my year of birth from 2007 and figure it out themfuckingselves. Definitely angry.

So then I wait and eventually they call me back up and ask me, verbally, for all the fucking info I just filled in. And want my insurance card. "It hasn't changed," I say. "Even so, we need to see it every time you come so that we have a current picture of it on file." And I refrain from saying that they do have a current picture on file, because it's the same card and the same damn picture.


Angry when I'm changing my clothes, and there I am in the stupid half-gown, and then when they finally bring me into the exam room I go back out to get my sweatshirt because I'm cold, and she (a new she) says "You're going to have you take it off anyway." "But I'm cold and I can leave just the arms on." But no, they want to make sure that no part of the fabric gets in the picture. It can see through flesh, right? So why not cotton?

So yeah, so standing there without any top on, cold, just standing there while she fiddles, and it's move over, face this way, hold your breath, blah fucking blah fucking blah.

Until finally I can leave in a huff. Get to my car and start asking myself why I'm so angry.

I want to be known. I want someone, somehow, to know me. And this cattle car mammography; no one ever sees me. They see my nipples, my chart, never me. The sign on the door: Impersonal. The greeting when I walk in: Impersonal. And when I say, You have my insurance card, I am really saying, You know me; I'm a regular here. Know me.

But they don't. Sometimes the technician will remark on my tattoos, and we'll talk a little, and those are the best mammos, and I'm not angry, and I don't mind that it hurts a little. But to be this empty pair of breasts, it's humiliating.

Halfway home (which is to say, a mile or two down the road) I started crying. Cried and cried and could not stop.

When I was a girl and studied the Holocaust in Hebrew School they talked about how shoving the Jews into trains, like cattle, and then stripping them nude, was enough to demoralize them and prevent them from fighting back. And it wasn't that I didn't believe my teachers, but I couldn't picture it. It was too simple, too easy; don't people naturally want to fight back?

I don't want to excessively dramatize a really minor experience, it's just the only analogy I can think of. That in my small way, I know, now, how it is to be demoralized and lose yourself. And it's only yourself that fights back. And all it took to reduce me to tears was an hour of demoralization; a sign, an officious and uninterested girl at the front desk, an ugly gown, nudity, a disinterested tech. Next to nothing, really.

(Cross-posted in a tiny pink gown)