Are you a number or a person?

This past week I have come to wonder if expectations of achieving, have forced us to become numbers and not persons.

With my yearly round of testing this past week, I once again headed to the Imaging Lab for my mammogram. Dressed in nothing but a “Chux Superwipe” equivalent, I endured what we all must do each year if we are to take care of ourselves.

Told to sit in my cubicle, the technician returned to say that the Doctor wanted some additional pictures taken, so now my mind starts to run (anyone who knows me, knows I am very skilled in this area!). There is also a feeling of fragility and exposure when sitting with only a piece of paper between you and the rest of the world.

Additional pics are taken, and still sitting in my cubicle in my chux super wipe; the technician returns to say “The Doctor has seen something and would like you to return for an ultrasound”. With that, she turned on her heel and started wiping things down in readiness for the next “number” to come in. Now living in New York, I have learnt the art of speaking up, so (still dressed in my chux) I approached the technician and said “um could you tell me more”.

“Well no.. (and the intelligent part of me understands that she is not in a position to do so) but there was something on the left side that we would like to check further”. So I dressed and as I left the exam room she called out “Have a nice day”! Sure – just drop this bomb on me and tell me to have a nice day and what about the Doctor? Are they so busy that 60 seconds of sticking their head into the room is no longer on the agenda?

Returning to the receptionist, I was told the earliest appointment was a week from today, so I dutifully wrote it down and again was perkily told “enjoy your afternoon”. I returned to my car where I sat numb trying to come to grips - not so much that I have to come back but more because of the way I was simply a number and not a person. Equally surprising when you consider they were all women and no doubt I am not the first they have said this and, I am sure, worse too. How do they separate themselves I wonder? Knowing that I will not have a “good afternoon” and knowing they have left me to shake in my boots for a week.

I have often in my life been criticized for “wearing my heart on my sleeve”.

In one case I was “an interesting study” for a consultant who was employed by the financial based company where I worked as the in-house event manager, and they were amazed that I, the only right brained creative, was able to interact with all the left brained, super clever people. I told her I was actually the one that showed them all that there was a life outside of numbers and made sure that they laughed at least once a day – it was usually at me…but hey anything for a good cause. eg: one meeting I made them all take notes with a crayon. By the end of the meeting, they had all swapped crayons to get their “favorite” color and in-between all the notes….were lots of doodles. They all commented that afternoon how they did not feel fried like they usually do…interesting!

But I digress…I believe the “flaw” of wearing my heart on my sleeve, has enabled me to see people differently, enabled me to be brilliant at my job as an event manager and directed me to passions outside of the workplace where my talents can be put to good use. I used to say I was just good but I have come to realize that I really am very good at what I do – recognition of one’s talents is not as easy as one would assume.

If I was running that lab….the receptionist would look at my form, register what my name was and then look me in the eye and say hello. The technician would be given a “script” of what she can say to reassure a patient. The Doctor would stick their head in, greet the patient and take 60 seconds to explain the next step. There would be an allowance in the schedule to pop someone in for a quick ultrasound that same day, so that they don’t pull all their hair out over the coming week and if that wasn’t possible a more realistic time should be set. Finally something kinder like “We will see you next week, if you have any concerns, please call us or your Doctor”…. should be the “parting shot” from the receptionist.

It saddens me that life has got so busy and so structured that many feel forced to put their heart on ice whilst they complete the job at hand. Some cases in point: The DMV lady who called me “an Alien” in my first year and was perplexed when I said please and thank you to her impersonal demands; all the people walking down the street, standing in a store, standing in a line who have been perplexed when I dared to make conversation with them and of course back to the ladies at the Imaging lab who did not even glance my way when finalizing my next appointment and moving on to their next task at hand.

I no longer apologize for wearing my heart on my sleeve. This flaw has brought me to people and places I never thought I would discover. It makes me the person that my family and friends love and in the long run, that is what counts.


P.S. I would also replace the chux super wipe with “Charmin” Super Soft jackets; I would have decent Oprah, Martha Stewart and Somerset Magazines. I would have paper and crayons and I would certainly be playing music throughout each examination room. But then, who ever heard of an Event Manager running an Imaging Lab?

Sand Castle Art -
My driftwood constructions continue my experimentation utilizing wood with other scavenged ocean materials including beach glass, rocks and coral. This driftwood comes from the outer beaches of Long Island and Cape Cod. All materials are incorporated into "heart" shapes, representing new creative life, after being discarded, bruised and finally returned from the sea." Artist: Don Chapman


Rebecca Portnoy said...

Sometimes I find it easier to just go along with it and retreat into expressionless number mode. Next time, though, I'll think of you and try to break out into personhood! Love, Rebecca

Anonymous said...

Sal, oh my. Love the way you wrote your story about what you encounted, and how you wear your heart on your sleeve. I am the same way. It can get us in trouble at times, but now I realize, I would not want it any other way.

I will say, please honey, try not to worry. What is will be. Just take one step at a time. I now look at these mammograms as half the torture. With only one boob, well, it really is like that now :)

Be BRAVE!!! That is my message...just have courage! You will find courage that you didn't know you have. Wear it, embrace it, and face it. It may be nothing. It may be something. Just march in there...own your body!!! That is what I have had to learn these past two years with breast cancer.

But I hear you. Do you think maybe you have a new calling??????

love you,

I write Anonymous because it won't take my blogger ID.

Joanna Pierotti

---MARILYN DAMSCHEN--- said...

Huzzah to you for refusing to go along with the cattle-call of life! I feel the same way so often and don't understand all these people who find it preferable to exist in anonymity and try to insist I do the same. I find that very UNcomfortable and am always agitating people with my conversations and goal of always being the most polite person in the room.

I hope the week of waiting passes in a wink and that the something they saw turns out to be nothing. At least while you're lying there having your mammogram you'll have a captive audience to share your thought with;-)