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Image / Editorial

8 Minutes that Could Save Your Life

by Laura George
22nd Mar 2015

I know some people are nervous about mammograms and health checks in general but I’m not one of them. All I can think of is how lucky I am to be getting anything, let alone something so important, for free. I don’t trust myself at all when it comes to self-examination – whose boobs aren’t lumpy and bumpy so how do you tell when something’s awry? I like the idea of a high-tech machine and a professional doing the heavy lifting, thank you.

People are forever complaining about the HSE but so far, knock on wood, I’ve only had incredibly positive experiences. A child’s blood disorder handled immaculately over a period of years, an asthma attack kept under control, a torn cornea soothed, the odd fracture pinned and plastered. The care has always been excellent and we’ve been completely spared the legendary waiting times and Joe Duffy remonstrations, thank god.

There was no waiting for Breastcheck either. I realised I wasn’t on the registry three weeks ago, filled out a short form online and three days later was notified by post that I had an appointment in a fortnight and a bit. Three days before the appointment, I received a text reminder and like clockwork still, I showed up at Vincent’s, went straight in and did the deed. From check-in to check-out, it took barely eight minutes. I didn’t even have time to sit down in the waiting room (which made me worry that not enough people are signing up for the test; between the ages of 50 to 69, you should go every two years).

A super smiley radiographer who does about a million mammos a day took two pictures left and right, front and side, four in total. Boom, boom, boom, boom and I was done. It didn’t hurt a bit though she recommends anyone doing it for the first time takes a couple of Panadol before, especially if you’re less than a C cup. The less there is to slap and squish onto the plate, the sorer.

Resistance is futile. And counterproductive. If you go limp when she says, and turn this way and that way on command, it’s over fast with minimal discomfort. Hopefully, the results, which should be mailed to me directly in 1-3 weeks will be just as fast. If only everything was this simple.

Get thee and anyone you love who’s over 50 into the system pronto. It takes longer to walk to the carpark than it does for the actual exam and it could save your life.


The postscript: The results?were fast- in just two working days, I received notification that I had to go back to the clinic for more tests. The reassessment was scheduled for two days later. In that 48 hours, you go to places in your head that there’s no harm going to, provided all’s well that ends well. You think about what really matters and worry about Big Things. The brochure you receive with your new appointment tells you not to worry- that 1 in 20 are reassessed- and you repeat that to yourself over and over whilst doing google-fuelled maths and trying to keep your cool.

At Vincent’s, reassessment cases arrive together, many with partners or friends, early in the morning and try to distract themselves with Ireland AM. Catherine Leyden has never had a more attentive audience. On my morning there were eight of us, all with weird little cape hospital gowns on which Breastcheck provides for easy access. (Now I know what all those waiting room chairs are for). Again, we were dealt with swiftly and cheerfully, which makes a huge difference when you’re trying desperately hard not to think that statistically one of you sitting there is about to have their world turned upside down.

I’m imagining some sort of tactical triaging takes place backstage because I was lucky enough to get good news very quickly, on site, after another set of rapid-fire mammograms and an ultrasound/consultation with a doctor. All the staff were ultra-professional but to a woman, they also seemed genuinely happy to be giving good news and sending someone on their way. My thoughts are now with everyone else in that holding bay everyday. May their support systems and care to come be as well thought out, efficient and patient-based.