Monday, September 8, 2008

The Waiting Room

When body language experts deem people with crossed arms unwilling to open up, they may not be thinking of the mammography waiting room. In this eight-chair, eight-locker, women’s world, we may be unwilling to uncross our arms, but we strangers seem to be quite willing to open up our emotions to each other. A certain sisterhood forms as we slouch, firmly crossing arms across criss-cross-tied gowns in obligatory mauve—the universal hospital color scheme for women—waiting for our names to be perkily called by a radiology tech.

The newest woman timidly exits a dressing room, clutches her blouse and bra to her chest, and searches for an open locker.

“All these locker lights are blinking,” she says, bewildered.
“The lights on those lockers over there are dark,” I say, pointing to a locker on the other side of the table strewn with homemaking magazines; and another woman nods and turns back to our side of the room.
“What are you here for?” she asks the grimmest-faced woman with the tightest-crossed arms.
“I’m waiting for a biopsy,” she replies. She relaxes her pseudo-bra arms a teensy bit and tries to smile.
“I think so. I, uh, hope so.”
“Oh, I’ve had one of those; it’s not so bad.”
“It should be all right,” biopsy lady murmurs, not very convincingly.

I’m not feeling all that brave myself. Having just been through a mammography a few weeks ago, I am back for another looky-loo at what they call a “thickening.” Probably just the clavical bruise inflicted by one of the machine’s appropriately named “paddles” two weeks ago, I pep-talk myself. On the other hand, I do have a family history of breast cancer … but, I don’t want to go there, to that sudden life-change place. That place where one recent late-August Saturday all the picnickers’ faces were red and flushed from the heat, and the next day they wore sweaters to church. I don’t want my mouth-watering musings to go immediately from homegrown tomatoes to pea soup. That’s what autumn is for, to meander from iced tea to hot cocoa. But if a perky radiology tech is going to flip my life’s switch to the next season, then I guess I’ll have to do more than pretend I’m prepared to fight for my life.

I pick up a magazine with recipes for summer fruit cobblers. The article promises to tell me how a crumble, crisp, cobbler, betty, grunt, and buckle differ—something I’ve always been curious about. Really. Flipping through other recipes, I vow to also make a spinach quiche and stuffed peppers soon. Oh, and here’s another recipe for something I’ve been curious about—red beans and rice. One ingredient, a half-pound of light kielbasa cut into half-moons, strikes me as funny. Or, reminding me of Elizabeth Berg’s description of “living a half-a-banana life,” it could be ominously prophetic of a frightening future. Turning back from that precipice, I wander back to the summerier recipes.

The biopsy lady’s name is called. As she stands up, her feet head toward the perky tech, while her face turns back toward me. She doesn’t want to go, but she has to. Her eyes widen, fill with tears. I wish I’d told her I’d pray for her before she left, but boy I sure pray for her after she’s gone down the hall.

My turn. After fake-smiling through all the way-more-than-this-will-just-be-a-little-uncomfortable smashing, I follow the tech into a consultation room. When she shuts us into this room with heavy, dark wooden desks and big green leather chairs (and no magazines), I am barely breathing. This is a room designed for life-and-death talking. I expect the tech to flip the switch that will catapult me into pea soup. I wish I’d brought a note pad and a friend.

“Everything’s OK!” she crows. “The thickening was just tissue.”
Yeah, probably the clavical bruise, I want to say but bite my tongue.

My blinking locker beeps open. I can go home! As I dress, I am aware of stress draining from each limb. As I spring past the reception counter, I notice its lame little jar of orange, yellow, and green suckers. That really should be a two-gallon jug of dark chocolate Dove promises, you know is what I want to say to the receptionist, but instead I skip right out to the cafĂ© in the hospital lobby to order a celebratory mocha before I go home. Home! WhooHoo! In the parking lot, I pass a chorus line of different-colored support ribbons dancing across the back of an SUV. I pray they’ll be dancing for biopsy lady when she goes home too.