Two Months Ago...
At Mom's final appointment at Mercy Medical Center, kids were playing tag in the check-in area. Stepping in front of the automatic sliding doors. Open. Close. Open. Close.
She wanted to shake those little bastards as they threw wads of wet toilet paper at the surveillance cameras bolted to the walls. Meanwhile, their parents read, napped or chatted with a neighbor about something other than their demon spawn now tagging obscenities near the public phones.
Up in front, a medical assistant—the woman was an Amazon—was shouting at a woman with sores on her skin. And the woman was shouting back that she wasn’t gon’ pay no g.d. ten dollars for no g.d. co-pay. Kept asking to speak to the g.d. manager.
Fifteen minutes later, Mom approached the same registration clerk, now scowling, baggy-eyed and pissed off.
Mom slid her health card and driver’s license towards the woman. To make her happy, Mom clutched a ten-dollar bill in her hand, ready-Freddy.
The clerk typed something into the computer. “What you here for?”
Mom leaned forward and said, in her best inside voice, “I found a lump—”
Mom said, a little louder, “I found a lump in my breast and I’d—”
The woman sighed, turned away from her, then scribbled something onto a form. “It’s after five o’clock. Urgent care hours.”
“This is urgent,” Mom said. “It’s been there over a month—”
“Make an appointment to see a regular doctor cuz these are urgent care hours. Like for emergencies.”
“But isn’t that what the emergency room is—?”
“It’s gon’ take too long for you to see a doctor tonight cuz...” She returned Mom’s cards and craned her neck. “Next!”
“I don’t mind waiting,” Mom said.
The clerk had glared at my mother. “It’s gon’ take a long time cuz it’s busy tonight.”
The woman looked big and angry enough to jump from behind the counter and beat Mom up. Still: “I’ll wait,” my mother said with a shrug.
The receptionist squinted at her, probably wondering if she was for real, if Mom just wanted to create more drama in her already fucked-up world.
“I’ll wait,” Mom repeated, more firm than before.
The clerk’s look said, It’s just a lump, bitch, but the woman sucked her teeth, snatched back Mom's cards, completed the forms, and told my mother to sit down.
Men swore at women. Women swore at children. Children kicked the seats of strangers who were in too much pain to say anything. Everyone else glared at the T.V. or at the dirty carpet, or at Mom since she could be called before them even though she didn’t look sick.
It was too much. Too much. The noise, the kids, the colors... Everything was too... alive.
After a two-hour wait in the congested waiting room, Mom stepped over patients who were forced to sit on the floor, and followed the nurse to an examination room. Twenty minutes passed while she sat on the exam table in a paper gown.
Eventually, Dr. Hennigan found her, a man who looked like he had just graduated from high school. Like he hadn’t seen a breast in real life, especially a black one. But they went through the routine: ears, eyes, blood pressure.
“Wanna lay back?” he asked.
At his request, Mom lifted her right arm and placed her hand behind her head.
His fingers circled her right breast, then kneaded her armpit. “Now the other.”
She switched arms and stared at the ceiling.
He circled her left breast, then grunted. He looked away as he continued to examine her. “Is this the lump you’re talking about?” He took Mom’s hand and led her fingers towards the mass.
She said, “Yes.”
“Do you check your breasts every month?”
He grunted again and kneaded more, then reached for his clipboard.
“Should I be worried?” Mom asked.
“I wouldn’t be. Young women have lumpy breasts, especially around their menstrual cycles.” He motioned for Mom to sit up. “Mind if I get another doctor to examine you? For a second opinion?”
She shook her head.
He left the room and closed the door behind him.
Minutes later, the door swung open. An old woman with frizzy, white hair stood in the doorway clutching a ream of forms in her hands.
“Yes?” Mom said to the woman, alarmed.
The old woman, obviously, was not the doctor.
“Where’s the nurse’s station?” the crone asked.
Mom clutched her gown. “Umm...”
“I’m lost.” The woman blinked hard and looked at her battered sneakers.
“This isn’t the nurse’s station,” Mom said. “It’s down that way.” She pointed westward, toward the flu season poster on the wall.
But the old woman had already shuffled in the wrong direction. She didn’t close the door.
Dr. Hennigan returned with a gray-haired white man. “Genevieve, this is Dr. Stanley.”
“I’m Dr. Stanley,” the gray-haired man repeated. “Could you lay down for me?”
Again, Mom placed her left hand beneath her head.
Dr. Stanley touched her left breast with cold, blunt fingers. “Ah.”
“You feel it?” Dr. Hennigan asked him.
“I feel it.” Dr. Stanley peered at Mom. “Are you pregnant?”
“No,” she said.
He muttered to Dr. Hennigan, “She isn’t pregnant.” Then he asked Mom, “Are you sure?”
He turned to Dr. Hennigan. “She says she’s sure.” He lifted his thick eyebrows, unsure if Mom was lying about the status of her womb. He scratched his trimmed Vandyke, then closed her robe. “It’s inflammation.” He stepped away from her and turned to write on his clipboard. “Yes. Inflammation. She can sit up now.”
Mom didn’t wait for Dr. Stanley to tell her to sit up since she was in the room and could hear him just fine. “What kind of inflammation?” she asked. “How does that happen? How—?”
The older doctor turned to Dr. Hennigan. “Some women experience breast inflammation before their periods.” He leaned against the counter with his arms folded as though they were chatting about the Dodgers or traffic on the 405. “Nothing for her to get worked up about. Hormones create milk-producing cells, since that’s what breasts are for. Then, this fluid is stored for pregnancy. Breasts swell and become more sensitive. Simple.”
Mom nodded. “Excuse me, but it’s been this way for—”
“It’s completely harmless,” Dr. Hennigan reassured my mother.
“But I’ll prescribe Prednisone," Dr. Stanley told the younger doctor, "since it’s bothering her." He began to scribble again. “It’ll help relieve some of the swelling and pain.”
Mom said, “What’s preg—?”
“An anti-inflammatory,” Dr. Stanley said to the air and light fixtures. “Once a day with food.” The gray-haired physician handed Dr. Hennigan a prescription and my mother’s registration slip. “It’s just fibrocystic disease. Like I said: nothing to be worried about. Almost every woman has something like it. We’ll just watch and see what the medicine does.” He placed his liver-spotted hand on the doorknob. “If nothing changes, she can come back in and we’ll look at it again.” His foot was out the door.
“Or,” Dr. Hennigan said to Mom, following the old man out of the room, “you can schedule an appointment at the women’s clinic upstairs.”
“Anything else?” Dr. Stanley asked the young doctor, his body on the other side of the threshold.
Dr. Hennigan turned to my mother.
Mom wanted to know: how did it happen? How could she keep it from happening again? What the fuck was pregni... prezi... whatever it was? She wanted to scream and say that she didn’t understand and that someone should write this down.
But then, a nurse was tugging at Dr. Stanley’s arm.
“Are we finished here?” Dr. Stanley asked Dr. Hennigan. “Does she have any questions?”
So, with a numb mouth and thick tongue, Mom mumbled, “No. I don’t have any questions.”
And the two doctors left my mother on that padded table, left her there with fibrocystic disease and a prescription for a drug that she couldn’t even pronounce.