Saturday, July 14, 2007


by Tory Butterworth

One thing I learned from my "Sensation and Perception" course in college was that perception is all about comparison. How dark or light something appears, how loud or soft, how strong an odor, is all about what you're comparing it to.

I was sitting next to a drug and alcohol treatment administrator at a unit meeting this week, and she talked about her experience working for St. Francis Hospital. Apparently, for her first year there they didn't get any desks. They had to make do with tables and chairs. She pointed out how much she appreciated her desk, after waiting for it so long. It was so much better than the alternative.

I was reminded of her story when I had my annual mammogram two days later. I thought back on my "mammogram from Hell" ten years ago. I had optimistically scheduled a therapy appointment to deal with the trauma two hours after the mammogram. When the therapy appointment would have started, I was still sitting in the waiting room, waiting my turn.

After my first round of x-rays, I was sent back to the waiting room again. An hour or so later I was taken in for a sonogram, during which a male MD walked into the room (over the protests of my radiologist) to view me full frontal, naked from the waist up.

The crowning glory of the day came when, four hours after I had arrived, I sat down with the radiologist only to find out the hospital had lost my baseline mammogram from ten years earlier. They had nothing to compare my current mammogram to, in looking for suspicious changes.

This year I arrived fifteen minutes early and was out the door 45 minutes later. Sure, there was the joy of getting my breasts mashed and the instructions of, "Chin up! Pull that other breast back. No, further!" that made even my folk dancer's head spin. But it was so much better than past mammograms.

And then there's the ultimate comparison: how much less bad even my mammogram from Hell was than, say, undetected breast cancer.


Anonymous said...

I hadn't thought about how having something to compare a thing to helps define it. Interesting blog, Tory.

By the way, my mother assured me that the "compress the breast" part of a mammogram becomes less uncomfortable as you get older and more flabby. Some consolation. Now if they could only get rid of the "contort the body, hold the breath" part. Oh, wait --- isn't that yoga?

[Sorry, Annette.]

Anonymous said...

No, in yoga it's "contort the body, take a breath."

And this time they didn't ask me to hold my breath. Part of the new digital technology?

Annette said...

Gina, Tory is right. In yoga we make a concerted effort to keep breathing. Plus, in yoga, nothing is ever compressed.

I've been lucky with my mammograms in that I've always gone to the same place, a very woman-friendly imaging center near St. Claire Hospital. They keep heating pads on the machine's plates and keep the gels for the sonogram in a warm water bath.

Yep, everything is relative. There's also the old addage about not knowing you've got a prince until you've kissed a lot of frogs...Guess that's true in lots of things.

Anonymous said...

Alan reminds me about perception that he made the transition from wife-from-hell to pretty-nice-wife. I agree, just insert "husband" in the slots for me. Of course our standards have changed with time, but not our perceptions. Very interesting blog, Tory.

Don't you think Annette should keep the kittens?

Anonymous said...

Cathy: isn't it better to have your predecessor be a screw up than someone who's wonderful? You get so much more appreciation! I find that with jobs. I think it's especially bad to be the first person who fills a certain position. What you can do is almost inevitably less than they expect.