Friday, January 16, 2009

In Which I Find A Lump (Or Why I Now Hate Male Doctors)

So, I found this lump (for lack of a better word) in my armpit a few weeks ago. Scared the bejesus outta me, and I made an appointment to see our doc. Not crazy about him, but no harm, no foul so far. A brief look-see, no examining of the lump, and no acknowledgement of its proximity to the breast. He is dismissive. He tells me it's probably a clogged sweat gland, and not to worry about it. Easy enough for him to say, it's not his armpit. An armpit in close proximity to his boobs, with a family history of breast cancer. What a quack. What a putz. How can he be so glib about this??? A diagnosis of "probably" isn't enough to put my mind at ease.

I don't sleep all night, much to The Hubby's dismay, and frankly, neither of us is confident in the doc's diagnosis. Having been treated dismissively, like the hysterical female, I'm not just worried, but pissed. Which, really, is a good thing, as "having a good mad on" usualy prompts me to further action.

The next morning, a Saturday, we decide I should pop for the copay, go to the local hospital's urgent care, and get a second opinion, of sorts. I go early, because experience has taught us (I do have a boy, remember...) that early in the morning on a nice day is the best time to go to the e.r. - a lesson learned when Tweenie accidently slammed a hockey stick into Little Man's eyebrow....a long story for another time.

At the e.r., I fork over the dough, they get me in quickly and I'm sent to the urgent care. A male doc sees me, and after about five minutes, without palpating the area, by looking up the arm of the gown, says he thinks it's an ingrown hair from shaving. The topper? I only shaved my pits that morning. Now, that's one fast ingrown hair. (This is where you can shout at the computer screen, "Are you friggin' kidding me?") Would I kid you? Yes, he actually said it was an ingrown hair from shaving. No redness, no indication of infection, but it's an ingrown hair. Is this dude afraid he might glance at the side of my boob? Is he afraid I'll sue if he examines the lump? Good God, haven't any of these guys gone to med school? Watched e.r.? Gray's Anatomy?? A public service announcement, for Chrissakes??? I write off all male doctors, and decide to find a female doctor pronto. Maybe she'll get that I'm worried for a reason. A rational, non-hysterical reason.

To make a long story short, no woman M.D.s are taking new patients. Of course. But I do find a nurse practitioner at our doctor's office who is female. I make an appointment and prepare myself to defend the case for having someone get to the bottom of the strange, and now somewhat painful, lump.

While I wait the six days for the appointment, (ridiculous, I know, but don't get me started on my socialized medicine soapbox), I start to build my case for a thorough exam. Isn't it ridiculous that I should have to feel like an intern getting ready to present a case during rounds? But I figure it's my only defense at this point. As the lump is getting larger, I go into research mode to learn all I can and keep myself sane. This usually works, and keeps me calm in a crisis. The Hubby says that, to me, life is a research project. But I hit WebMD and Medscape and such, scanning the internet for a probable diagnosis, and scare myself silly instead. I start to make those crazy lists in your head of all the things I'd need to do in a worst case scenario. (Birthday cards for the kids 'till they're grown, lists of all the pediatricians/dentists/allergies/meds, the kids' routines, all the stuff The Hubby would need if the worst happened. Sounds silly now, but made sense at the time...) Most of all, I just hope and pray that this nurse practitioner gal will take me seriously and at least examine the site of the lump.

Finally, the morning of the appointment rolls around. I get the kiddopoliticos to school and me to the doctor's office. I wait, not too long, amazingly, and am placed in an exam room. In comes the gal, and asks me what is going on. I give her the Reader's Digest version of the saga, and ask if I am crazy for being so concerned about a lump that is large enough to feel, is painful, and is relatively close to my breast. She actually examines the area, finding it right away, assessing it (approx. size, firm, etc.) out loud as she goes. She palpates it with me sitting up, and lying down. After asking several more questions, she decides an ultrasound is in order and writes a slip for the imaging center. She affirms that this may well be nothing, but given the fact that the mass (yes, she called it a mass...very scary) is not going away and is easily apparent upon an exam, it just makes good sense to rule other things out in a safe and easy way.

My God. She gets it. She actually gets it. I am treated like a reasonable thinking human being, not a ditzy girl. I am treated with seriousness and concern. And she is proactive! Will wonders never cease? While I was not happy about her use of the "m" word ("mass" is just not a comforting word in this context, even for a Catholic), I was relieved that I would soon know what's going on, for good or bad.

I am sent to the same place I'd gotten my mammogram a month or two before, and go through the usual rigamarol. You know the drill: putting on the half-gown, sitting and reading old magazines in a room full of other like-dressed women, pretending to read magazines while we all wait around and stress. I'm called into a room, and the ultrasound tech is very professional, but friendly enough - another woman. She takes about 20-25 shots from different angles. She finishes, and says, "I'll be right back." In a few minutes, she comes back, saying that she's shown it to the doctor, not the tech, and he deems the mass to be "nothing suspicious." I am free to go, she says, and I thank her profusely for going that exta mile. She states, "I just wish someone had done the same for me when I had a lump. The waiting is awful." Was my experience that common? I thank her again, change, and head home, relieved and wondering why an exam couldn't have been done the first two times, why a referral couldn't have been made by the male docs somewhere along the line. I am ever so grateful that the mass is nothing suspicious, more grateful than I can say. But should I have had to go through all this grief to get to this point?

Is it just me, or do women know women's bodies best? Do female doctors/medical personnel just understand us better, share our concerns, or simply understand our need for resolution better than male doctors? Do male docs still believe the old "female hysteria" nonsense? Should women always see female practitioners? Or was the nurse practitioner humoring me? Was I just overreacting? I'd like you to weigh in and tell me what you think, share your experiences and voice your opinion on the male vs. female M.D. topic. Post your thoughts below - I'm interested to see what you, my faithful readers think about this whole deal!