I’m not even sure where to begin this post, so I’ll just jump in right about here and continue outward, possibly in several directions at once. I’ll be sure to sprinkle breadcrumbs along the way to help you follow.
I was lying on my back on an examination table in a small room. A very nice man, about my age had spread glop (technical term) under my arm and was moving the transducer around my right armpit. “I can’t find it,” he said. “I don’t even see it.” I pointed to the lump in my armpit with my other hand, and then raised my left arm so he could see that my left armpit had no lumps. He found the lump in question and then started moving the transducer around a bit more.
At one point he seemed to become more engaged in what he was doing. I couldn’t see the monitor, but I did hear clicks. I know those clicks, and they are not my friends. Those are the clicks the ultrasound machine makes when the tech is taking measurements of something. Those are not clicks we like to hear.
This is the part in the narrative where my writing self separates from my written-about self. Writing self is fighting tears. Written-about self gives a friendly smile to the tech and asks in a casual voice, “Oh, did you find it?”
“No, no, it’s nothing,” the tech smiles back. Liar. He grabs his phone off the desk and makes a call. “Can you come? No, now. I need you to come now. Yes. Okay.” The smiling, lying tech smiles at me some more and asks me to get dressed and wait in the corridor outside the door for a few minutes. He takes a printout from the machine and fan-folds it small enough to fit in the palm of his hand. Concealing it? Then, flashing me a final smile, he strides off.
I sit in the corridor next to a lady a few years older than I and we chat. She’s a retired hairdresser who still works a couple of days a week because who can live on social security and she discusses my split ends. (Thank you, dear.) I ask if her hair color is natural. (You’re welcome, dear.) We talk about surgeons we both know, and compare the amenities at various hospitals. (Yikes! When did I become this old person who’s been in almost every hospital in the city?) I was actually glad to see Smiling Tech come back, with a tall, bulky man in his forties following him. The younger man had “I’m the doctor” radiating from every pore. I got up to follow them back into the exam room, but the doctor gave a smile and a little bow and waved me in before him.
The whole story started almost a month ago now. I began to experience increasingly severe pain in my armpit that radiated along the inside of my arm. It was painful enough to wake me at night (even though I take strong narcotic pain relievers for the pain caused by the bone mets). It was so painful that I couldn’t use my treadmill because raising my forearm to 90 degrees to hold on was very painful. In short, it really, really hurt.
I’ve been avoiding doctors for a while now, so it took that kind of pain for me to go to my GP and ask for help. “It’s an infected lipoma,” he decided, so he prescribed antibiotics and gave me a referral for an ultrasound. The antibiotics didn’t help and the ultrasound appointment was still a way’s off. He sent me to a surgeon for a consult. “Not a lipoma,” the surgeon snorted. “It’s frozen shoulder. Go downstairs to the orthopedist. Here’s a referral.” Now, that didn’t even make sense, but whatever. I went downstairs to the orthopedist.
As it happened, I had met this orthopod before, when I fractured my ankle. He was a resident at the time, and he was so inept and caused me so much pain that I requested that he not treat me. And here he was; let joy reign unconfined. I walked in with a big smile, “Hello, Dr. S! I knew you when you were a resident.” “Long time ago,” he muttered. He read the growing pile of consult referrals, stood and walked over to me. He jabbed a finger into my shoulder. I jumped. “That hurt? It’s tendonitis. Bicep tendonitis. Take these anti-inflammatories and if it’s not better in a week go to physiotherapy. Here’s a script and a referral.”
Okey dokey. The drug Dr. S. gave me did help some, but I was still having considerable pain. The ultrasound appointment came around and I went. That brings us up to where we started. Are we all on the same page? Good.
Dr. L, whom the ultrasound tech had run off to bring, was very kind. He did a very thorough ultrasound exam, front, back and side. I heard the machine clicking away, recording more measurements. “Just one more moment and I’ll finish, then I’ll explain everything to you.”
The explanation was simple. I have a finding that appears to be an infiltrated lymph node in the axillary tail1, and another finding in the breast itself, which is oval and looks like a cyst. “We have to do a biopsy. I’ll write up my report and then you can make an appointment.” He smiled kindly at me and I tried to smile back, but I was crying.
My first breast biopsy was physically and psychologically very painful. It was at a different clinic . This one will be at the breast center instead of the general diagnostic radiology clinic. I hope that means that the clinicians will be more sensitive. I’ll let you know after the 28th of June.
1. The axillary tail (also called Spence’s tail, tail of Spence, or axillary process) is the part of the breast tissue that extends into the axilla (armpit). This drawing of a left breast illustrates the approximate shape and location.
Additional Note: I created the top image with the imgflip.com meme generator and the quotation is from Open Sesame by Tom Holt, which I’ve never read.