I had a biopsy today, on a lump in my breast, at a clinic which specialises in breast disorders. The less said about the procedure itself the better (although the terms “benign” and “we’ll see you in four months” were ones I was pretty happy to hear), but it was an interesting experience.
After you see the specialist, you’re invited to put on a mint-green or rose-pink cotton robe, washed to gentle softness, and sit in the “procedure waiting room” with other people preparing for biopsies or ultrasounds or mammograms. It’s a small room, with two rows of chairs facing each other against the walls, and nothing to do or look at other than three dog-eared (presumably out-of-date) gossip magazines. But that doesn’t bother me – I’m always prepared in these situations: I had my book, and I settled down happily to read.
What I didn’t expect to find in that small procedure waiting room was collegiality. But I did. Each woman, entering the room in her cotton robe, made some comment – some self-deprecating, some funny, all of them respectful and kind – about our attire. “Ooh, green suits you better than it does me!” “Oh, how embarrassing – if I’d known you were going to be wearing the same outfit, I’d have got changed!” “What did you do to get to wear a pink robe?” Women facing potentially unpleasant medical procedures also swapped compliments and stories and comparisons. I heard about one woman’s last mammogram, during which she couldn’t stop sneezing; I heard about another’s struggle as an optimist living with a pessimistic husband; I heard about another who would be having her elderly and ill dog, a faithful companion of seventeen years, put to sleep this afternoon. As each of us was called up for our procedure – and the results to come after it – the others wished her luck, and she left the room bolstered the no-nonsense good cheer of women with whom she had formed a brief and transient camaraderie.
I don’t know what these women were in for, but the idea that one of them might have heard the word “malignant” rather than “benign” is something that crossed my mind: one of these women with whom I had a brief connection today may be about to face one of the biggest hurdles of her life. I’ll never know, and by tomorrow I’ll have forgotten their faces, and they’ll have forgotten mine. That doesn’t matter. What matters was that in a clinical place, facing potentially life-and-death uncertainty and questions, we also reminded each other that we were not alone.
It’s nice to be human, sometimes.