Monday, April 6, 2020

“No one likes getting a mammogram, but this one provided me with an unexpected lesson” by Barbara Wackerle Baker

Her warm fingers lift my right breast. She cups it in her hand, squeezes and stretches it onto the cold steel plate. I clench my lips. Her other hand pushes my shoulder back then turns my chin to face my shoulder. The muscles in my neck tighten, I feel a stretch run down across my shoulder and into my tricep. I debate practising this pose in my next yoga class.

“Stay still,” she says.

The visual of me going anywhere makes me grin.

“We don’t want to get a blurry image.”

I roll my eyes at the wall. Of course, no one would want a blurry image of my flattened, 60-year-old boob. Since I’m naked from the waist up, posed like a nude model and have nowhere else to go, I do as she says and remain still.

The technician’s runners squeak on the tiles as she walks behind a glass partition.

“Don’t move,” she says.

The thought of an unexpected fire drill makes me wonder if I could retrieve my boob on my own.


She comes back, kneads my breast into another pose, and presses it onto the platform again. This time, she lowers the compression paddle on top. The sensation feels similar to a door closing on my thumb … ever so slowly.

“I’m going to bring it down two more times.” She pats my back. “But I’ll stop after each one. If it’s too painful, you let me know. Okay? It’s best to get both images.”

She lifts her finger above a lever. "Are you ready?”

Do I have a choice? I nod.

It’s painful but I smile at her. If my boob could smile, it wouldn’t. She pushes the lever again.

“Good job.” She walks away.

“Hey,” I call out. “Do you ever have nightmares about boobs?”

“Nightmares about boobs, no. Never.” She steps behind the glass again.


“But nightmares about feet,” she comes back, “let me tell you.” Her hand covers her mouth as she laughs as though she just told me a big secret.

"Feet?” I say. “Why feet?”

She moves me into another position. I have to admit, I’m very impressed with the stretchiness of my boob. Could this actually be an advantage to small breasts? Or is it the age factor and loss of elasticity? Similar effect as what has happened to my once-firm cheeks … on my face, as they slip down to meet my jaw.

“Feet disgust me. So much.” She scrunches up her face. “Breasts are a breeze. It’s not often you find a dirty breast.” She giggles like a high school girl. “But feet, feet are so gross.”


She lifts my right arm over my head. “When’s the last time you soaped down your chest?”

“This morning,” I stare at the ceiling, “in the shower. But I didn’t use any lotion or deodorant just like the instructions said.”


“Uh-huh. How about your feet?” She turns me and flattens my other boob on the tray. “Did you give them a good scrub?”

“Ah, no. No, I didn’t.” I feel ashamed. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be. No one does. After you stop shaving your legs you quit. And guys, well … we all know where they quit with the soap.”


“Besides, if feet are dirty to start with, a shower won't help; you’re standing on them. You need to get down there,” she bends over to demonstrate. “And scrub with a stiff bristle brush and soap, lots of soap.”

I wiggle my toes inside my fuzzy socks. The big toes cross over the next toes.

“The things that grow on and out of feet... .” She drops the compression paddle once. “You okay?”

I nod. But my boob would wince, if it could.

“Are so repulsive! Can you stand tall, please? Arch your back. And summertime is worse than winter but not much. People in sandals. So gross. You’d think they know to scrub them even harder."



"I never would have guessed."

“Toe jam, toe nails you could use for fish hooks, dirt-filled calluses, monkey hair.” She lifts my left arm over my head and pushes it until it presses against my ear. “I could go on for hours about the feet I’ve seen. Breasts, maybe a few minutes.”

"I'm a writer.” I give her a huge smile. “I can't wait to get this down."

"You're a writer? And you'd write about feet?"

"I’d write about this conversation. Right after I go home and scrub my feet with a brush and lots of soap."

"We're done. If you need more foot material, come back anytime." She winks as she hands me my gown.

Once inside the changing room, I sit on the bench, grab my right foot, yank the sock off, tip my head to see through the bifocal section of my glasses and pull my sole as close to my face as possible; definitely another yoga pose that needs work. No dirt-filled calluses. I spread my toes. No monkey hair. Toe nails trim and clean. Like a really good dream. I don’t have gross, nightmare feet. Thank goodness.

I pull my socks back on and wriggle my toes.

Barbara Wackerle Baker grew up in Banff, Alberta and spends her free time racing up and down the Rockies trying to keep up with an active family of outdoor enthusiasts. Her passions include writing, photography, exploring landscapes and time with her grandchildren (the most beautiful grandchildren ever). 
Three of her stories have found homes in Chicken Soup publications, a dozen others are in Our Canada, short story contest anthologies, and one of her stories won the 2016 John Kenneth Galbraith Literary Award. She’s had several First Person pieces published in the Globe and Mail, including “No one likes getting a mammogram” and “Life Support,” made into a short film which was featured at the Toronto International Film Festival. Watch it here.  

For information on submitting a personal essay to the Globe and Mail (and to 21 other places), see here. For information on submitting to Our Canada, see here. For information about submitting to Chicken Soup and six other paying markets, see here.

See Brian Henry’s schedule here, including writing workshops, weekly online writing classes, and weekend retreats in, Alliston, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Georgetown, Georgina, Guelph, Hamilton, Jackson’s Point, Kingston, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Southampton, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

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