(Please click here for Part 1 – Discovery.)
It was after Christmas when I went in for the needle biopsy. My friend J, a critical care nurse, accompanied me. We sat in the corridor outside the ultrasound room until I was called in. J was ready to come in with me, and I really wanted her to, but it was not allowed. “She’s a nurse, please let her come in.” I was pretty much begging, but they said there wasn’t room.
I took off everything above the waist, got up on the table and was placed in position by a young woman. I soon found out she was a young doctor being trained in the procedure.
The head of the department, a professor, came in and began to speak to the young doctor without addressing me. He spoke to her sotto voce. I was trembling with anxiety and my eyes were filled with tears. “Could I have a Valium or something, please? I can’t take this.” The older doctor addressed me for the first time. “NO!” I was shocked at his vehemence. “I’d rather have a scared patient than a sleeping one.” “Five milligrams of Valium won’t put me to sleep, but it will help me hold still.” “I said no.” Charming man.
I was expecting a fine needle biopsy (FNA), so I was unpleasantly shocked when I saw the “gun” for the core needle biopsy. “Gun?” I squeaked. “What was she expecting,” the young doctor asked her professor. “Probably an FNA (1),” he replied. He turned to me. “We don’t do those any more. Core needle gives a better sample.” At least he was talking to me.
The younger doctor first did an ultrasound of my left breast and then injected a local anesthetic to the site she was going to biopsy. It hurt. I cried soundlessly, not in pain but out of fear. I was afraid to have the procedure, afraid not to have it. I was afraid to move. I wished J could have been there to talk to me or hold my hand.
Guided by the ultrasound and the directions of the professor, she jabbed me several times. I didn’t count – more than one, less than five, I guess. The two doctors were talking about the sentinel node; she had never seen an axial lymph node biopsy before. “Do you want me to do it,” the professor asked. He gloved up.
“Do you want a new needle?” “No, just wipe that one down with alcohol.” I was pretty much appalled at that and wanted to say something, but I was also paralyzed and speechless with anxiety. If J were here, she’d tell them to change it, I thought.
“We can’t give you local anesthetic for the lymph nodes, but you won’t feel much.” I felt the needle go in, and I felt it moving around inside of me, and then I felt something warm pouring down my side and back. Have they warmed the antiseptic, I wondered. What a weird sort of consideration from that guy. Then he spoke. “Don’t panic at the massive bleeding.”
Massive bleeding??? “I… I’m not panicking.” “I wasn’t talking to you.” And he said something I couldn’t hear to his young colleague.
Finally, it was over and a bulky dressing was applied. I was sent out to wait in the corridor for half an hour, to be sure I didn’t bleed any more. I sat down next to J and was grateful for her presence. I remember chattering at her, but I don’t remember what I said. A nurse walked by and told us to check the dressing for bleeding and if it was dry I could go. I got J to go to the restroom with me and asked her to check it. It was dry and we left.
(1) Fine needle aspiration biopsy illustration at healthcentral.com.