Thursday, October 15, 2009
Five or six years ago, when I was told to schedule a breast biopsy, I put it off for quite a while. My excuse was that there was a search for a printmaker in our department and, if I missed any of the interviews, I wouldn't be able to vote for or against the candidate. There was one specific person who I thought would be perfect for the job, would fit the odd student body that many, younger artist-wanna-be-teachers wouldn't particularly like since it would be so unlike teaching in an art school. I was determined to have a say in this decision.
And, as it turned out, it made no difference that I waited. I'd been reassured that it was probably just a fatty lump, not anything to worry about, though biopsys are necessary for all lumps. But anxiety about this procedure sat in the bottom of my mind for all those weeks, an underlying worry that I couldn't hide.
The lump was benign. And my candidate did get the position. And I thought I learned that it was worse to put off something than to get it over right away.
However, when I was told that I needed a uterine biopsy, I also put it off. My lining is 6.4, rather than the general 4. The probable reason is that I've taken hormone replacements, though I'm down to the mildest form that hardly counts and won't lead to breast cancer.
I was capable of dismissing nagging awareness of this looming event, and wasn't worried, oddly, until an hour before the procedure. A friend rode along with me for comfort and I didn't imagine anything ghastly was going to happen. But, as I got to the parking lot of the doctor's office, I was getting pretty jittery and slipped an eighth of a valium into my mouth.
Part of the reason I was anxious was that the doctor mentioned, during our phone conversation, that she would try to get my IUD out while she was at it. That was put in almost 45 years ago when my daughter was born in New York Hospital in the upper east side of New York. I was told then that there was an experimental trial of IUDs and that mine wouldn't have a string. Over the years several doctors mentioned that they could try to fish-hook it out, but I was never in a place where that sounded like fun or when I wanted to have another child.
When the doctor asked me to sign the waver, she asked whether she could pull the IUD out if the string came out while she was performing the biopsy. "But I have a lippes loop," I said, "They don't have strings."
"No, they all do. Is it alright if I pull it out if the string comes out? It's not painful."
"You won't find a string," I said.
The biopsy isn't all that difficult. A bit contracting-ish, but not, in my case, anything I would fuss about. (Perhaps my pain tolerance is high because I had a friend who thought this was the depth of hell.) The doctor tried a couple of times, making contact with the loop, but I am apparently right. No string. So the biopsy seemed okay to her, though she still has to get the results. It's possible that 6.4 is normalish for me. At least it's not something to worry about now.
Remarkably, I had time to think about her certainty that lippes loops all had strings as I got dressed and went to her office. Was it possible, I asked her, that the doctors saw a young unmarried woman having just given birth to a baby in 1965 and decided that an IUD without a string was better for her? "They do that all the time in China," she said. She's certain that all lippes loops had strings, even that long ago, in the dark ages. It was possible, she thought, that they cut off the string.
"I'm sorry," she said.
If I were capable of figuring out how to do this research, I'd probably take a look about whether those IUDs were ever manufactured without strings. That would help me wrestle with the idea that young doctors might have made a decision about providing this form of birth control without my informed consent.
I have a sense that there was some worry about me as a young mother, perhaps someone asked if I wanted to talk to social worker while I was in the hospital. I know that the nurses offered me clothes for the baby as if I had no resources. I refused them.