I first felt the lump around the July 4 holiday.
When I saw my general practitioner on July 9, she kneaded the thing on the underside of my left breast and shook her head. “Not good,” she said.
Since I’ve always had a bumpy rack, I asked if the Milk-Dud-sized lump could be a cyst.
“This is different, solid,” the doctor said. She checked the little laptop she carries like a Kate Spade clutch. “Your last mammogram was in October.”
“And it didn’t show anything,” I needlessly reminded. She responded with a vague nod.
Other issues on my list included eternal post nasal drip, a clogged right ear and waking up at 3 a.m. every day, which I had noted as “Sleepless in Seattle.” My eyes watered. Any hint of the late Nora Ephron still turned me into a faucet.
Along with allergy medications that have done nothing to cure my sinusitis for the last three years, the doctor prescribed generic Ambien, a referral to an ENT specialist and orders for an ultrasound and stereotactic biopsy at the Vasek & Anna Maria Polak Breast Diagnostic Center at Torrance Memorial Hospital.
My doctor’s parting words: “See to the biopsy before anything else.”
Fetching the orders from the individual at the front desk, I said I hoped the tests would pass muster with my insurance, meaning Medicare and the supplemental Blue Shield. The clerk nodded, said she was on the internet with Blue Shield as we speak.
I left about 4.
Driving home (I live in Redondo Beach with my divorced daughter and two grandchildren), I felt the sting of what I had suspected for almost a week, possible cancer.
After unloading groceries, including frozen corn and ice cream that had wept during my office visit, I called Torrance Memorial Diagnostic Center to make an appointment. It was about 4:55. I told them what I wanted and why.
Individual left the phone, then returned. “I don’t see any orders for you. Did your doctor fax it over?”
Beat. (A screenwriting term for “pause.”)
"I would think so,” I said. “She told me to make this appointment before I did anything else.”
“Well, we don’t have the orders. You better call and ask them to fax it.”
“Don’t they know to do that?” I asked somewhat lamely.
“They probably need an insurance approval,” she said.
“I think they got the approval.”
“You better call them.”
I looked at my watch. “OK … But don’t you close at 5?”
Of course, you fool. And your doctor closes at 5. I called the doctor anyway. A recording said the office opened at 8am.
A couple of glasses of California red later, my daughter, one of those people who are relentlessly optimistic at all the wrong times, said: “Didn’t you just have a good mammogram, Mom?
“At least you caught it early.”
Forced to match her sunny side (Hey, I’m a cynical reporter!), I said something like, “It’s probably benign.”
Were we congenitally programmed for this conversation?
Next morning, I was up at 6:30 and waiting for 8 a.m. Up until 8:04, the voicemail continued to say the office was closed.
When someone finally picked up, I explained that I had seen the doctor the day before, and that she had given me orders for an ultrasound, etc., but that the hospital had not received it, which they said they had to have to schedule an appointment. “Did you all fax it over?” I asked.
I got some gibberish about insurance, and getting the orders approved …
“Wait,” I said. “I think you got the approval last night, because I asked about my insurance covering things, and the clerk who gave me the orders said she had gone online and it was fine.”
“We’ll call you back.”
Two hours later, no one had called back. So I called them.
“It usually takes 72 hours for the orders to be approved, even if it’s an emergency,” the person said.
“How will I know when to call the hospital to make the appointment?” I asked, wondering if I fell into the emergency category.
“We’ll call you.”
No one called.
Welcome to the Cuckoo’s Nest.