The Vice

One of my summer rituals is going to the gyno for my yearly check-up, and then following up with a mammogram. About a month ago, the day had finally arrived for the annual event. There are so many things to worry about on this day. What do I wear that is easy to get on and off? I almost wore a dress, but then realized I would be unnecessarily naked for my mammogram. Shorts – I need shorts. What shoes should I wear so my feet don’t stink. Seriously, that’s a thing. How long will I have to sit there covered only by a sheet before the doctor wanders in?

I won’t go into the details about the gyno visit because that’s just gross. Who really wants to hear about the stirrups, rubber gloves, and the cold, metal devices? I will only say that when I am in that very humiliating position, I always wonder what makes someone choose to become a gyno? As my doctor is examining me, I am suspiciously  looking at him thinking What kind of person are you to want to do this every day?

Next, it is time to go across the road for my mammogram. Since many of you haven’t experienced this, I thought you should know what it’s like. First of all, I am certain that as a petite person, my experience varies from that of a  normal-sized woman. This particular breast center has tried to create a spa-like atmosphere, and I appreciate the soothing colors, comfy furniture, and trickling fountains. Once we are called back, we are ushered into a nice dressing room to undress from the waist up and put on a pink, fluffy robe. No paper vests here. We then move on to the “Robe Room.” It’s quite nice really. All of us just sitting around in our pink fluffy robes looking through out-dated magazines.. Occasionally I say a little prayer that everyone has secured their robes so nothing falls out.

And then I hear my name. The mammo lady guides me back to the semi-dark room with the imposing machine, the vice if you will. It is about to get real. She maneuvers me up to the vice, asks me to take one arm out of the robe, and proceeds to manhandle me. Seriously, her arms are everywhere; I don’t know how to stand because it’s awkward as hell; and she is trying to get my little boob in that vice. This is tricky. Mammo lady begins, “Turn your toes that way, but your shoulders this way, put your chin up, and your arm over there.” What? And I am petite. This is no lie, in order to get the required goods into that vice, I swear she pulls skin from my belly and neck. My entire midsection is trapped in that damn vice. And then she begins cranking it closed. Tighter and tighter it pulls all my skin. It is so tight my knees no longer sag. Then she looks me in the eye, gives me a little smile, and gives one more turn. Crap! I am now hanging from this machine by my boob. I am certain the vice is cutting off circulation, and soon my boob will fall off.

She casually walks over to her computer area as I am on my tippy toes trying not to fall because, really, if I did fall, I’d rip my boob off. And then she says, “When I count to three, stop breathing until I tell you you can breathe again.” Shit. I stopped breathing five minutes ago. I have one arm on top of the machine, the other dangling at my side, I am twisted up like a contortionist, and now I have to continue to hold my breath.

The machine begins to make a whirring noise. It oh so slowly makes a revolution while capturing pictures of my neck and belly skin. My neck is pulled so tightly I begin to feel like I am suffocating. And then she says to relax. Sure. Relax. Until you grab up all the skin from the other side. She releases me, and starts over on the left side. One would think I’d have it down by now, but it is no better. The arms. The toes. The neck skin. The twisting and turning and smashing. This is not the spa experience they make it appear to be. This is a medieval torture device. It’s 2017; there has to be a better way.

Mammo lady finally gets the left side of my body into her vice. Crank. Crank. And just one more…crank. I am now secured in the machine, again on my tippy toes. Deep breaths; now hold my breath. I can do this. I’ve survived childbirth three times, and the teenage years with three daughters. I can survive this machine. Just hang on to that machine, keep my balance, and do not think about all the skin clamped in. And…we’re done. Mammo lady releases me, and although smashed, everything appears to be in place. My skin slowly begins to return to its intended position as I do neck stretches and arm circles. Until next year, Mammo Lady!

Early detection is so very important in the fight against breast cancer. Men and young people, though necessary, mammograms are not something the women in your lives look forward to. To make it more pleasant, you could have chocolate and wine waiting for us upon our return. And, husbands, please keep your hands to yourselves on mammo day.

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In Honor of My Mom

In Honor of My Mom

My mom turns 84 this week, so I thought it was only fitting that I write about her. Of course, I knew she wouldn’t be here because she doesn’t go out after dark, so I knew I was safe. I am 50 years old, and I am still afraid of my mom. Do we ever get beyond wanting to please our mothers? My mother is a strict mother; she always has been, and she hasn’t mellowed out much in her senior years. I first realized this when she threatened my misbehaving children with a fly swatter when they were youngsters.

