Pumpkins, hay bales, and potted mums lined the exterior walk way leading into the hospital, with occasional splashes of pink in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month. I didn’t schedule my mammogram appointment to coincide with the event, but the synchronicity is not lost on me. My grandmother, a six year survivor (thanks annual exams and monthly self checks) occupied my thoughts as I made my way through a corridor of laboratories and into the waiting room.
The only other patient, a grey-haired woman I assumed was asleep, sat slumped between an orderly and a nurse. The woman raised her head as I entered, and her body swayed like a sapling in a storm.
“Hellooooo,” she said, holding onto the last syllable as she leaned toward me, struggling to focus. The guy on her left reached out a hand to stop her before she ooo-ed herself face-first onto the floor.
“Good morning,” I answered. “Everyone,” I added, because of her spotters. The guy smiled at me tiredly and settled the woman back into her chair in a more or less upright position.
The nurse, a 50-something woman in scrubs and a disapproving glower, skipped over the pleasantries. “Take a seat,” she ordered.
“Yes, ma’am.” I sat.
“I’m going to see where that technician went off to. I got things to do.”
After she’d marched out of the room, the woman in the chair leaned toward me. I put her age at 60 and her physical state at “sedated out of her head.”
“I got nervous,” she said, trying for a whisper and missing it by a wide margin. “When they first took me . . . “ she tried to wrangle her restless thoughts into words. “. . . took me in there.” Her eyes went wide and she gestured vehemently to a door on her right, nearly whacking the orderly in the groin. I had to hand it to him—the guy had good reflexes.
She stared at me expectantly.
“I see,” I said.
“I made just a leeeettle . . .” She brought up her thumb and forefinger to indicate how leeeettle. “. . . fuss is all.” Behind her, the orderly held up his hands for my benefit. They were stretched wide. “Then,” the woman said, bringing my attention back to her, “then . . . “
“Did they give you something to calm you down?” I offered, trying to be helpful.
She considered it, then nodded. “Twice.” She looked at the orderly for confirmation.
“Oh yeah,” he said.
I raised my eyebrows. “Wow.”
“I’m feeling mush better now,” she slurred, “but they keep waiting . . . “
“We want to make sure that last dose kicked in,” the orderly said, patting her shoulder.
I thought if it kicked in any more, they’d have to pour her onto a gurney. As it was, I didn’t know how they were going to get decent images on her mammogram. There’s a lot of “lean forward” and “shoulders back” and “be still now” to a full set of images. My companion had the “leaning” part down pat. Anything else would be a stretch.
“I like mums,” the woman offered.
“That’s super,” I said, looking around the room.
A suspicion beginning to niggle at the back of my mind. Then I looked at the orderly. “Is this where I need to be for a mammogram?”
“Down the hall,” he said, pointing. “This is MRI.”
“Oh, don’t go,” the woman said, clarity shining briefly in her eyes. “You’re making me feel better.”
I looked at my watch, then up and into the woman’s eyes. Fear was still there, bubbling below the surface. I sighed.
“So, tell me your favorite color of mums.”
The woman reared back, smiling in surprise. “Well, what about that?” she asked the orderly. “I was just thinking about mums!”
**Angela Dove is an award-winning humor columnist and author of the true crime book, No Room for Doubt. For author information visit www.AngelaDove.com.