Backpacks and mammograms

I wrote this piece in 2006 for an expat-immigrant mag called Swissnews. All rights reverted to me upon publication.

Annual doctor’s check-ups are never fun … especially in a foreign country, when you just aren’t sure what to expect. And having to deal with the entire ordeal while topless? Well, that’s another story altogether…

Last week, I dutifully went for my annual mammogram at Lausanne’s university hospital – known as the CHUV. Now, I wouldn’t call this a pleasant experience, but I’d prepared myself psychologically: I’d arrived early, so I wouldn’t stress about parking and would still have time to treat myself to an English magazine in the coffee shop.

On the dot for my appointment, I was directed to a small closet. No, not a room, but a closet. In the closet – which held one metal chair, a mirror and two doors facing opposite each other – I was supposed to remove all clothing from the waist up, and wait. So I did. I turned and faced the door opposite the one I’d entered, waiting as instructed, until a friendly lady opened it and escorted me directly to the mammogram machine. Leave it to the efficient Swiss, I thought. This will be over as quickly and discreetly as possible.

Yet, a slight awkwardness began creeping over me. Let’s face it, it is rather weird to have a stranger, male or female, manipulating your breasts – where does one look? Does one smile politely? Does one make small talk?

Anyway, the friendly lady and I got through it, with a bit of light chatter. The awkwardness dissipated, as the relief spread that it was over. She escorted me back to the little closet, and again told me to wait … as I was.

Taking stock

To avoid imagining things, I decided to sort my purse; however, with no trashcan available, I just inventoried its contents for future reference. (I am always surprised at what I find in its depths, since I’m not one of those ladies who changes her purse to match her outfits: chestnuts from last fall that my son made me promise to keep, my Swiss Army Knife, bits of sticky watermelon-flavoured sugar free candy, expired coupons, and pen caps without pens, etc.) This helped pass the time until the friendly lady came and asked me to follow her … just as I was: nothing on from the waist up.

Okay, I can handle a topless stroll, I tried to convince myself. Who cares about my breasts? This is medical! Get on with it! But then came the matter of my purse …

I considered leaving it in the closet room because, just how does one carry a purse with any sense of dignity whatsoever when one is topless? Casually over the shoulder? Neatly, with two hands? Across the chest meter-maid style just didn’t seem reasonable.

Mine is a backpack model, but I just couldn’t picture the backpack method naked either. So, I opted for the ladylike, two-handed method and headed out the door determined, with my chin up, down the little hall into a room where a tiny, rather tense-looking man stood up with his hand extended to introduce himself. I stuck out my hand and, red faced, laughed out my name mumbling an apology that I wasn’t used to introducing my half-naked self to men. He said he did it all the time, to which my response was an awkward and undignified silence.



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