Dispatches | April 17, 2008

Of course, there are a few worse things in the world than the inexpert use of similes and metaphors, but at the moment nothing comes to mind. That’s because I just returned from my annual mammogram. Cloistered in a cell, my bare torso draped in a wrinkled sheet-like cape, I sat on my small plastic chair and watched a built-in television play an inexpensively produced video about the importance of breast self exam, mammography, and bone density testing. A long double strip of duct tape covered the on/off button, a sign that others before me had also been driven to shut it off.

I paged through a tattered Smithsonian and tried in vain to ignore the insistently pleasant sounding “doctor” as she explained what I’m looking for each month when I plumb the very shallow depths of my breasts for what in her words might feel like “a marble in a tube sock.”

She went on to explain that other women, perhaps a bit more demure and loathsome of tube socks, described the lump as a raisin beneath a linen napkin.

She saved her best description for last.

“Others say it’s more like a peanut in a bowl of Gummi bears.”

Yes, I just hate when I find a peanut in my Gummi bears.

Years ago, I had a less verbose doctor ask if I knew what a lump might feel like.

“No idea,” I said.

She folded my hand into a fist and had me feel the knuckle of my index finger.

Remembering this, once again I made a fist and shook it at the video screen, which had looped around for a second showing.

Watching these women model self exams I was reminded that some have a lot more real estate than I do. I have postage stamp-sized lots compared to rolling acres.

The doctor advised that when you lie on your back, if your breasts fall to the side, get them sitting upright so that the “nipples float on top like lily pads.”

And the self exam? The pie slice technique is out. Pretend you are mowing the lawn, moving your hand to and fro in long even rows. I prefer my lawn to have a checker-board pattern, but hey that’s just me.

As I was about to rip the tape off the concealed on/off switch, a firm rap on the door signaled that it was my turn to step into the silent, semi-dark room and have my breasts, one little shy bit of flesh at a time, placed into a rotating vice grip and photographed by a machine that evoked medieval torture rather than modern medicine.

But better that than one more lousy simile or metaphor, I thought, until my technician took me in hand and said, “Now, this is going to feel like…”.

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