My First–And Last–Visit with Dr. Morte, Part I

by Maggan

in Diagnosis,Doctor's Appointment,Finding a physician,Pathology


Doctor Morte, my new gynecologist, looks ascetic, with a largish, oval head on a thin neck stem. Thick accent. Is he Persian? I cannot place the accent, and it bothers me. I used to be good at identifying foreign accents and nationalities.

He sits on a chair across from the awful examination table with the steely stirrups. I feel fragile and vulnerable, draped in the paper gown — my legs dangle over the edge of the table, freshly shaved for the occasion.

For a while, maybe seconds, but it seems like minutes, Dr. Morte just sits there on his stool with my file in his lap, knees together, like a schoolboy holding his homework before presenting it to his teacher. Then he suddenly he looks up and blurts out:

“I meant to call you. But since you were coming in anyway, I wanted to tell you in person. You have cancer.”

After the words flew out, he looked relieved. A bit surprised, also, as if he were thinking: “Wow, I had been dreading this all morning, but it was pretty easy after all.” I still struggled with his accent. Armenian? Greek?

“I know.” I say.

He looks shocked.

“You know you have cancer?”

“Yes, they told me”

“Who told you?” His feathers seem ruffled.

“They called from radiology at the Breast Care Center.”

“They did?” He looks a bit confused still, but quite content. At least nobody on his staff had spilled the beans. Was that why he was upset? He thought someone on his staff had spilled the beans.

“You take it well.”

“Do I have a choice?”

I am proud of “taking it well” but of course I am not the least bit stoic, only woefully ignorant.

Despite a brief and scary Google search, I rely heavily on the mumbo-jumbo crutch given to me by the radiologist: slow growth and good prognosis.

Dr. Morte opens the thin folder in his lap and leafs through the papers.

“Tell me about my pathology report, please.” He hesitates.

“Oh, I don’t know.”

He doesn’t know? Why can he not share MY pathology report with ME?

“Please read the pathology report!” I say. But he keeps leafing through the thin ream of papers without looking up.

“Read!” I tell him, a lot firmer this time.

“Read it to me!”

The whole scene reminds me of my oldest daughter, the bookworm. When she was little she would climb up in my lap, shove a book into my hands and say: “Read, Mommy! Read!”

Doctor Morte starts to read barely audibly, mumbles. He is confused. Uncomfortable. He stumbles over the words as if it were the first pathology report he has ever seen, unfamiliar with every term and phrase.

“Infiltrating ductal carcinoma”

I am jubilant. Finally a label on the hard lump in the right breast at the twelve-o’clock position.

“Is the tumor 1.5 cm?”

Dr. Morte looks down, shuffles the papers again.

“Well… Yes.



“Well, no.”

“It’s 0.9 cm.”

“No, it’s 2 cm.”

He looks clueless and appears to want to give up.

But I will not let him. I stare at him intently and do not say a word, waiting for him to continue.

He looks at the page again and mumbles something about “undifferentiated cells.”

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