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Volume 3, Issue 2
Summer 2007:

Too Late

Pat Connolly

Cell 2 Soul. 2007 Summer; 3(2):a3

The tech — tall, broad and sure-footed, strides ahead of me into the room. I scurry to keep up. Without a backward glance, she points to where I should lie, there beside the ultrasound machine. One small contraption in one quarter of a gaping room, too big to feel safe. Dormant monitors line one wall, each on its own metal cart, each sitting in a tangle of thick cords and plugs and socket panels. Shelves full of gadgets and hardware - blood pressure cuffs, silver-lidded cylinders, a couple of EKG units sprouting leads and paper tape. Too little light in here. The place is cavernous, clinical, stark.

I hesitate, wrapping my arms around my gooseflesh and the flimsy johnny. I watch the tech glide around in the chill dimness. She refills a box of purple latex gloves, flips a toggle, types in a quick message at the keyboard, all done with an assurance and cool disinterest born of repetition. She is the alpha female in her domain, working her territory. She scopes the landscapes of women's breasts, mines the monitor for clues, subdues her prey.

I feel something like panic rise in my chest. I want to break her and I want to win her, both at once, maybe get her to laugh, unmask the human lines around her mouth and eyes. I might warm her up, get her to admit the truth. "Shhhhh," she would confide, "I'm not supposed to tell, but since you're so nice…it's nothing. Don't be worried." I want to best her, to befriend her, to make her go away, to take her down at the knees. Be a rebel and simply walk out.

She tics through her duties and says flatly, "Lie down with your left breast exposed." I slide onto the gurney. It's a block of ice under a thin sheet. I shiver. How many times has she said that? How many women have entered this place, terrified, hopeful, and gone down weeping?

"Put your left hand over your head."

I drop the left side of the johnny and obey.

She tells me to position my back against a hard foam triangle the length of my torso. My body rests unnaturally on the edge of my hip bone, not like settling down to sleep. No settling down here. I am twisted, facing the dark ceiling.

She stands above me, filling my vision. "I'll apply some gel." She squirts a stream onto my breast.

I see an opening. "This gel isn't as cold as the gel for those prenatal ultrasounds we had back then," I say, thinking: We. People like you and me. You and me, in fact. You're about my age. Remember?

When will she soften? Why won't she crack? "Oh, yea?" is all she musters. No comfort, no trace of camaraderie. I am alone here, cold, and compromised into a half-naked pretzel pose. She shows no mercy.

She presses the transducer with her right hand onto my left breast and scopes it, moving slowly, repetitively. Her left clicks the keyboard. She's ambidextrous. Impressive.

Minutes tick by, then more and more. I hold my breath, not meaning to, then remember to breathe, forget, and hold my breath again. I feel my hip dig into steel, the tingle in my contorted arm, a lump of terror in my gut. Her pressure increases, uncomfortable, more specific. She makes a circle, a smaller one, then smaller. She finds a spot, nails it. She adds more gel, says nothing. Again. Again. Again. She types feverishly about what she sees, moves the transducer a bit. Types again. Her breath comes more rapidly. She types a final note and clicks to make the image freeze.

"You can go back to the waiting room now." She flips on lights — stinging and bright. The machinery and the paraphernalia in the room blanch. I flinch, scramble to my feet and just before I leave, I glance at the monitor. There they are, the usual streaks, dots, and striations. But there's something in the center, stunningly more distinct than all the rest. Black, dense, a jagged-edged ellipsis with tentacles splayed, invading. It is no shadow. It is the enemy.

She knew all along. It's too late to make her like me, spare me, save me. In a minute, someone new will lie here. Someone else will shudder and contort and pray for mercy. But it's too late for me. It always was.

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