a funny thing happened today

It’s been a while since I’ve had a few moments to myself to think, let alone put words on screen for a blog post. In the nearly three weeks that “reason and resilience” came out I’ve had a seemingly endless run of hard deadlines: ranking 30 Fellowships for a national research committee, presenting on my career path at an Institute career forum, being interviewed live on SCOMBOMB (terrifying), hosting a collaborator from Perth for a couple of days, traveling to Melbourne for a family get-together one weekend, catching up with my expecto patronum circle of peers another weekend (all three wonderful women flew in to Brisbane from other Australian cities), running annual performance reviews for four team members, participating in my own performance review with the head of Division, providing comments on a submitted paper for an international journal, revising a draft of one of our papers, submitting another paper to a journal for review, and editing proofs of two recently accepted papers. That’s not to mention the usual round of weekly meetings and committee work. No wonder my head is spinning.

Anyway, today I did have time to think. I had taken a day of annual leave to attend a breast cancer screening clinic (my dad’s side of the family has a history of the disease). In between having my breasts squashed to the point where the tissue must surely spurt out through the nipples, I was able to take a few deep breaths and mull over my surroundings. I should add, just in case you are wondering, that I was given the all-clear. No sign of disease.

The clinic is superbly run. Appointments fill a year in advance for general screening. Upon arrival, I was taken to a change room, provided with a front-closing gown in a bright fabric, and given a locker key. I was instructed to remove all my upper clothing and place these in the locker, don the gown and move to the waiting room where I would be called for appointments. The waiting room held 20-30 people, all wearing the same happy gown, and variously reading, talking, laughing, or watching TV. To help make the wait more bearable, a coffee machine was available in the corner, with biscuits, and someone had kindly brought in slices of home-made cake. This was all free. Yum. Did I mention I like cake? Especially home-made cake.

I had brought some reading material with me (in case you want to know, it was a paper titled “Gender disparity in the C-suite: do male and female CEOS differ in how they reached the top?” in the April 2014 issued of Leadership Quarterly – I’d provide a link but it’s behind a pay wall), and got started on that with a cup of tea in one hand. Before many pages of the paper had been turned, and certainly before I’d finished the cuppa, my name was called to go to one of several mammogram rooms. After divesting myself of the gown, I stood naked from the waist up in front of the mediaeval torture machine, while the radiologist twisted and turned my body this way and that to get the images of the innards of my breasts. Re-gowned, I then returned to the waiting room.

Another 10 minutes or so, and I heard my name called again. This time I was to see the consulting doctor who advised me that the mammograms were fine (just a few small cysts that were there last time), and who then asked me to put my arms above my head and proceeded to examine my breasts. Again, nothing too much out of the ordinary but ultrasound was advised as a follow-up. So, back to the lounge, and a few more pages of reading before my name was called once more. Not long after, I was lying supine beside the sonographer in a darkened room with the screen glowing ultrasound images of my upper body lady parts.

Through the wonders of technology, the images magically appeared in the doctor’s computer where I went for my final consultation. As indicated above, all was clear. No evidence of anything nasty lurking in the breast tissue. I was free to leave a little over 2 hours after arriving.

The funny thing about my morning, apart from the obvious thing of getting my breasts flattened in an instrument resembling an old-fashioned washing-machine mangler, was that every single person I met was female. The receptionists, the breast clinic nurses, the patients, the radiologists, the consulting doctors, the sonographers, and other highly skilled professionals at the clinic. All were women. And most were of a similar age to me or older.

That is entirely different to my usual day.

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