Monday, August 4, 2014

too much waiting room time, not enough yetis


False Mermaid, by Erin Hart. I've seen raves about another book by her, so I checked out one which the library had available, and was really unimpressed. I'll probably still read the raved-about book when it becomes free, but this one was boring.

The Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri. Tells the story of an Indian family, in India and America, in the aftermath of tragedy. It took me a little while to get into it, but its understated beauty became hypnotic, even when I didn't necessarily think that the characters were behaving in believable ways. Eventually I didn't want it to end. 

Little Failure: A Memoir, by Gary Shteyngart. I've never read any of Shteyngart's novels, but this memoir got such good reviews that I checked it out. It was quite excellent: one of those books that makes you (almost) wish away your (mostly) calm happy upbringing so that you could also write something hilarious about your bizarre family. And Shteyngart's descriptions of attending a liberal arts college in the 90s were so, so perfect that I had to put my head down and weep with joy while reading them. Oh, Russian-speaking friends: does the phrase really translate as "go to the dick"? I hope so, because Berowne and I have already started using it. 

I left unfinished The Abominable, by Dan Simmons. The premise was "horror on Mt. Everest", so naturally I had very high hopes. But dear heavens, this was dull and disappointing. It's 300 pages of possibly the most boring and clunky exposition I have ever read before they even get to Mt. Everest. Entire chapters, endless in their tedium, about the history and design of oxygen cylinders. Passages listing mountaineers' names and dates that are like the catalog of ships. And then it's another 150 pages before yetis even kill anyone, which happens off-stage; and then it turns out that they were actually Nazis disguised as yetis (yes, that hoary literary trope). Given the promises this book made, I should not have had to skim 450 pages of a mountain-climbing manual before even a faint and ultimately false waft of yeti drifted out of the text. I struggled onward to almost the last eighty or so pages, but once it became apparent that real yetis were not going to arrive and eat the Nazis, I gave up.

I'm deep into, and enjoying very much, Nick Hornby's Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade of Soaking in Great Books, which is a collection of columns he wrote for the magazine The Believer in which he, well, did this blog first and much better. Where we have read the same books, Hornby and I agree perhaps one time out of ten. He adores books that I barely made it through, and vice versa. And yet his delight in reading is so infectious, so genuine, that after every essay I had another book to add to my to-read list. That's some sort of magic: that after three pages of disagreeing with his opinions, I would still react to a paragraph about a book he loved with the sense that I must find that book immediately. Magic or perpetual hope. Hard to say. Although I don't at all know what to do with Hornby's conflicting statements that Dickens is his favorite author and that he barely got through Our Mutual Friend even when he had been hired to write an introduction for a new edition. What? (He also claims that his kids aren't interested in reading because they're boys, which statement is proved a lie by almost every man I know and is shorthand for the loathsome "boys will be boys" lazy parenting [i.e., "my kid can punch other kids without fear of punishment"]. No, Nick, your kids aren't interested in reading. Full stop. It has nothing to do with gender.)

So, there's been a mighty saga around arranging my first post-baby cancer screening. Back in May my oncologist recommended an MRI, which you can have while breastfeeding (I was still pumping then), and sent off the request to my insurance company. The company replied with what was clearly a form letter saying I have no risk factors for breast cancer because I don't have the BRCA2 mutation, and I should get a mammogram like everyone else.

Yeah. Note to insurance companies: if you're not even going to pretend to review a patient's medical history before denying her services, you should make sure she a) didn't spend her adolescence arguing with a lawyer and b) hasn't been dealing with medical insurance companies as part of her job for ten years. My response letter was a masterpiece of controlled rage, after which the MRI was swiftly approved (though they're dragging their feet on sending the authorization number). But, in the interim, I decided that I needed to at least be able to get a mammogram, and that the tiny trickle of breast milk I was able to produce over four or five miserable pumping sessions wasn't worth going un-screened. And so I put the pump away, and weaned fully, and we were able to schedule a mammogram. (Worst Mother Ever! Putting my own health needs above those of my child! I'm pretty sure that, y'know, a mastectomy and chemo would also necessitate weaning.)

I had the mammo last week, and it was not exactly arranged to ease my massive worry. The tech called me in, took four pictures, and told me to go back to the waiting room.

What I should have said, because this is not my first rodeo: "Um, are you sure? You didn't get all of the breast tissue in those, and usually they want to see more angles, and... I really don't think we're done."

What I said: "Um, okay." And went back to the waiting room, which was populated by a family with two small screeching children, about which I tried to be understanding because it was obviously a situation where Grandma, who was getting the mammogram, didn't speak English, and her daughter came along to translate and didn't have child care available; but once the kids started screaming about how they didn't WANNA go to the LIBRARY after the appointment, my patience fled down the same path as my ability to be logical about being called back in for more pictures four times.

Logically, I knew that the radiologist wasn't seeing alarming things which warranted further investigation. He just wasn't seeing the whole breast, and kept telling the tech to get pictures which included the whole breast. But the logical voice in one's head can be drowned out by a fly's footfall under the circumstances of "my cancer might be back and I have a three-month-old", and so I sat there just trying not to cry. And I know it is possible to take, like, sixteen pictures the first time you have me in the room! Why she was only willing to take one or two at a time, before sending me back to the waiting room while saying, "I'll come get you for the next round in a bit," and then shuffling off at a glacial pace to show the radiologist the pictures she did take, I'll never know. The process dragged on for over an hour, and I was terrified the whole time. When my next one comes due, no matter how much sooner a slot is available at this location, I will request one at the location where I usually have it done.

Finally, however, the radiologist called me in and told me that all is well, and recommended a year's wait before another screening. We shall see what my oncologist says; both she and I prefer the MRI for its extra detail, however little I enjoy the actual event (though it says a lot about being a new parent that my absolute first thought about a procedure which has previously induced panic attacks was, "Oh man, half-hour nap, awesome"), so we will keep pushing for one of those soon. But for now I have been given an all-clear, and that's huge. 

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