It was that time of year again. The time of year where I think of peaceful, restful, happy scenes like the one pictured…and make my annual appointment for a physical.
I don’t think there is a human being alive who doesn’t recognize the importance of an annual checkup of our physical health. Nor is there a human being alive who doesn’t wish with all their soul they can avoid it. But, if we are dutiful, we call for an appointment and think happy thoughts about peaceful places that are nowhere near a medical facility.
I don’t know why it’s so difficult. Perhaps it’s the attractive gown they give you to wear while they check you out. Nothing makes one feel as vulnerable as a gown the texture of a dishtowel, covered in faded designs, which is completely open down the back. Then you get to sit on a table covered in paper, which tends to stick to the portion of your anatomy that isn’t covered by the gown.
They begin with ten thousand questions, personal enough that you wouldn’t normally discuss them with a comparative stranger–Do you feel like hurting yourself? Can you count to ten? Can you follow my finger with your eyes?–you know the drill. And as much as I enjoy answering questions about my suicidal tendencies and the state of my bowels, I enjoy being poked and prodded even less.
Of course, they also sit you down and drain enough blood to make you wonder if they are working for Dracula, and then they squeeze your arm into a blood pressure cup as though they plan to remove the appendage by force–“Your blood pressure seems to be elevated, could it be that we have your arm strapped into an air-pressurized garrote that is shutting off the blood supply to everything above the shoulder?”
They save the real treat for last, however. Nothing that any exam provides for a woman is quite as delightful as the rigors of the mammogram. The late great humorist Erma Bombeck once said that for a woman to prepare herself for a mammogram, she must stand at the refrigerator door and slam it repeatedly on that most delicate part of the female anatomy, the breast.
I would never argue with my favorite writer, but I would have to say that Erma may have understated it. A mammogram is the real test of human endurance and there is no way to prepare for having the breast sandwiched between two plastic plates and squashed like bread dough under a rolling pin.
I’m always fascinated by the care and precision taken by the radiologist who conducts the test. While they have you in that machine, reluctant to move for fear of twisting off something crucial, they have all the precision and finesse of the photographer who took your wedding photos.
“Now, stand with your right arm up and your left shoulder dropped down. Put your chin on the top of the machine–that’s right, just stretch a little. Turn your body towards the machine and point your feet out to the left.”
And while you are standing there with your most delicate body part squashed into the merciless machine, your head impossibly high and your feet turned at an angle away from the body, they make the most ridiculous statement of all, “This will be easier if you just relax.” Once the picture is taken, they say, “Don’t move, I just want to check it.” This is a useless statement–until they release my breast from the machine, I’m not going to be going anywhere! I’ll just stand there, trying to visualize my happy place, but actually thinking about all the horror stories I’ve heard about things accidentally caught in those old wringer washers!
My physical is over for this year, and while I pick on the medical community, I truly do appreciate all they do to try and keep the human physiology in top operating form. All the same, it will take some hours of meditation on my calm and peaceful happy place before I set myself up for next year’s examination!