I consider myself a fairly modest American. So imagine my surprise at having a mammogram in a country where the beaches are filled with topless women.
Shortly after moving to Milan, I was due for my annual mammogram. I felt confident enough in my Italian to embark on the appointment alone. I arrived, and after registering, joined about 50 other people in a waiting area for radiography, watching those who were called before me to figure out where to go.
As my name was called, I confidently followed a young, and quite attractive, 20-ish Italian guy through a door into a small room. He spoke hurriedly in Italian and then disappeared through a second door in the rear of the room. I stood frozen. What did he say to me? Did he tell me to remove my shirt? What about my bra? Did he tell me to wait here until I was called again? Am I supposed to open the door and walk outside or was he coming back for me? I just pictured myself, topless, walking through this mystery door, only to find myself in yet another waiting room filled with clothed patients. I did not know what was behind that other door. I didn’t know if I was simply in another tiny waiting area or if this was a dressing room. And where was my paper gown to wear? My mind was racing.
I apprehensively removed my shirt and bra and pondered my next move. He returned, took my hand, and began leading me, bare-chested, to what I assumed was the mammogram room. But not before we marched through what appeared to be the residents’ lunchroom where a group of young people in scrubs sat around a table eating.
Soon, I recognized the large mammography machine and wondered when the “mammogram lady” would arrive to perform the test. But again to my surprise, Mr. Italian Stallion pulled me up to the machine, grabbed my right breast and began the flattening process. I’m pretty sure the machine picked up a portion of my teeth as my mouth hung open in surprise and partial embarrassment.
I neglected to realize that I was getting a mammogram in a country where they don’t even sell bikini tops. I would go on to learn that an annual gynecological exam is not much different, maybe even worse. Just remember, there are no paper gowns in Italy.