Having a mammogram can be a humiliating experience. Does it have to be? 

A Little Mammography Music, Please

I have a high threshold for pain. I don't go for screaming and yelling. I'm more like a dog that goes into the woods to die. Just leave me alone and I'll tough it out.

But I have a much lower threshold for humility, which often accompanies pain.

Women tend to avoid personal routine exams like mammograms because it is a) painful and b) humiliating. I track letters from aggrieved women in Dear Abby and Ann Landers complaining about the a) pain and b) humiliation. So I wasn't looking forward to my first one, and I feared one of those rogue male nurses who thinks he has a civil right to grab my chest and smash it between panes of glass in the name of equal opportunity employment. Sorry, Charlie, but your opportunity ends at my chest.

But I was lucky, and lucky for many years. I went to a women's clinic where all the employees were women. They gave you colorful little gowns to wear, tea and crumpets and videos of women feeling for lumps, while you sat in the calm green waiting room with back issues of Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping.

In the mammography suite, the kindly female technician, required me to undrape only one side at a time. Apologies were offered in advance for any discomfort; pain was at a minimum. The X-rays were swift. I was escorted to another private holding area to wait for the results. I never saw a man.

I assumed this was how it was and all the complainers were just wussies. Welcome to wussville. I have crossed over to the other side.

Recently, I went for the mammogram at what's called a diagnostic center. The waiting room teemed with the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to feel better. There were men in there. There were coughing, germ-spewing people. No tea, no crumpets, no videos. And no privacy!

The gown was more like a little cape and didn't quite close in front. In the mammography suite, the efficient nurse was moving faster than the speed of light. My cape was swept off, leaving me topless in the middle of the room, while she grabbed and smashed my breast. As she cranked the machine up, my trapped breast went up with it, and I stood on my toes to keep it from being ripped from my rib cage.

"Don't stand on your toes," she says.

Don't lift me by my breasts, I felt like suggesting.

But I have that legendary high threshold for pain, and at least it's a woman torturing me, and the mantra for pain is This Will Not Last, so I got through it.

She does not tell me to put the cape back on because she's going to open the door now. She does not tell me to cover myself up because she's going out the door. She just says, "That's it," and opens the door.

"There're men out here!" I say astounded.

"They're plastering the drywall," she says, as she rapidly departs, leaving me to desperately trying to put on a paper cape that is lighter than air and resisting settling down on my chest. Sure enough, a work crew is plastering drywall. They can't do this in the evening or at night?

Construction is going on in the same suite and at the same time as mammograms. So there I stand essentially topless except for a little paper cape, and the only route back to my dressing cubicle and blouse is by guys in tool belts and plaid flannel shirts. Isn't this the opening scene of every porno video?

I'm already composing my letters to Ann Landers and Dear Abby.

That evening, I crawl into a steaming bath scented with gardenia bath salts, and I glance down and it appears parts of my chest are missing! That technician somehow squeezed off parts of my chest! Clipped them right off!

I fumble for my glasses to get a closer look and discover that, unknown to me, all day I've been wearing an assortment of tape, some with numbers and some with snaps on them. The nurse had taped up and strapped down my chest and never removed them. The tapes with snaps on them are strategically placed. Apparently, when departing the mammography suite, I didn't see the bowl of snap-on pom-poms, No wonder she wasn't concerned about my privacy. If I had known to snap on my pom-poms, I wouldn't have been so naked. Mammograms are not followed by a letter to Dear Abby after all.

Dear Penthouse: I always thought the letters in your magazine were fake, that is until I got this job hanging drywall in the mammography suite of a diagnostic center. There I was, my tool belt keeping my pants low-riding, when the door of the X-ray room opened.

"That's it," a nurse said, rushing by. And then she appeared, wearing a little cape with sequined pom-poms snapped to her freshly taped and X-rayed breasts.

"There're men out here!" she growled in a throaty purr.

I nearly dropped my spackle knife.

Mariane Matera is a free-lance writer who lives in Richmond.
Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

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