White-tiled floors, white-walled corridors. I push through the Hospital’s double doors and arrive at a busy nurses’ station. All the women behind the counter are dressed in blue scrubs, and one harried individual looks up at me. I tell her I’m here for my mammogram appointment. For a moment, all activity stops as the women stare. One checks a clipboard for my name, and doubtfully asks when I made my appointment. My answer doesn’t suit the question; I tell her I’m overdue and found the number in the phone book. She is surprised to find my name on the list, calls one of the other nurses to take me to my room.
My guide leads me briskly through another double door that swings shut behind us as we enter a large, dim area. There are rows of beds here, lined up against the curving walls, and each bed is curtained off in the same dull, flat blue of the nurses’ scrubs. I must hurry, or the nurse will outpace me, but I notice that in each bed we speed by lies a sobbing woman. Many of them clutch pillows to themselves in obvious pain. Most, if not all, wear dressing gowns soaked through with blood. The aisle we hurry down is haphazardly cluttered with tables, each of which contains a shallow, aged-white vessel that resembles a large, elongated marrow bone. The vessels vary slightly in shape and size, but each holds a dusky-pink liquid that bubbles and pops like thickened mud.
In an instant, I realize all these women have had mastectomies, full or partial. When I looked up the phone number to make my appointment, I must inadvertently have dialed the breast cancer unit. I’m stunned. So much pain and suffering. Why is no one helping with the patients’ pain? Why haven’t proper sterilization protocols been used? I do not belong here.
The nurse stops in front of an occupied bed — a woman lies in the fetal position, hugging a pillow to herself. She registers our presence through her pain and tears, and gingerly crawls from the bed. Her look at me is poisonous. The nurse tells me I must wait here, in this rumpled bed with its tangle of blood-stained linens. She hands me a lead-lined wrap to protect me when I am eventually x-rayed. On the back of the wrap, written hastily in clumsy block letters, is the word “maggot”.