When we were young children living in Hammond, my older brother and his friends spent hours outside building forts, riding bikes, and trying to stay out of trouble. Mom was a stay-at-home mom of the 70s, so she always knew where we were. When it was time for us to return home, did she call us like the other moms? Of course not. She blew a whistle. She would stand out on the front porch, take a gigantic breath, and blow that damn whistle as loudly as she could. Birds and small animals would scatter in fear. Mortified, my brother would act like he didn’t hear it, wait a couple minutes, and then announce to his buddies that he thought he’d head home. By the time I was a teen, Mom had given up the whistle (or maybe it disappeared), and she began flashing the front porch light when I was out. There was no pretending it wasn’t coming from my house, so I’d hang my head and walk home while the neighborhood kids tried to control their laughter. Thanks, Mom.

Most parents have some memorable phrases they use with their kids. My mom’s favorite phrase was It just isn’t necessary. No matter our request, if Mom didn’t want to give in, she gave no reason other than it wasn’t necessary. “Can I take gymnastics, Mom?” “No.” “But why not?” I’d inquire. “Because it just isn’t necessary.” Oh, great, Mom. But those piano lessons are necessary? “Can I go out with my friends?” “No, it isn’t necessary.” But it’s fun, Mom. Can’t something just be fun? Algebra isn’t necessary, but I can’t get out of that. Dusting the floorboards isn’t really necessary, is it? But I had to do that.

My mom hates cooking, but she made sure we had balanced meals that included vegetables. I hated – okay, I still hate – vegetables, but she force-fed them to me: spinach (canned, cooked, nasty spinach), green beans, peas, lima beans – we had them all. I think the benefits of these vegetables were canceled out by the Spam she also served. She was one of those moms who made us sit at the table until we had eaten our veggies. Apparently she thought that was necessary. My brother would stash his in his napkin. I, being the younger, more creative sibling, swallowed them whole with my milk. Have you ever swallowed whole green beans? Just the thought of chewing a green bean gags me, so I became quite adept at swallowing them with milk. My family was amused by my ingenuity, and would watch me as I swallowed them down one by one.

My mom is a clean freak. In Mom’s home, everything has a very specific place. Her books and remotes are lined up with the edge of her end table. She has absolutely no clutter. How does she live like that? She is at that stage in life when she is getting rid of things. She’s even given back family photos we have given her. Thanks, Mom. Wouldn’t want those old things cluttering up your house. Every single year, she did spring and fall cleaning. Her house was already spotless, so I’m not sure why this was necessary. She would scrub down every wall; I’ve never scrubbed down an entire wall. Is that really necessary? She would Jubilee every piece of furniture (remember that thick, white furniture cleaner?); I am certain that’s not necessary. Mom, even at nearly 84, still keeps her house spotless. Last August I heard my cell phone ringing at school. I checked and saw it was Mom; she never calls during the workday, so I answered. In her weakest voice she told me she had fallen, and was certain she’d broken her wrist. I took off to get her and take her to the ER. As we were driving, she explained that she had been standing on a stool, cleaning her top cabinets. The next thing she knew, she was on the floor. Cleaning is dangerous, Mom. Stop it. It just isn’t necessary to stand on a stool when you’re home alone just so you can clean something that no one will ever see.

Not only is my mom’s home spotless; she also keeps her car looking like new. A few years ago, Mom decided to spruce up her car a bit. Do you remember those spinners that young kids put on their wheels? They were metal and, well, they spun around as the car moved. They were really intended for hot rods or cars that were all jacked up and had bass that could be heard from a mile away, but for some reason, Mom thought they were neat, and had a set installed. So, on the front of her car was a plate that said ‘I Love Country Music’, and on her wheels were spinners, the ultimate oxymoron. That’s the year I bought her black bikini underwear that said “Hot Momma” for Christmas. She did not find that amusing.

My mother did not find me very amusing this past Christmas either. I decided to buy a couple bottles of wine. My daughters are adults, as are my nieces, so I thought it’d be nice to try some local wines. I had worked my tail off preparing a nice Christmas; my husband had knee surgery two days earlier; and I was stressed. Wine was necessary. I thought it was a nice gesture, but later found that if she could, Mom would have used that fly swatter on me. I was in trouble – at 50 years old – for serving wine in my own house. I’m getting her a bottle of wine for her birthday.

Someday, I am quite certain my own daughters will compile their own list of “mom” stories. I intend to follow in my own mom’s footsteps and provide them with plenty of material.