I went to the Breast Biopsy Spa

I had an excellent Friday, thanks to a 3 pm breast biopsy. Anthony and I were utterly incapable of hiding our nerves from the kids, so late in the morning I just went ahead and explained to them exactly what was going to be done to my boob. The technical details helped, but still, by early afternoon we were all in a veritable frenzy of anxiety, each expressing it in unique ways.

Nick bounced around the house making jokes about how little pieces of my booby were going to come out, hahaha that’s so silly, mommy! Jesse hovered so I could revel in her freaky nervous squawking and ululating — okay, wait. I’m just being mean now. She stuck close because, like any decent person, she was having trouble letting a beloved person drive off alone to some unimaginably awful procedure. She just expressed it badly. Anthony had an irritability breakdown as he tried to get the kids ready to go swimming. He was so unhinged that I went over to squeeze him and encouraged him to stay up-beat because everything would be okay. Like you might imagine someone doing for, say… ME, since I was the one having the biopsy. But I’m his life mate, and I truly understand that his anxiety is as bad as mine about this, probably worse. As for me, I kept calm by ignoring the seething mass of humanity around me and doing several extreme dot-to-dot pictures (animals!), which Santa left on the hearth for the kids. Very soothing, especially the possum family drawn out of 1700 dots.

I finally got out of the house and drove on up to the Grafton Aurora hospital complex, which is brand spankin’ new and as fancy as a Four Seasons. I was sent to the 4th floor breast imaging suite, which was empty but warmly decorated — nice carpet, pretty wood, and a telephone on the unstaffed receptionist counter, with a sign next to it giving me a number to call if I needed help. What a nice human touch, I thought.

A tech showed up quickly and we went about the usual meet-greet-pee-strip routine. “Did you come alone?” she asked, in a tone that added, “doesn’t anybody love you?” She let me know the surgeon was running late. I wasn’t surprised by this; I brought the iPad for just such a situation. Games games games. But no, Stephanie the mammo-tech sat with me as we waited for the doc. She was obviously in desperate need of help staying calm. I was happy to oblige her by chattering about where we grew up and such. It also gave me a chance to interrogate her about worst-cases, which I’m fond of exploring. I had a practical question: if the result is positive for cancer, do I need to cancel my trip to California in early January?

Extracting worst-case hypothetical information from medical professionals is like… Oh, come up with your own witty simile, I’m too grumpy. It’s almost impossible is what it is, and I really don’t get it. I understand not volunteering downer options, but if a patient asks directly and rationally, why balk? It makes me get my dogged lawyer back on. I asked several different ways. Stephanie held out. I played dirty. I described my travel plans and dates. I showed her pics of my kids. I told her about Jesse’s anxiety, tics and OCD (we had a lot of time on our hands as we waited for the surgeon). I circled back to it when she tried to change the topic. I asked over and over. Finally, in total exasperation, she admitted that even if I have cancer, they like to wait for the boob to heal completely from the biopsy before they take a run at a lumpectomy or more. So there’s no realistic probability of scheduling a cancer-removal procedure before mid-January anyway. This was excellent news for my schedule. Why was that so hard to tell me?

Finally we received word: the surgeon was on his way. I had been doing okay until then, thanks to my companion, but I started to unravel a bit. We Penningtons tend to go jokey when we’re nervous, and not in a low-key way but with endless strings of one-liners. It’s not pretty, and I’m not funny. The surgeon’s imminent arrival was my friendly tech’s cue to go over risks, including the risk of “bleeding.” I was having surprising difficulty getting clarity on what the bleeding risk consisted of, which is when one-liners started leaking out. “What, I might blow like a hose and bleed to death?” This rhetorical question led to real information. The risk is they might hit a blood vessel, I’d leak all over the floor, they give me stitches, no big deal, done. Good, good.

We bustled into the biopsy room. There was a table for me to lie face down on, the boob hole in plain view. It looked big enough for my head to go through. My breasts felt so inadequate. I snickered and blurted, “you don’t need a hole THAT big for MY breast.” B’dum, bum. I wouldn’t really call myself petite anymore with my middle-age plump, but I’m still short and not so wide from shoulder to shoulder — and I kid you not, when I first laid down on the table, BOTH my boobs fell through the hole. The flaccidity of 7 years’ nursing didn’t help. “I guess this table is made for WISCONSIN size ladies.” B’dum, bum.

