Lisa Bassett

Lisa Bassett teaches, sings, and writes short pieces of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. She grew up in a Quaker family in the midwest and New England, and now lives in Chicago with her husband and son in close reach of their large extended Guatemalan family. Her work traces boundaries, interstices, and contrapuntal patterns between cultures and landscapes. She has published in the journal Seeding the Snow






A Small Needle



It hurts a little, like drawing blood, a little stick, but it's over in a few minutes. It's such a thin needle, it could hardly do any damage no matter where you stuck it, but you do need to be still. I can do that. Drawing blood doesn't faze me, and anyway, I'll be lying down, so, nowhere to go if I do blackout.

This is how it goes. I have a lump. A small nodule,my doctor said when she found it. About an inch long, the ultrasound showed. Not noticeable from the outside, but the doctors can feel it. Two weeks ago my doctor sat facing me, one hand on the side of my throat. Swallow. Again. And now this other doctor, the specialist, stands behinds me and feels. Swallow. Again. Hands around my neck. Ah, yes.

A lot of what the ultrasounds show, you wouldn't even want to know about, but if it's palpable, that's a little different. So now I am lying on the white paper, on the table, in a crisp blue paper gown. The nurse Laetitia is preparing the slides and needles and we talk about our sons. Her's is in high school, mine, sixth grade.

Oh, yeah, that's when they're still sweet, she says.

Hers goes to Von Steuben, takes the bus. Doesn't like to go to the movies with her any more. Wants to go with his friends. Around thirteen, fourteen, they change. It's the hormones, I guess. It's like they're leaving you. Then, around fifteen, they come back.

Laetitia calls me Ms. Bassett, but I don't know her last name, so I don't call her anything. She's about as reassuring as a nurse can be who's preparing the implements of torture. A comfortable round body, smooth coffee-colored skin, hair pressed in neat waves against her head. My view from the table is her back. But her voice, for a person like me, dressed in paper and lying prone, is the right blend of intimacy and everyday ease.

The doctor has a lump too, he has explained to me. Has had it for twenty-some years. He is a short man, gray hair, gray eyes that meet mine directly through his steel-rimmed spectacles. He has a name besides doctor-- Paul Rameau. He doesn't do surgery, has no incentive to find something to cut. And he has given me the choice-- we could try hormones for a while and see if it shrinks. It's probably nothing and even if it is cancer, it's not the kind of cancer you worry about. You could live with it a long time. It doesn't spread. It doesn't kill you. Once you remove it, it doesn't come back. I am the one who decides to go ahead with the needle. I might do the hormones too, but I want to know. I am not in my element here, so I don't dawdle. Get it over with seems the best rule. Then I need to go to work.

Laetitia puts a pillow under my neck, to extend it. It crosses my mind that my long neck is excellently suited for thyroid biopsies. There will be three, Paul Rameau explains, so I won't have to come back. Yes, all right. Like the way the dentist does it. One to numb the gum and another to numb the nerve of the tooth. Only this one is not putting anything in, but taking out. A few cells here, a few cells there, enough for a smear on the slide, enoughto read my pathology.

It's true, the prick is nothing, but then there is something inside like a thumb pressing on my throat. Over. OK. The next one seems to go deeper and shoots under my jaw and billows up the right side of my head. Half of my head is rivers in flood. I close my eyes. Don't move. Do try to swallow. I anticipate the third and hardly feel the stick. The lump is filling my air passage, blocking my voice. I have been a singer. My voice is my heart. The ache wraps around. Fool! Fool! why do I always believe them? This is where I ought to bargain. If I once have voice again, I will never use it to hurt, to lie or curse or threaten. Only for praise.

Instead I cling to the muscle that swallows. Again. Again. I will live with half ahead. Right brain dead, I will not dream. I will think mathematically. I will compute. I will write in straightlines.

There. Was it as bad as you expected?

I remember when my son was born, how easy, how amazing! So quickly over.

It was a little worse, I say bravely. Yes, my voice has returned. Not like drawing blood, more like being strangled.

Laetitia lifts me with the pillow, holds her strong arm behind my back and helps me up.

I'm not sorry I did it. My voice goes on and on without much left-brain judgment. It's just, right there where my voice is, it felt like stopping up my heart. It's better now. More like a sore throat. Like a bruise.

Paul Rameau is bending over the slides, profile to me.

It's been a long time since I had it done. I've probably forgotten what it's like.

Ah! This doctor is also a mensch!

And I will too. I will forget this too.