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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

I had just turned eighteen

As some longer-term readers may recall, about six months ago there was a flurry of mammogram activity focused on my left breast. They said they'd be in touch again in, yep, six months.

I got the letter in late May.

Now, this has been an especially busy year for me as the house will not stand much longer if it doesn't get serious attention, and at the same time we're trying desperately to get more ground under cultivation -- while both holding down full time work. So, I let things -- umm -- slide.

But then the radiology clinic, ever enterprising, wrote to my doctor to put the evil eye on me if I didn't show up, and so my nurse wrote to me, and so I made the appointment and showed up -- this morning.

You get a choice of locations and as the main clinic is part of the downtown hospital, two blocks from where I work, that is where I turned myself in.

I haven't always been lucky with people who work in that building, and I have to admit that any reluctance to show up might have more to do with that history than with anything I thought might actually be wrong with my left breast. My hormone regimen sets off alarms in medical heads because there are studies that tell them a steady diet of estradiol is not a good idea. But none of those studies were done with, or for, women like me -- who kind of don't exist, so far as most medical heads are concerned.

Estradiol? We actually thrive on the stuff.

I got into my robe, "open to the front," put my things in the now-familiar locker, hung the jingling keyring on my wrist, and, seating myself among the grim-faced parishioners of the breastquisition, waded through some of the better recipes in Home and Garden. One of them, a toasted ratatouille sandwich full of tomato, bell pepper, eggplant, zuke, garlic, and herbs, I will try sometime -- minus the red onions, of course.

When they called me it was two radiologists, one older, the other very young and rather wide-eyed. She's in training, I gathered, and was that all right with me?

"Oh, you bet. When I was on I.V.s over on Third Main across the street, I was everyone's orange." They smiled.

We twisted me left and right, up, down, backwards and around, at an even slower pace than usual, because every step had to be explained to the class of one.

"Okay, great, Risa, and you can retie that gown if you like." She picked up a clipboard. "So, we have two questions, okay? One: have you had your last period?"

I almost guffawed, but stuffed it and said, as primly as I could muster: "Oh ... yes ... you see, I'll be sixty on my next birthday."

"Oh, you're doing so well. Well, we did have to ask. And: did you have any children before you were thirty?"

Beloved had one before she was thirty. We were supposed to be a home birth, à la Bradley. But she leaked a little, and the midwife started the clock running when there weren't serious enough contractions for us to get anywhere. After two days of grueling effort, it was decided we must use a few drops of pitocin to get to ten centimeters while she still had strength enough to push. This meant a trip to the hospital, seventy miles away. I was gowned and masked and put to work in the delivery room with everyone else, and there was, in fact, quite a lot to do. It was a small place and we were the current Emergency, as it turned out.

A rough three days, but then a young man entered our lives -- he's now twenty-eight, a hard worker as well as an athlete and father of one of my granddaughters. How time flies.

And before that, much earlier, there was the birth of Oldest Son. He arrived in the same birth clinic in the same hospital in which I was born, in Atlanta, Georgia. The year was 1968.

That was one of those three-day ordeals, too, but I didn't get to be much of a team member back then. I stood forlornly outside the swinging doors through which nurses, doctors, orderlies and CNAs ran, their white coattails flying -- there were five deliveries in progress at one time. Something about the moon.

Ultimately a gray and bespectacled nurse came along and said, "so -- you wanna see him?"

I was led to a glass window and there must have been forty incubators in there, all made of that cold-looking banana-shaded enameled steel, with their own glass windows facing outward. About half were occupied. Some of the babies were asleep, others were examining their tiny fingerprint whorls or trying to focus on their speckled noses.

"Which -- "

"That one right there. Isn't he cute?"

Why isn't he with his mother?

I looked, aghast, at the red infant lying on what looked like aluminum foil, for all the world like a gesticulating blob of angry raw hamburger.

The nurse took exception to my shocked expression.

"What -- you want me to take him back?"

A standard joke. I could tell.

They're going to let him just cry on and on like that? Why isn't he with his mother?
I think of him, constantly traveling the world, teaching the intricacies of large software packages to Fortune 500 companies. Forty, now. Intelligent eyes, dry sense of humor, a bit reserved. Father of the other two of my granddaughters. I already know how he will look when he is old.


"Oh, okay. How old were you at the time, if I may ask?" She poised her pen above the lines and squares on the sheet of paper.

"Eighteen. I had just turned eighteen."


Mmh? Oh, you want to know the test results.

There was nothing. Clean bill of health.

Whatever was there before had gone away. The left cup of my bra can renew its lease.


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