There are many types of invitations: wedding, baby shower, birthday party and even to a grand opening. But here in the Netherlands, you are sent an invitation to have a mammogram. Every woman who is 50 or older gets an invitation in the mail to have a screening. Everyone here has to have medical insurance—it is the law. But the government pays for all the mammograms for women age 50-75, no insurance company pays any bills when it comes to this screening. The good news is that 80% of the women who get this invitation, do get a mammogram.

So you can imagine how thrilled I was to get this invitation. Well, not really. I mean, I knew that I was due to have a mammogram. But I have never had one in the Netherlands. All of my mammograms have all been at the same place, with American hands squishing me and the same machine flattening me for years. My imagination started to do weird things, as I wondered if all mammograms were the same around the world. Did the Dutch have the same kind of machine that I was used to? Was the machine going to be powered by a windmill and the technician wear wooden shoes and a funny little white pointy hat from the 17th century? And really, what kind of idiot am I?  But it was the unknown…and that can be very scary. Oh, and one more thing—what if the technician did not speak English? What if I say “you are killing me and I think my breast is going to explode” and she does not understand me?

The mammogram place is located in a very large shopping mall in downtown Utrecht and the train station is attached to this mall. For a location, it is great as it on the bus and train lines, women cannot say that they cannot get to this place. I learned that Utrecht has three mobile mammogram units that go throughout the city…can you just imagine this machine on wheels? I found this to be impressive, as it gives everyone a chance to get screened.

I was in the elevator going up to the medical office, when I was shocked to see this sign for the office I was looking for: For early detection of cancer. While this sign is accurate, this is not a sign that would be America, they used the phrase Diagnostic Imagining. We can chalk that up to Dutch bluntness…and honesty.

The big difference in Dutch and American mammograms is the set up. You are brought to a dressing room, told to take off your bra and top and wait. The technician comes through the other door and leads you right into the screening room where the Darth Vader of machines awaits you. You do not get a robe or dressing gown, you walk into the room naked on top. So there I stood, half naked, confessing to the technician that I was an American with limited Dutch language skills, but I think she thought I was exaggerating. She soon learned that I had no clue what she was saying to me, but I was familiar with the drill and between her broken English, my embarrassing Dutch and her pushing, squeezing and molding me like a bendable toy…we got it done. The machine was just like the one in America except this one seemed more modern. She had a screen in front of her and she could see right away if the “photograph” came out clear. And it hurt just the same. My breasts were moved around like a pile of bread dough on the kitchen counter. Whenever I have a mammogram, I hum this song in my head: the Hokey Pokey. It kind of calms me to think of “put your left boob in and squish it all around, and you do the hokey pokey…”—you get the idea.

It was done very quickly and I was told to get dressed and go to the waiting room. The technician then came out to tell me that I would be getting a letter in two weeks and that I was free to go.

It was kind of surreal to leave after having a mammogram and know that I could buy a pair of shoes, a dvd, a watch or a croissant—all of these shops were seconds from the medical office. Instead, we went to a café and had coffee to celebrate my first Dutch mammogram.

Wait until I tell you about Dutch pap smears….

Recommended reading:  The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown. A good read.

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  • Aledys Ver  On February 26, 2012 at 12:59 am

    I had no idea they had these mobile units where you can get screened in Utrecht or anywhere in the NL. I wonder if they have such a thing here in Z.?
    Anyway, I hear you – everything was old, and new at the same time. You knew the drill, but then again the setting and the language were different. Something I can still not get over is that they never ever give you a white coat or robe to wear and walk to the stretcher or to a machine. I’ve heard lots of expats complain or at least comment on that issue.
    Here in the NL you get “invitations” for everything. Pitty that there’s not always “taart” involved!!! 🙂

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