I do feel that women here in Wisconsin are taller on average than anywhere else I’ve lived. On height charts in America, I rate the 5th percentile. Here in Wisconsin, I think I’m somewhere in the zero’th percentile. If you put me on an Asian scale (I’m loosely qualified since I’m half Korean), I’m right at the 50th percentile, but this does nothing for me in North America, where every product from airplane seats to exercise equipment is made too big for someone who’s 5-foot-1. Don’t even get me started on weight machines, which I can’t use because it seems like their minimum human size is about 5-foot-4, unless you’re born with monkey-length, knuckle-dragging arms. I guess I should count my blessings.

Right. So the biopsy table had this boob hole in the middle of it, but even worse, that hole was in a sort of broad depression about 2 feet long and maybe 6 inches deep, so a patient lies down for the procedure with a reverse-curved spine. MADE FOR COMFORT. If I was just a few inches taller, at least my head could have laid flat. Instead, my head didn’t make it out of the depression and rested at a miserable angle, with my arms splayed out awkwardly. I stared at the wall, my head turned to the left and my cheek pressed onto a tiny, useless pillow. There was a poster-size photo of a field of black-eyed susans. Country-style muzak played in the background. Stephanie asked if the music was okay. “Yeah it’s fine, except I feel like I’m in a meadow love scene in a bad western.” B’dum, bum. They turned the music down.

“is it okay if I laugh or will that make the boob jiggle?”
Try not to laugh, the doctor answered a little too dryly.

They squashed and clamped my breast 3 different ways, but the computer kept telling them it was wrong for triangulating the biopsy needles or something like that. Finally they gave it a good hard twist to one side, and the squash/clamp was a success. Stephanie asked if I felt okay. “Oh yes, that’s much better when you twist it that way. My son does that to me too.”

They injected a painkiller of some kind, which stung quite a bit. “Yes, I feel that, but it’s okay. It hurt more when I pushed my son out.”

Then they started in on the biopsy proper with many expressions of comfort and concern. Stephanie rubbed my back because I was whining that my neck was uncomfortable (never mind the squashed breast with a metal tube stuck in it). “You guys are being so sweet to me. This is better than a spa. Are you gonna give me a pedicure when we’re done?”

I was told to expect some feeling of “pressure” but it was more like… pain. Very unpleasant. I probably could and should have asked for more painkiller, but I didn’t want anything to slow down this process, so instead I took a couple deep Bradley breaths, like when I was in labor. I come from tough stock. They explained that I’d be hearing some noises. “Hey, that sounds just like my power drill. I like power tools. Are you just drilling out bits of flesh?”

They inserted a permanent titanium splinter to mark the biopsy spot. “I’ve got a bionic boob!”

The doctor finished up and promptly left. I was still clamped in so I just saw his head for about 15 seconds as he told me he’d have results by next week. As he walked out, I chortled, “I guess he’s a busy man. Nip and run!”

On and on I went, blathering stupidly. I was so embarrassed by my mouth. The process went on and on too. They did something with ice, they put bandaids on, they marched me over to another room for a regular mammogram, I don’t know why. They showed me an x-ray of the tissue samples and offered to show me the actual samples. “What does it look like, little pieces of raw flesh?” Yup. They gave me forms and exit instructions. They helped me dress and gave me ice packs and tied my boobs up in a massive ace bandage. I felt like Violet or Viola, whatever her name was, from Shakespeare in Love.

The staff were actually spectacularly nice and helpful. I walked out with a firm step like I’d just had a haircut, except the scissors slipped and landed in my boob. Anthony was shopping for groceries with the kids and taking them out to dinner, so I swung by Noodles and Company for takeout and ate dinner by myself at home. I don’t ever remember being able to do that since Jesse was born. I relaxed. When my family got home, Anthony took care of everything while I lolled in bed. He even brought me an expensive bottle of wine.

This morning, I’ve been treated to breakfast in bed, and everyone is being really nice to me. No one has slapped, kicked, or head-butted me, spilled anything on me, or asked me to do anything for them. I don’t believe this has ever happened before. Jesse is being especially solicitous and sweet. Anthony has adventures planned with the kids, and I hear him coming up the stairs right now with a fresh cup of coffee. I’m going to spend the day alone at home, hunkered down in bed having a movie marathon. My boob doesn’t even hurt that much.

This is awesome. The breast biopsy wasn’t so bad after all.

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