This was an odd day, an odd week, and sometimes considerably worse than odd. You see, after my last routine mammogram, I got the dreaded "call back". They wanted to take a more detailed mammogram, along with an ultrasound. Fine, I thought, except these retakes generally meant that they "found something", and that couldn't be good. So I went through it all again, they squeezed and kneaded and poked and pressed, I got all covered with KY Jelly or whatever-it-is they use to lubricate your skin while they look underneath it.
They concentrated on my left breast, where they seemed to think the "problem" was. By the time they got done, I knew how a waffle must feel while it is being baked. Or at least, my left breast did. I could practically see the grid-marks.
A few days went by. I was prepared to let it go, assuming everything was fine, when I got another call back. I was supposed to see my doc so she could "go over" the results of the second mammogram.
Go over? What was this about? I was expecting either nothing (the usual response to a normal test), or a call saying "your test is negative," or something like that. But this.
So I tried to keep my head out of it all week, and I was more-or-less fine until last night, when for the first time in a while I couldn't sleep. It was as if an icicle were slowly turning in the centre of my abdomen. All night.
Sometimes I think I want to lay it down, just give up, because, after all, I have achieved very few of my dreams, in spite of what often seems like mammoth (futile) effort. Then when something like this comes up, when I feel the hot breath of mortality blasting down my neck, I hear some voice in my head, some idiot but triumphant, desperate, ridiculously valiant and probably absurd voice shouting out loud:
It was like a pendulum, see, between the nice, logical "Ah, nothing's the matter, it never is, statistics are all in your favour, callbacks are common," etc. etc. (no family history, everyone lives to be over 90, etc.) and a violent swing in the other direction, a silent totting up of all the victims, people I had known, loved, or even just heard about, who had either survived breast cancer after a long and horrendous ordeal, or hadn't survived at all. I began to wonder if the "thing" that rides around with me, beside me I mean, always clamped to my peripheral vision, would suddenly rear up in front of me and make it impossible to take another step.
In the doctor's little room today, you know, the little room they tell you about on Seinfeld, while waiting for the doctor, I had to do deep breathing, deep slow breathing to try to relax the knot of primal terror in my belly. The doctor comes in. How are you? Fine. Oh God. The doctor sits down at the computer. So what are we doing today? MY GOD SHE DOESN'T KNOW?? No, she has been away from the office for a week and has no idea why I have come in today. This means that no one sitting in this room has any idea what it says on my report.
So she blinks and flips and scrolls and "hmmmmms", like she always does, and asks me the usual incredulous questions. So what happened when they examined you? What did they say? It says here they saw a bruise. Did they see a bruise? Yes, I had some sort of little bruise - I don't know where it came from - Oh, I see. It must have been in the spot, see here - look - where they thought you might have a cyst. Well, yes, it was. They put a sticker on it. A what? A sticker, so the ultrasound person could - Oh.
You had a bruise, Margaret, a small one that mimicked some little probably-harmless cyst, though in six months you will have to go through all the testing again in case. In case what?
It's late at night, and I sit here tired, having dodged a certain bullet, or gotten out of Dodge, or whatever it is. Strangely, a few minutes ago I heard a ghostly trilling, as if boys were hooting at each other over long distances, but after a while I realized it must have been owls. They were as resonant and loud as if they were right outside my window, and with all that thick bush out there, just a stone's throw away, perhaps they were. They might have been right in my own back yard.
Post-script. Yes, it was owls! The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology site has helped me identify many a species through sound alone. In this case, the calls of various common owls allowed me to compare, and quickly make a match. Looks like these were barred owls, and they were very close to the house, maybe even in the back yard. We have huge rich cedars out there, so it makes sense. One row of houses in back of us, and we're in dense bush. But if these were birds, I could not believe the volume! These things fairly boomed. The sound moved around in a bizarre way, too. I kept thinking, that has to be kids making ape noises, but the sounds simply weren't human. These birds make a hell of a racket! They have a lot of different calls too, some of them sort of trilling (chilling). Since their territory is the Pacific Northwest, I think we're close enough (though they resemble the rare spotted owl in plumage - but not in voice). I couldn't see anything out there, but I'll be vigilant from now on, that is, until colder weather necessitates keeping my office window shut. This page has a rich variety of sample calls. Listen to these guys, you'll be totally spooked out!