Thursday, March 21, 2013

Mammary Tales.....

 The Times of India recently had a full page report on the incidence of female cancers. In Mumbai. There were statistics,  warning signs, and opinions by leading doctors.  There  was information on preventive checkups that you could do. Every year, or every two years.

Sometimes knowledge frightens.  Up to a point, knowledge looks useful. Then it alarms.  What you feel about all this knowledge is also a function of your life stage.

The last time I went for one of these checkups was 11 years ago. Mumbai's leading cancer hospital had then offered complimentary checkups for Mumbai's women as part of their Women's Day initiative. A group of us had gone. Learned about the warning signs, the required checkups. The visit to the hospital was an eye opener.

Some of the checkups were known to me. Some like mammography, were new. There was this small room with this huge black machine inside. Almost floor to ceiling. You stood on one side of the machine, shorn of all your (upper abdominal) modesty. The male technicians, very matter of factly, requested you to stand in various postures, a few with one hand stretched upward, while you pressed on some metal stuff. The images were captured on what looked like cassettes , like you used in VCR's.  My friends went through their stuff, and it was my turn. After one side images were captured, something happened to the cassette , and I ended up standing in a filmy raised-hand pose, in solitary splendor, while the technician went off to get another cassette, till one of my friends came to check the delay, and a sympathetic nurse had me give up the pose , and relax, nicely covered , in a corner.

By and by, the ordeal over, we waited with baited breath while the doctor examined the film. There would be sonography , in case the doctor had a doubt.   I didnt need the sonography,  and a few hours later, one got the all-clear.

Advancing age, assorted pains,niggles, and worries, and the aforementioned  article had me alarmed, as I had let 11 years go by . In between life stages  had changed. One's physiology had got a bit modified. You were supposed to do these checkups every year.  I consulted my doctor, and was advised that it would be a good idea.

 Things had changed. There were now many hospitals you could go to. There was a leading hospital close by , which didn't exist 11 years ago. I got myself an appointment.  The hospital had a web page. With diagrams and pictures. Telling you what to expect and how to prepare for the mammography test. No DEO, no lotions, no talcum powder.

In these 11  years, the Internet had copious amounts of people writing their experiences about this. I spent some time going through all  of them. Looked at pictures of machines that bore no resemblance to 11 years ago. Some people cribbed about the pain. Some said they hated doing the mammography. And then waiting in suspense for days, till the reports came.

I landed up on the appointed day and time. A waiting room surrounded  by all kinds of chambers on all sides. X-rays, MRI, CT-Scans, Ultrasonography, Mammography, OPG's . The works. Folks in uniform manning counters, TV's overhead, blaring some asinine serial with a tough looking mother-in-law saying her piece,  folks sitting on chairs, imbibing from bottles of water in a bored fashion. (I had done the water thing before, and was thrilled to bits that I didn't have to do it again).

My name was called. A cheerful young female technician led me into the room. Turns out that this hospital had  a  female crew handling mammographies.  I marvelled at the irony. There had been male technicians, 11 years ago,  when I was uncomfortable about things. Now that I couldn't care less, they had an all woman crew. Never mind.

She had me put on some hospital gown.  The machine itself was a grey white contraption almost half the length and breadth of the earlier one . Next to it was a huge monitor and a  patient bed. All spick and span and smelling of antiseptic stuff.  She had me stand in poses, with the hospital gown partially off. In another location, I might have even qualified for the Lakme India Fashion Week, with this off-the-shoulder attitude.  This time, there was no hand raised high. But another filmy pose, with the hand bent, and me bending towards it as I held on to a railing; like you would, if you were waving out to someone from the open door of a Mumbai suburban train.  A few buzzes, a few changes of posture, and she had me sitting in the waiting room till she developed/created  the film.

I watched folks moving around, arriving in wheelchairs, a pregnant lady with a worried look, a young girl who spent at least 30 minutes, talking to someone on her cell, as she walked up and down the length of the hall.  I had brought a book to read.  Half an hour had passed, and I had no word. I tried to look for the lady technician. I was told she was inside. 

Fifteen minutes later, I was told that they would now do a sonography.   For a minute , I almost missed a beat. I remembered, how 11 years ago, a sonography requirement meant that the doctor had seen something, they wanted to check more.     

Once again  new hospital gown, but I lay on the bed waiting for footsteps. The doctor arrived with a shutting off of the room lights. A friendly lady , she asked the usual questions, and then asked if I was, what, 43 ?  Maybe she was fooling, maybe she wanted to lighten the tension before telling the bad news, and I told her she was wrong by 20 years. We went through all the steps with lotions being slathered and probes being moved around , armpits being checked and so on. Everything completed, she smiled, looked at me and said . " Everything looks OK . "

The technician/sister came in and told me I was done, and to collect the report the next day.  I asked her why they did the sonography.  And was aghast to hear that they did the sonography for everyone, regardless of what the mammogram showed !

And here I was , worried because they had decided to a sonography, based on my logic from 11 years ago.

 So while technology has become smarter and smarter, we are also doing redundant stuff.  It was  just an unnecessary extra, that had put me in tension .

And I honestly wondered what people did 50 years ago.  There were, then,  more doctors who treated you life long, knew your entire family history, learnt more from physical examination, palpating things, checking pulses, and lung-congestion.  The only machines I would see then were BP machines and stethoscopes. And sometimes X-rays.I didn't know a single person of my mother's generation who had cancer. Mostly, people died of a ripe old age. There wasn't much discussion about warning signs of cancer , and stuff, but there as a non-nonsense  aspect to their lifestyles. 

Were there no cancers then ? Maybe, there were, but we didn't know them, or they ran their course quietly.  Were you happier because you didn't know something ? I don't know.

There is a quest of knowledge. There is also a need to know what it means.

I am yet to get my report.  I think I do not need to worry.

Yet ....

Sometimes I do get a feeling, that there can be something like too much knowledge.     



  1. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Truly.

  2. Too much knowledge could be a little harmful too - I totally agree. They don't say Ignorance is Bliss, for nothing?
    Glad to know you're healthy and happy :)

  3. Gappa, I am glad that you are taking care of yourself.

    I think there has always been cancer. Perhaps, long ago, someone just gradually sicked and died, and no one really knew why...


  4. I go to a women's health group for my mammograms and that avoids the embarrassment issues. As for having too much knowledge, I don't mind that if the only alternative is not having enough. :-)


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