Thursday, 17 March 2011

Call, screening

I arrive far too early. Even though I've been driving all my adult life, I still worry when I'm going somewhere I've never been before. It seems that the more reluctant I am to actually get somewhere, the more I fret about getting lost, about not being able to find a parking space when I arrive.

But of course the journey turns out to be straightforward and there is a huge parking area with plenty of room, so I find myself sitting in the car with time to kill. I've brought a book with me, but I can't concentrate on it, so I pick up my phone, check for e-mails from work. I see a message reminding me of the phone call I should have made before I left home. I know it won't be a pleasant call, but sitting there in the car park, biding time until my appointment, it suddenly seems really important to do this first.

She answers at almost the first ring, sounding nervous and hesitant, as though she's been waiting by the phone for my call. I hate myself for leaving it longer than I'd needed to.

"I'm sorry, this is probably not the news you were hoping for, so I won't beat about the bush. We've decided to offer the position to another candidate".

There is a silence at the other end, which I rush to fill with platitudes about the strength of her interview and my confidence that she will find a suitable role soon. As soon as possible I hang up, cursing myself for sounding glib and patronising.

I leave the car and make my way to the mobile screening unit. It's hidden behind the main hospital, in an overflow car-park. Tucked away from the real illness and suffering, it seems almost as though it's ashamed of taking up even that space. I climb the shaky metal drop-down steps, thinking how strange it is to be having an appointment in an articulated lorry.

Stepping inside I'm greeted warmly by a kindly looking lady with a soft Scottish accent. I wonder if they employed her just for that accent and its ability to put people at their ease. Or perhaps it's the huge glasses, that take up half her face and make her eyes seem wide and innocent.

I take a seat on the lilac upholstered bench and watch the women come and go; it's quite a production line they've got going here. Every few minutes a lady emerges from the room at the end and goes into one of the small curtained cubicles to get dressed; rearrange herself. Almost immediately a hesitant looking woman emerges from a different cubicle, and heads to the end room, clutching a small pile of clothes to her chest, for protection. We're all women here, and we've each come on our own, but there's no eye contact between us and very little conversation. It's as though we've left our personalities out in the car park, where they can't be found by the screening equipment.

Soon enough it's my turn. I don't know what to expect, but there's another kind lady, I think maybe Malaysian this time. She introduces me to the space age machine and explains what will happen. It's hard to take in what she's saying when I'm standing there half-naked and feeling foolish, my arms wrapped across my chest in a childish attempt to maintain some modesty or dignity. When it's all done, I laugh and make a flippant comment, and she's strangely pleased that I'm smiling at her. "Too many women get cross with me" she explains before telling me that the results will be sent through in four weeks.  It's a routine check-up so there's no need for concern, but if there's any problem they'll call me.

Then, after no more than half an hour, I'm back in my car.  As I take my phone from my bag to turn it back on and check for messages, my mind goes back to that earlier call. Even though I know we made the right decision, I still feel bad about it.  I wonder if the gods of retribution will seek to pay me back some way.  I can't help but hope that it won't be me, in four weeks time who stands there nervous and hesitant, as some kindly person says "I'm sorry, this is probably not the news you were hoping for..."

17 comments:

Anthony Hodgson said...

I'm sure all will be fine. I have to do those phone calls sometimes and they are not nice. If in your head and your heart you know it was the right decision then don't feel guilty. Good luck as I said I hope all is well

Scrappy Grams said...

So, was it a mammogram? I hate those; it's painful. I wish someone would think of another way to get a look inside our bodies.

The Girl Three Doors Down said...

"It's as though we've left our personalities out in the car park, where they can't be found by the screening equipment," - I loved that line. Also, I've never thought much about the person who has to give out the disappointing news vs. the person getting the disappointing news. I can imagine that that is almost an equally terrible role to play.

Interesting. :)

http://thegirlthreedoorsdown.blogspot.com/

Robbie Grey said...

That last paragraph, the last line especially, was just rattling.

Shopgirl said...

You put this together with the usual expert hand, the contrast and angles between the two situations lined up perfectly.

A painting of humanity crystallizes at the end -- we know what we know -- yet we can't help but feeling this way.

Bth said...

It flowed beautifully, and as usual your writing really drew me in. It was full of vulnerability almost as though I felt, whilst I was reading it, I shouldn't be! Although it was so compelling to read - and that last paragraph left such an atmosphere- especially the last line.

Penny Dreadful said...

The waiting is the horrible part of anything, isn't it. You wrote this so well. I'm sure it will be fine, the vast majority of the time it is. But I know the feeling, I've found two lumps in my life and both times, though it turned out to be nothing, I was petrified. xx

Pat said...

Two friends had abnormalities discovered from their mammograms, with no other symptoms. Both had successful treatment and both have had the five year all clear.
It really is a well worth exercise so IMO the right thing to do.
I'm sure you handled the candidate as compassionately as possible.

Jayne said...

So thoughtful. I loved how you tied your call into the mammogram experience. Another perfect example of how you thoroughly mine your soul.

Liz said...

Sending good thoughts. I'm sure all will be fine, for all.

Baglady said...

Lovely balance to this piece. Ultimately you have to let someone down and as hard as it is at least you rang her yourself rather than letting some faceless agency do it for you.

Am sure your check up will be fine. Am crossing my fingers anyway, of course.

caterpillar said...

I am someone who has a difficult time breaking a bad news to someone as well....and it's really not your fault. The details about the check up is so true, and so graphic too...

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

Oh, a very nice linkage between giving and getting bad news. And you've captured the self-imposed anonymity of the mammogram waiting area.

Olga said...

This story is written in a very nuanced way. It feels like it can happen any day to anyone.

whynotpat said...

I like how you shared the perspective of someone who's got to give out the bad news. Great blog! I hope it will be a good news for you.

Dani said...

It's a side we don't often think about, the one having to say, "I'm sorry, but..."

Tough job. Well done.

otherworldlyone said...

To be honest, I've never really thought about the hiring process from any viewpoint other than my own...being interviewed. It's nice to know that there are people like you on the other side, actually caring.

Extremely well written and touching.