Exposing oneself to millions

By Caitlin Kelly

Thanks to a reader here, I decided to pitch one of my earlier blog posts as a larger, reported story about medical touch — and my own experience of it — to The New York Times, and it ran today, prompting many enthusiastic and grateful tweets.

Here’s the link, and an excerpt:

It started, as it does for thousands of women every year, with a routine mammogram, and its routine process of having my breasts — like a lump of dough — manipulated by another woman’s hands and placed, albeit gently, into tight compression. It’s never comfortable, but you get used to it because you have to.

Unlike previous years, though, my next step was a biopsy, for which I lay face down, my left breast dangling through a hole in the table. Several hands reached for what’s normally a private and hidden body part and moved it with practiced ease, compressing it again into position for the radiologist’s needles, first a local anesthetic and then the probes needed to withdraw tissue for sampling.

I was fearful of the procedure and of its result and, to my embarrassment, wept quietly during the hour. A nurse gently patted my right shoulder and the male radiologist, seated to my left and working below me, stroked my left wrist to comfort me. I was deeply grateful for their compassion, even as they performed what were for them routine procedures.


It is decidedly weird to out one’s health status — let alone discuss your breast! — in a global publication like the Times — but it also offered me, as a journalist and a current patient undergoing treatment,  a tremendous platform to share a message I think really important.


I hope you’ll share it widely!





Every patient needs to be touched kindly and gently

Why You Need Backup When Talking To Doctors

Rob looks like a doctor...
Image by juhansonin via Flickr

It’s been a fun year so far for me: X-rays, MRIs, steroids, a cane, even a walker. My left hip is a mess, and a surgeon wants me to replace it, now.

While I have been resisting, the bone has gotten damaged, so next month (right after vacation) I’ll start a drug to repair it, putting me on crutches for three months. No more softball this season.

There have been many days I feel overwhelmed by it all. I need backup.

The sweetie has — as anyone living with, and caring for, someone with chronic illness or injury knows — put up with a lot. I walk like a drunken sailor and awaken many nights at 3:00 a.m. with pain. So he decided to take my health into his hands and, while I’m a continent away on vacation visiting family and friends, called my doc, a man often ferocious and intimidating.

But my guy is, too when necessary; we have a meeting for all three of us in two weeks.

The sweetie wondered if he’d overstepped his bounds. I was surprised the doctor spoke to him, but I am relieved and grateful as hell that I now have backup, someone else in the room while the multi-syllabic words pour forth.

When you’re sick or injured and in pain and scared, it’s damn hard to hear clearly and remember everything. I got the news about the latest hip  issue while standing alone in the baggage claim area of Vancouver airport. I was shocked, overwhelmed, tried not to cry in public. (When I learned that my Mom [now fine] needed neurosurgery for a brain tumor, I was standing in an Ohio field with 3,000 shooters behind me in competition. Bad news shows up everywhere.)

This week, it was my turn — as my Mom’s only child, albeit living on the opposite side of North America and in another country — to advocate for her. We went to see her internist so I could find out what she’s doing for my Mom (or not.)

My Mom lives in Canada, and it’s a different game; doctors are busy and some tests and procedures harder to get or get quickly. You can’t push Canadian doctors as hard as Americans because there’s no profit motive driving them to behave better, or avoid a lawsuit.

It was an interesting meeting — it could not have lasted more than 15 minutes. It was tough to cover that much territory so quickly. It went as well as one could hope, but there’s much left to do and to follow up.

Have you acted as someone’s medical advocate? Or had one?

Did it help?