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Mammogram: one of the least sexy words in the English language. But there I was at the imaging center this morning, bright and early at 7:45, prepared not only for that procedure but also an abdominal ultrasound, for which I had fasted. Hungry, itchy (no lotion on its skin), and about to be smelly (no deodorant), I sat in the waiting room and paged through a National Geographic. Anywhere else sounded better than the state I was in at the moment.
They called my name and back I went to the business end of this center, carrying my magazine. I stayed in my sweatpants but had to put on a thin cloth top, open in the front, and soon enough was facing the mammography machine, one breast hoisted onto a metal shelf, waiting for the glass plate to come down and smash Lefty. How would they do this with a flat-chested woman? I thought. Like that pretty girl at the gym with the great body except she has no boobs. How could they find any flesh to press? Maybe flat-chested women get nipplegrams. Ouch.
When Lefty was done, the technician helped Righty up on stage, and she too played the role of Pancake. Good girls.
I pulled the cloth shirt around me tight and crossed my arms over the National Geographic, hugging it to my chest. A different lady led me to a new, dimly-lit room: it was time for my ultrasound. Up until the past few years, the word “ultrasound” always had such a positive ring to it: what’s not to like about “ultra”? And where would I be without sound? Pregnant women have ultrasounds to find out about their babies—it’s a boy!—but I have ultrasounds because my body has turned on itself. We need to make sure my organs stay functional: It’s a keeper! Doctor’s orders.
As I lay shivering on the exam table, the new technician went through my paperwork and set up her machine. She asked if I was cold and I said yes, so she covered my torso with a sheet and gave me a warm bottle of transmission gel to cuddle with. It’s hard to find that kind of service these days.
“You should be here in the afternoon!” she said. “It gets up to 80 degrees in this room.”
Cold in the morning but hot later on: that’s a desert winter.
I tucked my cozy bottle of transmission gel under my arm like a doll, feeling the warmth radiate through the rest of my body. The technician rubbed more warm gel over my bare belly and started to sound me out. She got the basics: what I do for a living, what I’m doing this weekend, if the National Geographic over there was mine. “No, it’s yours,” I said. “I would normally be grading papers at a time like this, but I don’t have any yet.”
As she waved her wand over my stomach and ribs, I asked her if she ever got bored. “No! Never. Everybody’s insides look different. Organs shift around and hide. Sometimes I can’t even find them because the skin on some people is hard to see through. Like Indians.”
“Indians from India?” I said.
“Um, no, sorry. Native Americans,” she said. “The reservation is just south of us and we get a lot of Native Americans. Sometimes the ultrasound doesn’t work on them. We have to use a lot of shadowing, shadows to find some definition.”
“Why is it so hard to see through their skin?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” the technician said. “I’m part Indian myself and I still don’t know.”
When we were finished, I climbed off the table and handed back the now-cool bottle of gel. I picked up my magazine so I could return it to the waiting room, changed back into my own clothes, and followed the lady out.
Driving home, I longed for the old days when no one worried about my insides because there was nothing to worry about. Only a few tears slipped out before I forced myself to remember that having thin skin is good for people like me; that way, it’s easier to keep track of what’s going on in there. And who was I kidding? My outsides were just as easy to read as my insides. For whatever reason, I ended up transparent, and remain so even when I prefer to hide.
I thought about the National Geographic, all the pictures of people and places from across the world, and wished I belonged to a tribe.