Thursday afternoon I ventured where very few men have gone before...
The mammography clinic at Kaiser Permanente.
For those of you who don't know, I have a common medical condition known as gynecomastia. Translation - I have a boob.
It's a unilateral lump of fiber in my left breast (er, um, pectoral region....). People gently insist that they don't see anything, but I know they're just being polite. After all, I AM a bit overweight...
But this is no normal man boob. I've had it since at least the age of 12. Most cases of gynecomastia end with the lump disappearing on its own - several of my friends have had this happen. Unfortunately, I'm in the unlucky minority.
I took matters into my own hands at the age of 16, and had the operation I am about to undergo this Monday, to remove the lump once and for all.
Problem - the doctor at the time, who shall remain nameless, insisted upon the possibility of the surgery resulting in a concave chest. Thus, he erred on the side of caution and only carved out a tiny bit of the mound.
To reiterate - the "mound" is HUGE, and spreads throughout the pectoral region. Simply carving out a tiny section directly behind my nipple wasn't going to cut it.
Hence the second surgery. No docile 16-year old this time = at 27, I've had enough of doctors being too cautious. Cut the whole boob out, guys!
Now, as a precaution, the doctors suggested a male mammogram. I was ok with that - gynecomastia can, on rare occasions, result in male breast cancer (so I am told).
So on Thursday, I ventured upstairs to the mammography department. I felt completely conspicuous as I opened the door without a wife / girlfriend / FEMALE at my side.
This sense of out-of-place-ness increased after I checked in at the counter... once again, without a female. The pair of eyes I've developed in the back of my head (from teaching) sensed that many people were watching me. A backwards glance confirmed this, as eyes quickly lowered back into their newspapers and People magazines.
I like to think I have a good sense of humor - I joked with the clerk that she probably didn't see too many men around "these parts." "More than you think, actually." Not sure if that's a relief or not...
When they finally called my name for the actual mammogram, two rows of female heads rotated in my direction. "Coming!" I said boldly... although in truth, I was rather embarrassed by the attention.
Joyce, the nurse, made the visit as enjoyable as it possibly could have been, with her natural uncouthness and jovial personality. When I asked her if she'd have enough boob (my own) to work with, she replied that I had more than some women. Ouch....
What exactly takes place when you have a mammogram? So glad you asked.
Firstly, you disrobe (no surprises there). Joyce took out a spindle of what appeared to be band-aids, and peeled off two. She put one on each of my nipples - I noticed that these bandages had tiny metal nipples of their own sticking out.
Joyce then took me to the "masher" - a nickname that is probably universal amongst a certain age of women. I had to become a marionette while Joyce played the puppetmaster, and maneuvered my limbs and boob into position while she did a series of vertical and diagonal scans - on both of my breasts, not just the afflicted left one.
It probably won't come as a surprise that the procedure is a tad unpleasant - the red streaks across my chest were testament to this. The plastic "tray" at the top of the machine slowly comes down and mashes your breast against another plastic piece, while you hold onto a handle behind the machine. I wish I could have videotaped this - I could use the YouTube hits.
The whole procedure lasted about 10 minutes. While Joyce stepped out briefly, I had a chance to peruse the office, and noticed the box of ironically named "Esteem" latex gloves right below a Far Side-like comic strip. A disrobed male stands before a female nurse and is told to stick "it" in the "masher." The title of the strip - If Women Ruled the World.
Now that I've seen how the other half lives, I'm sympathetic to that comic strip.
Thanks for reading - surgery is on Monday morning. Wish me luck.
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