Please Don't Talk To Me While You're Squeezing My Breasts


No, I don’t mean my husband. (This isn't that kind of story.)

I do mean you, Ms. Mammogram Technologist.

I've been learning to use my voice and speak up for myself in all kinds of situations. Except during a recent mammogram where I encountered my nemesis, Chatty Cathy.

From the moment I walked into the screening room, I knew I was in trouble. The technician greeted me with a warm hello and proceeded to explain every last detail of what was about to happen to my girls. Then she explained again – in excruciating detail – while her cold, deft hands prodded and maneuvered my breasts into a machine that compressed them beyond recognition.


Image: Mammogram via Shutterstock

I found out that I hyperventilate while having my breasts fondled by strange women and large machinery. My skin turns a lovely shade of avocado before my baby browns roll up into my head. I do not faint. Instead I use my superpowers to ignore the feelings of panic roiling through my body. My only goal is to survive the screening before I die on the floor.

I believe there are two kinds of medical patients in the world:

1) Those who are comforted and reassured by having every detail of what is going to happen to them explained.

2) Those who prefer to be kept in the dark, told what to do and left alone to panic in peace.

I propose hospitals provide a preference checklist with the 725 other forms required before any medical procedure. I envision something like this:

Please Select One: I prefer my medical technician to be:

a) Outgoing, Warm and Friendly: takes her/his time to guide me lovingly through each step

b) Quiet, Gentle and Quick: gets me in and out of procedure quickly with a minimum of explanation

c) Reminiscent of a Stepford Wife on Crack: uber helpful and willing to delineate every detail of the procedure multiple times in a frantic vocal tone

Don’t get me wrong, my deranged dedicated technologist was simply doing her job. An incredibly important and difficult job. I imagine many women love her repetitive assurance that she knows her way around a breast or two.

I happen to prefer hyperventilating in silence. Give me an overview and the bare minimum of information I need to disassociate in peace while you’re squeezing the beejeezus out of my breasts.

Perhaps I should thank her. I haven’t been felt up with so much exuberance by anyone other than my husband in years.

Of course, I did have choices in this situation.

I certainly could have spoken up and calmly explained my preferences. Unfortunately, all I could think of as the blood pounded my temples was “You may be competing for a Miss Congeniality award, but dear woman, shut the f**k up!”

While those words were an option, she was holding the fate of my delicate woman parts in her hands.

Instead, our interaction went something like this:

Technologist: "You’re looking a little pale, dear. It’s okay if you want to sit down. You could sit for two or three minutes and relax and then we can start again. Whatever you need because all I care about is making sure you’re comfortable and making sure we get the best pictures we can. A lot of women get light-headed so it really isn’t any problem if you want to sit down and take a break. We’ll just take our time between each film; go slow and steady to make sure we get the best films we can. Do you want to sit down? This is a foldable, cushioned chair made in China but imported in the United States by an American chair company. I can guarantee it is comfortable and should you want to try it out yourself, I’d be happy to take off the iron shield from around your hips so you are comfortable."

Me: "No, thanks."

I am disappointed in myself for not speaking up. My 9-year-old daughter has no problem using her voice and speaking up whenever necessary, sometimes to my dismay. During the mammogram, I started thinking WWAD – What Would Ava Do? I'm confident she would have spoken up immediately with some version of: "Miss Technician Lady, can you please stop talking now. You’re giving me a headache."

If only I had her courage!

Instead, I offer myself this practice script for next year's exam:

Technologist: "… And we compress your breasts because we care. Do you want to sit down, dear?"

Me: "Miss Technician Lady, I am feeling really anxious. I know you’re just doing your job, but I’d prefer to do this screening with as little detail and as silently as possible. Thank you."

Easy? No way. Doable? Perhaps. Next year.

Or maybe I should practice holding my breath longer? You tell me.

Does anyone else have trouble speaking up to a medical professional? If you are a medical professional, how would you suggest a slightly neurotic patient like me handle this situation?


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