The challenge of the johnny
P.J. Hamel, a writer who lives in Hanover, N.H., shared her experience being diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer, starting in 2001, in a feature titled "My Story" for the Spring 2009 issue of Dartmouth Medicine magazine. Below, she reflects on a totally unexpected challenge she encountered during her treatment. This piece is reprinted with permission from Hamel's blog on MyBreastCancerNetwork.com. To read more of her blog posts, click here.
It's my first day of radiation therapy—the last stage of my cancer journey. They call my name and I head to the changing room, where I find lockers, curtained booths, and stacks of the hospital johnnies that I'm all too familiar with. Breast cancer patients become expert at getting naked, and I have the routine down pat. Ho-hum, I think, just one more quick change.
I slip into a cubicle, unbutton my shirt—button-front shirts being the fashion statement of choice for mastectomy patients—and hang it on a hook. Then I grab a johnny . . . and stop short. This isn't the typical faded, threadbare rag designed to cover your front, while leaving your back exposed to the cold winds of fortune. No, this is a far more complex article of clothing, designed to be worn not just when perched on an examining table, but out in public, in the radiation waiting room. A brilliant shade of kelly green, it provides complete coverage, front and back, neck to knees.
There's a drawing of a successfully johnnied patient on the wall of the cubicle and a diagram—one of those Step A, Step B, Step C drawings, like you encounter when you're trying to hook up your DVD player or assemble a piece of shipped-in-pieces furniture. A diagram, to put on a johnny? I have my first inkling of trouble. I've never been good at following diagrams.
First, I turn around so my back is to the diagram; I want to be facing the same way as the person in the drawing. Glancing back over my shoulder, I put my left arm through armhole B, bring shoulder strap A around to my right arm, put my right arm through armhole A, bring flap C around to the front—and discover that I've tied myself up like Joan of Arc at the stake, with my arms bound to my sides. I twirl around a few times to untangle myself and try again. I look over my shoulder. Step A. Step B. This time I manage to fill two of the armholes, but the third one (three armholes?) gapes open over the center of my chest.
Now I'm mad. I make one more try. Still no good. After all the garbage I've been through in the past eight months, this is the last straw. I declare war on this hospital johnny.
I defiantly put my shirt back on, button it up, and march into the waiting room, fully clothed. The technician looks at me and says, "You know, you're supposed to be undressed." As we walk into the radiation room, I tell her, "Well, here's the deal: I'm done with hospital johnnies. For the next 35 days, I'm going to come in here with all my clothes on, then strip 'em off, get zapped, and put 'em back on. I'm going johnny-less."
Seeing what she probably interprets as a crazed look in my eye, she turns her attention to the equipment.
I peel off my shirt, lie down on the cold table, and wait to be strapped in, a satisfied smile on my face. I've had a showdown with the johnny—and won.
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