Mammography hurts

Sculpture in Copenhagen

We kiss in the kitchen at 6:30 p.m. and begin to debrief about our day.

Ever attentive, Ed asks how my mammogram went. How considerate of him to remember. How foolish of him to ask.

You can’t explain the magic of snorkeling under the Caribbean Sea and meeting parrot fish – you have to fly her to St. John, lend her a mask and show her where the painted fish with crimson lips and Maybelline-blue eyes hide under coral.

You can’t impart the thrill of guacamole – until you ripen an avocado, smoosh it with a fork, add garlic and scoop it up with a crisp baby carrot. Even with 1,000 words, you can’t draw an accurate picture of the misery of a mammogram. You must demonstrate.

“Put your coat down,” I say. He obliges.

“Take off your pants,” I say. He winces.

“Take off your other pants,” I say. He refuses.

“What are you doing?” he whimpers. “I just want to know how the mammogram went.”

When I was six, my father picked me up at my friend Abby’s house one afternoon. He said we were going for a ride. Since I usually walked home from Abby’s, and since I rarely spent time alone with Daddy, a car trip a deux seemed delightful. But he was setting me up. He took me to the pediatrician’s office for a shot.

Now, in the cold, white kitchen, I’m setting up my darling, who trusts me. Love hurts.

“I’m showing you,” I say, looking through the uncurtained, almost clean windows. If Claire is peeking out the kitchen window next door, she’s in for a treat.

“Put your left delicate here on the back of the chair,” I say. I have to repeat it, because the metal chair is cold, and the delicate is not. Yet. He thinks a breast X-ray is bad, but really – it’s worse.

“Now hold your right one out of the way. No, pick it up higher. Good.” Ed hates what is happening. As realistic as this macabre reenactment seems, two elements differ vastly from a real-life mammogram, which most women of a certain age undergo annually.

First, during a mammogram, a strange, unknown technician handles one’s private parts with disdain. In this case, it’s his loving, beautiful and talented wife, she of the gentle touch and winning smile. Second, during a mammogram, you’re in an inhospitable basement imaging center, with cubicles marked “lockers.” An orderly in green scrubs says, “Wait here for one hour until the busy and important doctor has time to glance at your report and disclose your chance of survival.”

Ed, instead, is safely ensconced in his own kitchen, home of his pasta, his pita and his reading glasses.

“I’m supposed to press down the imaging plate,” I explain, “but I don’t have a steel truck or a block of ice. So I’ll just grab the sports section. Here,” and I corner his left endowment between the Eagles scores and the chair. Ed sounds as though his team is losing.

Men. Such wimps. A little discomfort, they cry like flattened babies. Women endure this misery annually. And insurance pays.

There’s a cartoon of a woman walking around with breasts flat as paper plates, sticking out in front of her, barely contained by her sweater. “How do you know I had a mammogram today?” she says.

The pressure feels powerful enough to iron one’s mammaries permanently flat, but probably it isn’t.

“I should press much harder, but I won’t.” Although we’re both giggling, Ed acts no longer amused. Claire is, though. “Now, while I hold your left bauble, put your left arm up on my shoulder to get it out of the way.” Ed is sniveling. I try to put his arm where I want it, but I can’t do that without losing control of the high-school wrestling scores on page three. I wish my patient were more compliant. “Pull the right one farther out of the way. Good. Now I’ll just press a little harder. Good.


That’s the clincher. “Relax.” The technician presses the three-ton weight a smidgen tighter on the breast/delicate/whatever, walks behind a protective shield and aims the diagnostic ray-gun. “Hold your breath.” While relaxing? In this position?

After dinner, I consider asking Ed what it feels like to shave his face, but he might feel compelled to demonstrate.