As women and mothers we're pretty much reconciled to being scrutinised and handled by medical professionals.

Pregnancy and childbirth are virtually guaranteed to knock any squeamishness or prudishness right out of us, so I was really surprised that I left my first mammogram feeling upset and ill-treated.

Thinking back I wonder if I should have told the operator it was my first time but then if that mattered, surely it was the operator's place to establish that fact.

The main thing I remember about that mammogram was the rude and dismissive way I was treated.


The operator brought the plates down on my breast, shunted my hip around and pressed down on my shoulder to twist it away. My neck was angled strangely and I was standing awkwardly on my tiptoes as this woman evidently wanted me as high as possible.

She then asked: "Right, can you stay like that?"

I was uncomfortable, in mild pain, struggling to maintain my balance and my body was unnaturally contorted. I replied: "It depends how long for."

Well, that was clearly the wrong answer. The operator sighed, walked over to me and unscrewed the plates.

"What's wrong?" she asked with a tone that implied I was being a petulant and difficult child.

"Well, you asked if I could stay like that and it depended on how long you needed me to stay there. I could have lasted maybe thirty seconds in that position but not much longer," I replied.

Eventually the mammograms were done. And as it turned out it wasn't all that long that I needed to remain positioned like I was participating in some warped vertical version of Twister.

But I didn't forgive the woman for the way she treated me while I was feeling vulnerable and uncertain - or for needlessly putting me through the undignified set-up twice. Obviously I didn't return.

Despite my doctor recommending annual screenings, it took me eighteen months to muster the courage to have another.

My experience at the second facility was better than the first but I still managed to attract the disapproval of my handler. Bracing myself for the pain to come, I did some deep breathing. This operator impatiently asked me what was wrong. I could tell that she thought trying to breathe through the pain was a tad overdramatic. Maybe it was.

It was a case of third time lucky as far as my mammograms were concerned. I found a place with a very kindly operator and a private dressing room directly off the mammography room.

"Now this can be a bit awkward and uncomfortable," she said.

Well, guess what? It was all over it mere minutes and it wasn't awkward, uncomfortable or even painful.

We know mammograms save lives. And we know it's recommended that women over a certain age have them. (My doctor suggested I start at age forty; BreastScreen Aotearoa provides free screening mammograms every two years for women aged between forty-five and sixty-nine.) But there's certainly no requirement for us to put up with service providers with poor bedside manners.

If you find mammograms unduly unpleasant then perhaps you should consider switching service providers. May I suggest asking friends for a recommendation?

I can vouch for Auckland Radiology Group, where I was made to feel like a person rather than an inconvenience being automatically processed.