Once a year I get a phonecall from my local Ontario Breast Screening Centre to book an appointment for my annual mammogram and ultrasound.
Last year’s appointment was on a beautifully sunny May morning. I got the kids off to school and, with my running shoes strapped on, I walked the fifteen minutes to my appointment. As I walked I felt healthy and alive and young. The birds were singing, the sun was shining brightly and the smell of the budding flowers and trees was heavenly.
By the time I got to the hospital, my heart rate was up and so was my spirit!
I felt a little dip in my spirits as I walked through the doors of the hospital. There is just something about the stale air, the smell, and the general aura of a hospital that always makes me edgy. However, I was still so high from my walk that I easily shook it off.
I checked in for my appointment and was ushered into a small change room. The elderly volunteer kindly told me to take everything off above the waist, put it into a clear plastic garbage bag, and to put on a hospital gown. And so, with my blood still happily humming, I followed her instructions.
As I took the regulation hospital gown from the shelf and slipped my arms through it, I could feel a transformation so intense it was as if I had suddenly been plunged into a pool of ice-cold water. Suddenly, I felt scared and powerless. I felt as if I was property of the hospital and was no longer free to come or go at will.
I had not just donned a hospital gown. I had donned a mantle of fear.
The next ninety minutes felt as if I was moving through water. I was so out of my body that by the time the ultrasound was complete, I was convinced that there was something wrong. When the doctor came into the ultrasound room I felt close to hysteria. And as the technician and the doctor calmly discussed clusters of cells, I was bracing for the very worst.
After what felt like an eternity, the doctor told me that there was no change from my previous mammogram and ultrasound and that I was free to go.
The relief was so intense I felt light-headed and almost giddy. I rushed to the bathroom, splashed cold water on my face and then high-tailed it to the change room where I shed the mantle of fear and donned my usual armour of health and vitality.
A few moments later I burst from the hospital and into the May sunshine like a swimmer gasping for that first breath from a near-death drowning experience. I started to run. I ran until I felt as if my lungs would explode. And as I ran I felt a sense of gratitude, relief and deep appreciation wash over me.
I was alive, I was well, and I was free.
My story does not stop here though…
Last night Max was skateboarding with a group of buddies. His latest trick is to jump an 11-set of stairs. What that means to the layperson, is that he comes at a set of stairs going full-tilt, leaps off and lands at the bottom on top of his skateboard. Needless to say, the learning curve is steep and he “ate s–t” all three attempts
When he arrived home, with the horrifyingly impressive footage to prove it, he told us that he was hurt. A raw-looking left hip and a sore left wrist was the worst of it.
It became apparent this morning that a trip to the Urgent Care Centre was in order. So, after getting the little guys off to school we headed over for the 9:00am clinic opening and were third in line to have his wrist examined.
When we were ushered into the Fracture Room, Max was handed a hospital gown and told to remove his pants so the doctor could examine his hip. With Max stretched out on the gurney and me sitting beside him while we waited for the doctor, he started to get restless and uncomfortable-looking. I asked him if he was in pain and his response was; “I just hate hospital gowns, they make me feel so uncomfortable and I feel like property of the hospital dressed like this.”
My robustly healthy and hugely confident teenage boy was expressing the exact same vulnerable and powerless feeling that I had experienced the year before.
As Max and I commiserated, all I could think was; ‘what about all the people in hospital right now who are each wearing their own versions of the mantle of fear?
And, most importantly, what impact does that dark mantle have on the delicate healing process?’
Just to close the loop, Max’s wrist was not fractured, just some mild ligament damage. And, between the positive diagnosis and his accustomed teenage-boy-garb back in place, he strutted out of the clinic like he owned it.
I trailed behind Max as he said his goodbyes to the nurses, doctors, and other patients. And while I beamed with pride, I marveled at the resiliency of my teenager and offered silent thanks that our stay had been a short one!