"Cathy Hamilton," I mutter under my breath, as I approach the desk. "Mammogram at noon."
The hospital volunteer behind the counter checks the schedule, looks up and smiles, dubiously. I suspect she knows I missed my first appointment six weeks ago. (I've always been paranoid that my name is on some universal blacklist - "Notorious No Shows" - along with hundreds of other harried women who can't update their Blackberries to save their lives.)
"Have a seat," she instructs. "Someone will be with you shortly."
All eyes are on me as I enter the outpatient waiting room. Not because my presence commands attention (although my new raincoat IS super-cute). It's the waiting room ritual. Everyone's checking out the new blood, wondering, "What's SHE in for?" Just like Sing-Sing.
I'm wondering the same about them, of course. Gazing over a 4-month old copy of Entertainment Weekly, I immediately put the other middle-aged women in the mammogram column. The older gentlemen? Prostate trouble. And the four kids, who knows? But where the heck is my antibacterial gel?
Soon, my name is called and I'm ushered into another waiting area in Woman's Imaging, where I sit alone.
This time, my periodical of choice is People magazine. From August. Try as I might to distract myself with exclusive photos of tiny Vivienne and Knox Jolie-Pitt, I'm nervous.
It's not the impending squishing and squeezing that worries me. (To the men in the audience: I am hard-pressed - pardon the pun - to come up with a comparable male medical procedure to give you some idea of what I'm talking about. But imagine a water balloon crushed within an inch of its life in your bench vice, and you'll be close.)
I'm not worried about the flimsy gown or the weird metal pasties. I don't mind being manhandled by a stranger, mainly because it's always a woman doing the manhandling.
What's got me on edge is the drama of a past exam. I remember it like it was yesterday:
The X-rays of my right breast were, as the radiologist so technically put it, "inconclusive."
"I want to send you in for a sonogram," he said. "Just to be sure."
"OK," I replied, a giant slipknot tightening around my stomach.
The Radiology waiting room was another world. Crowded with people, some clearly in pain. What if their bones are broken, I thought. I buried my nose in an ancient Newsweek and tried to relax.
Fifteen minutes later, I heard a voice cry, "Cathy Hamilton?"
Looking up from a 2007 copy of Guideposts, I saw the source of the voice. A man! A beefy, blond body builder! He escorted me to the sonogram room, asked me to put on a flimsier paper gown, and lie down on the table.
Minutes later, he returned and proceeded to scan the tissue in question with a gooey ultrasound wand. I was that close to shutting the whole thing out with an elaborate chocolate fantasy when I heard him say, "Maybe I better call a radiologist to look at this."
"You're not the radiologist?!" I asked, thinking I'd been duped by some kinky, cougar-loving imposter.
"I'm a technician," he replied. "I'll page the doctor."
As my imagination skipped "go" and hurtled directly to Worst Case Scenario, the door opened, and in walked the male lead of "High School Musical 2." Cute. Hunky, in fact. And incredibly young.
"Are you the, uh, doctor?" I asked, grasping futilely at my gown.
"Yep." He told me his name in a voice that cracked like Bobby Brady.
After an awkward and endless exam, Doogie broke the news:
"You have a density, Mrs. Hamilton."
Well," I snapped. "Maybe in math and science but, otherwise, I assure you, I'm actually very bright."
"No," he answered. "Your breast tissue is dense. There's a thick area here - I don't think it's anything - but do schedule another mammogram in six months."
"I went through all that for a freakin' density?!" I thought to myself.
Back in the present, I realize that a little humiliation is small price to pay for my health. I know too many good women who have been stricken by this insidious disease, a disproportionate number in my own neighborhood.
A mammogram technician appears at the waiting room door.
"Cathy Hamilton?" she asks, brightly. "Ready to go?"
"Sure am." I said, as I trotted along behind her. "But you guys could really use some new magazines."