Austro-Hungarian Empire/Breast Grid

We left the house at about 6:40 a.m. for my MRI-biopsy appointment. The sky was pink over the lake. I knew it was sunrise, and I knew I'd seen sunrises before, but I couldn't remember the last time. I try not to get up during the single-digit hours. I thought of the Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnar, who was a night owl. (I read about him in a book on insomnia.) One day he had to appear in court for a deposition. He got up in the morning, went outside and started walking to the courthouse. He was amazed at all the people on the street. He said: Do they all have depositions to make?

Molnar was born Neumann (Jewish, of course). And of course even a sunrise would make me think of Jews. You never hear about him but his play Liliom was eventually transmogrified into Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel. During World War I he was a soldier for the Austro-Hungarian empire and his dispatches appeared in the New York Times. (I just looked it up and found: "Shot Like Rabbits As They Climbed: Hungarian Novelist Describes Russian Attacks in the Carpathian Snow" from March 11, 1915.)

This morning I'd been looking forward to (well, that's going a little far: I was curious about) finding out how a surgeon goes about doing a biopsy with the help of an MRI. When I went inside the MRI last week I lay on my stomach on a mattress/gurney with a cut-out rectangle for my breasts to hang through. I had my head facing left on a pillow. I couldn't imagine how a surgeon would do the biopsy: lying on the floor and looking up at my breasts, scalpel poised like Michelangelo's paintbrush? All was revealed today, though I was asleep for much of it. The staff kept talking about putting my breasts in a grid. From what I could tell, the grid was like a plastic basket that strawberries come in, with little squares formed by the criss-crossed lines. It attached to the cut-out rectangle. So I lay down on this mattressy thing, my breasts caged in this basket, and my head not on a pillow but face down against a face cradle like massage therapists provide, except it wasn't comfortable. The surgeon sat in a chair next to me, and she performed two core biopsies along the outside of my breast. They would send me back through the MRI from time to time, I think to make sure that she was digging in the right place. This is what I think she did: Put a needle in, take it out, put a marker in its place, then send me back under to make sure the market was in the right place. At least that's what it sounded like in my early-morning haze. And I had a Real Surgeon doing this. I had asked the nurse earlier if a Fellow would be doing this to me or an Attending, and he said the Fellow, but the Attending would be there. However, he said, I could ask for an Attending. So I did. I felt a little sorry for the Fellow, who seemed friendly and confident, and even carried my backpack for me afterwards. .

Afterward I went upstairs to the Breast floor for a mammogram, to make sure that two markers had been embedded in the right place during the biopsy. (As I write that, I cringe at the word "embedded." I've noticed how we use it all the time now, because of the embedded journalists with troops in the Iraq war. Is accepting the jargon the first step toward accepting the policies? Probably.)

Tonight we were cleaning up the kitchen after making a stir-fry and L said to me, I don't want them to hurt you. And he cried. I'd hardly ever seen him cry and I wasn't sure at first that he really was. He looked a little like Walter Matthau when he cried. And then he stopped.