Sitting here, this evening, I reflect on the past couple of days, the content, or imagined content of which halted my footsteps for many days before. I had found a breast lump. Bad timing even for a positive woman, fettered as I felt by my long isolation from the world ‘out there’. In fact, I haven’t been out there for over a year now, cocooned within a leather protective casing of caring for a very vulnerable old dude. It suited me, if I am honest, the not going out there thingy. I am, by nature, happy being isolated, solitary, independent with more work required, individual, content with my own company. I have barely been to the local shop since last March and my everything is delivered either by the post or by hand to my door. One could get lazy inside this. I know that.
Anyway, there I was facing a ferry trip, masked like a bandit, humphing a rucksack of overnight-ness and stringing a small Poppy dog alongside. How will she behave? Will she pee on the ferry carpet? (she never would) Will I find a close encounter too close? Will my house fall down whilst I’m away; will that old tree fall on the garage roof; will floods come and wash my home away; did I turn off the lights, lock the doors? All that hoo-ha. Never mind what you call it and how you chortle, it is still real, still clusters beneath a person’s panic button all ready to burst forth once pushed, especially, and I have clocked this, when that person has been cocooned for so many months, apart from the rush and bustle of the out-there world. After all, it could be unrecognisable to me. People could be walking around in pandemic suits for all I know, slow stepping, avoiding each other by miles and breathing stored air in order to avoid breathing in the real stuff, the air that is ever changing, morphing, floating over oceans and over lands and continents with all sorts of names, full of all sorts of stories and holding within its gasp a potential lethal. Shopping bags might be obsolete. Maybe the out there folk have to pull on their pandemic suits for a shopping trip that can only be as successful as the hold of their arms.
So, off I go. Two sons, two strong men, two young men, two sons, gather me up and the rucksack and the non-peeing-on-ferry-carpets dog and we head onto the mainland. The ferry is all masks and the two metre rule. Good for Scotland, I remember whispering to myself, thus muffing up my glasses and rendering me momentarily blind. Scotland is getting this right. I work out how to talk to myself by holding my fingers over my nose and breathing down, like a puff. Now I can see. But, there is nobody. There are 3 passengers on this massive ship capable of carrying many hundreds. I have been aboard with those many hundreds and watched them, the families, the dogs, the way the children burst upstairs to see, to see from the ‘flight’ deck, or the way the exhausted parents find their way to the outer deck to drink in the astonishing beauty of the passing hills and their sharp defines as the sky comes down and says Stop Right There. This time the ferry is empty, like a ghost ship. I feel a bit foolish behind my puffing blue spectacle-clouding mask, but nobody is laughing at me. I arrive on the mainland and off-loading is barely that. Three people don’t take much off-loading.
I am driven the almost 3 hours the the hospital the following morning through mizzle and cloud. He knows what he is doing, strong, calm, googled. He will mind the non-peeing dog. Go Mum. I follow the signs to Clinic 3, very clearly marked. There is almost nobody here either. Nurses, come and go, masked and chirpy, friendly, welcoming. I burst into a waiting room. The chairs are wide apart, tape markings on the floor. There are a few other women waiting, nervous, as we all are. One jiggles her foot, one taps her fingers on her knee, another is busy on her phone. They guide me to Reception and I clock in from behind a big barrier. I have to repeat my name as she is behind bullet proof glass and this big barrier and I am thankful she is of good hearing. I take my seat. We are all quiet beyond the jiggling. Someone opens the doors to the almost outside, for air flow and we have no shared body warmth to soften the push of cold air over bare ankles, old skin and the generally accepted loathing of draughts. We hold. For an hour, for more. Every name called by one of the bright buttoned nurses is one we wish we owned. The relief of being named, of our own name being called into touch is a whole body/mind thing. If that name belongs to another, we wish them well from behind our masks and our fear. We don’t need to ask what these women are here for. We know. We feel their tension as we feel our own.
First the doctor, then the mammogram. Not one of us will avoid this. Some of us know it well and for others it’s a first. There are young women here, skinny teenagers and I wonder of their stories. Some partners or mothers try to be here, but a very kindly nurse tells them Only Patients Here, I’m Sorry. I can feel the bereft as they unwillingly leave. Text me, they say, or mime. The woman remains, legs crossed, jiggling, telling herself to be strong, saying I can do this, I am not afraid, and then spending the next hour working on convincing herself of that.
Mammogram. I am an old hand at this. I cast a backward glance at the young woman who smiled at me, who connected. Your turn soon my lovely girl, I say from my eyes. The process moves on. The nurses at every stop and turn, every confusion, every arrival are more than magnificent. They are Grace and Humour. We are undignified to say the least within this place. How trained they are. How emotionally intelligent they are meeting our diminished but ferociously determined woman strength as they strip our clothing and pull across the rather attractive curtain, through which our boots poke. So, here we are, unclothed and yet booted, as if we just know we can do this, whatever comes of the pummelling and the indignity.
For me it was a lucky escape. I have the all clear. There is nothing to report. I wonder of the rest. I can see their anxious faces now, still, and will for a while. Their Glasgow humour is remarkable. These are women who do not live as I do; who do not have it easy; who live lives I will never experience. And, yet, within that chilly blast, that fear, that doubt and worry, they could banter and laugh and pick up the nurse’s joke and take it on and in doing that I learn from them. They have known tough, and may yet know it again, as I never have.
As I left them behind, still waiting, their eyes asked me. I smiled an ok. They were happy for me. What they face right now, I cannot know. But, we met in that place. I came home to warmth and safety and an all -clear.