Recently, I agreed to accompany an old friend to her annual mammogram appointment. Elyse is only 33, but due to family history and a few scares, she now gets a yearly mammogram. She has been to this doctor’s office before and is not bothered, or even aware, of the cold atmosphere and rather uninviting tone of the waiting room. I, on the other hand, am unimpressed by the rough chairs and outdated reading material (the coffee table is full of tabloids proclaiming that Kate Middelton “might” be pregnant). I fumble through the magazines and look around the dimly-lit waiting room. The TV is blasting an infomercial about the new “turbo tummy” gadget. Before long, we realize that we have been waiting for over 45 minutes.
A nurse finally calls Elyse’s name. I’m not sure if the nurse is pleased to see both Elyse and I stand up and head towards her, but I don’t care. I came to keep her company, and I don’t think twice about heading back into the weight and blood pressure area. The weigh-in room is small and feels crowded. I perch myself on the nearby bench as the nurse jots down Elyse’s weight and blood pressure. I find myself apologizing for standing and sitting in the too-close confines. My oversized handbag just about knocks the nurse and her files off of the desk.
We are taken to the “dressing room” space. Elyse is shown to her changing area and “lock box”
for her valuables. I look around and wonder what the hell happened to privacy? Elyse is separated from the other women by nothing but a flimsy curtain. Then, to add insult to injury, she is handed an ugly swath of floral material which turns out to be the gown that patients are expected to wear. The tiny button in the front is a weak attempt to hold the cape shut. The nurse jokingly refers to it as a “superhero cape.” What kind of superhero is she talking about?
My stylish, young friend looks like she borrowed my great aunt’s ugliest frock. Elyse sits down in yet another waiting room. Petite, large, old and young female patients awkwardly sit and attempt to hold the “superhero cape” shut. For once, Elyse feels lucky to have small breasts. The larger women have a tough time keeping themselves covered. I silently wonder why this clinic couldn’t provide better options for the patients. The one-size-fits-all approach is outdated, and one can’t help but sympathize with the women who struggle to keep their gowns closed. Elyse is then handed a cold baby wipe and instructed to wipe any remnants of deodorant or perfume off her body. Apparently, the chemicals in these fragrances can unintentionally show up on the mammogram.
It’s no mystery why the dressing room area smells bad. These women are faced with an anxiety-provoking situation, coupled with a small waiting area, little ventilation and no deodorant or perfume. Despite less-than-pleasant circumstances, the women engage in polite small talk. I, however, am not as graceful. I bitch to Elyse and tell her we should work on revamping the whole mammogram experience to make it more comfortable and welcoming. She jokes and asks me if I’d be happier with the waiting patients wearing a designer Gucci cape or a Burberry trench coat (duh, of course I would).
The rest of Elyse’s mammogram experience is just as depressing. The nurses are rushed and frazzled by the pressure to perform efficiently and quickly. I wonder where the female camaraderie has gone as I realize that the nurse avoids eye contact. The mammogram itself is quick and to the point: Elyse’s boob is handled like a floppy undercooked pancake.
Shortly after my visit with Elyse, I find myself in yet another waiting room and this time, the appointment is for me. It’s my turn to have an annual mammogram. I couldn’t help but document the experience. The office is impressive: nicely decorated, with violet and lavender accents against a mostly white leather couch and background. Small decorative vases and pillows adorn the waiting room. I am in awe of the office, but more so, at the serene atmosphere and how calm the patients seem as a result. As if the décor was not enough, I am ushered into a beautiful exam room and handed a full length, plush white robe that looks like it belongs in an expensive day spa. The robe had a real belt, and it closes fully to give patients the most privacy possible. The doctor knocks on the door, and slowly makes her way into the exam room. I smile as I realize the difference: The doctor is female, and clearly, she understands the anxiety that being in her office could cause, and she has taken pains to make the experience as comfortable as possible.
Getting a mammogram is a stressful, nerve-wracking experience. The extra details in my doctor’s office made my annual exam aesthetically pleasing, and physically comfortable (well, as comfortable as it really can be). The marked difference between my exam and Elyse’s begs the question: Why can’t more doctors spend the time and money to make such a vital appointment as pleasant as possible? After all, eye contact and a smile costs nothing.