Posted in Imperfection

Vignette of an Imperfect Life: fear, pain, and uncertainty

I sat still, with my head turned to the side looking at the nurse. She nodded, tenderness in her eyes, and took my hand. Burrjjj the biopsy needle lowered and bore a hole deep into my breast. Instinctively I pulled back slightly. “Are you ok?” the doctor asked, his voice soft, “Any pain?” “I’m ok.” I took a deep breath and closed my eyes for a moment. “You pulled away a bit.” “I’m sorry,” I answered, my voice shaking. “It’s ok, everyone does, its a reflex. I anticipated it. We are still in the right place.” He paused, “You ok for me to continue?” “umm-hmm,” I replied, internally bracing myself. “If you feel any pain tell me, I’ll stop and numb you more.”

Zzzzzzz, whoosh, click, zzzzzzz, whoosh, click, the small blades of the needle sliced and suctioned cells from the target mass, collecting them into a vial to be sent to the lab for analysis. The needle was then rotated a fraction, sliced and suctioned again, repeating until it completed a 360° collection. The nurse never took her eyes off me and held my hand through the entire procedure while she oversaw the cell collection. She noticed immediately when my body went cold and clammy and checked in to make sure I wouldn’t faint. I breathed deeply, managing the trauma I felt at being trapped and sliced. At one point I felt the sharpness of the blades as they shaved a layer of cells. The next click brought no relief, I told the Doctor. He stopped, grabbed the syringe with the freezing agent and numbed deeper. Then continued. After what felt like forever, but was likely only 15 minutes, it was all over. The needle lifted and the nurse quickly covered my wound with gauze, holding pressure to stop the bleeding. The compression machine released me, and I was able to sit back and relax. “Can you hold this,” the nurse asked, “so I can clean you up?” She motioned to the gauze. While I took over the task of keeping pressure on the wound I looked down and saw my breast covered in a thin layer of blood and drips all down my stomach. The sight shocked me. I watched as the nurse wiped away the mess and then dressed my wound with a Tweety Bird Band-aid. I gave her a tiny smile. “Ready to go back to the dressing room?” she asked. I nodded still breathing, willing myself to remain calm, the procedure replaying in my head and feeling more real than the current moment. She walked behind me and pushed the wheeled high-chair that I sat in back to the room. Once there she helped me to the bench, asked me again if I was ok, and told me I could dress myself. “The doctor will be in shortly to let you know what to expect next,” she said before closing the door.

In a daze I slowly put my bra, camisole, and blouse back on, my fingers struggling with the buttons. I heard a knock. “Come in.” The doctor came in. He reassured me that the likelihood of cancer was small and yet they would still want to do surgery to remove the mass. “Even though there’s only a 5% chance it’s cancer, we just don’t want to take the risk and leave it in there,” he told me. I nodded and “ok-ed” while he explained the protocol. “We should have the results in a couple of days. We will call you.” I thanked him for his kindness. “You are very welcome. If you need anything or have any questions don’t hesitate to call us.” His words were gentle and soothing. “Wait here and I’ll send someone to walk you out,” and then he left.

Within minutes someone came and I was escorted back to the waiting room and my husband. She opened the exit door. Tim sat right where I left him an hour earlier. He looked up at me and watched, concern in his eyes, while I walked over to him, sat down, put my head on his shoulder, and cried. We stayed there in silence while I released all the tension and strain I carried through the last hour, in the tears that spilled down my face. Then we got up, left the waiting room, and drove home.

“My safe place” photo by Melissa Beaver

I could attempt to numb all the feelings of horror and trauma I experienced during the biopsy by minimizing it, pretending it wasn’t a big deal. Truth is, it was a very big deal, and pretending wouldn’t change that. We live in a culture that dismisses pain, shames fear, and rejects uncertainty. The problem is we can’t avoid any of those. When we deny those experiences we make ourselves a little less human and rob ourselves of fully living. In her book, Daring Greatly, Brene Brown teaches that we cannot selectively numb, numbing the pain, also numbs the joy. I’m not willing to sacrifice joy for the sake of minimizing pain. So I choose to feel it all. I let the pain be pain. I allow fear and uncertainty in; not to rule, but to be. They are a part of life and I want to live. The imperfect life has room for pain, fear, and uncertainty.

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