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Susan Estrich
2 Sep 2015
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Wanted: Just a Little More Padding


"I'm a lawyer with a lot of insurance," I joked with the technician, who asked me why I was back again so soon after my last visit to the basement where all the MRI machines are. Of course, that wasn't the real reason, or at least not the only one. Being a lawyer with a lot of insurance means you actually get the tests you need. The problem is that plenty of people who need them don't get them.

In fact, I was back for a different MRI. Just keeping track. Better safe than sorry. I wasn't complaining. I made that clear. "I'm not a whiner," I said, knowing that lots of people have trouble with MRIs, that 10-15 percent can't get through the session, undone either by the claustrophobia or the loud noise.

The first time I had one, last year, I couldn't stop shaking afterward, utterly undone by how awful it was. But the lesson of life is that you get used to almost anything, and I know I'm lucky just to be there for checks, to be getting first-class medical care, to be watching carefully and not fighting desperately, as so many of the folks I saw the other night clearly are.

But why can't they make the tables more comfortable?

As I put my head down and wriggled my body into the right position, the woman who was kindly helping me shook her head. "It's ridiculously uncomfortable," she said. "They need more padding." And with that, she shrugged. I would have shrugged, too, but I couldn't move.

Leroy Sievers, whose daily "My Cancer" blog on has chronicled his three-year battle with a recurrence of colon cancer that, when first diagnosed, was viewed as likely to kill him within months, is one of my favorite bloggers. He often leaves me between laughter and tears in his descriptions of the radiation table.

Forget about the fear and the boredom and the way your body twitches when you are trying so hard not to move it for hours on end. No, what gets to Leroy is just how uncomfortable, how unbelievably hard and lacking in padding, the table is.

If we can keep people alive notwithstanding cancer attacking their brains and bodies, if we can use powerful imaging technology to see tiny aneurysms and minuscule growths, you'd think we could find a way to make a table comfortable enough to lie on while all these miracles take place.

A study out this week from Harvard Medical School found that for 80 percent of American women, life expectancy has increased to nearly 80 — precisely because we are lucky enough to be the beneficiaries of this high-tech medicine, to be strapped in place, studied, mapped and treated. But for the other 20 percent, the numbers are actually heading in the wrong direction.

As science advances, as technology improves, life expectancy is actually going down for some, as women die of diseases that could be largely prevented, like lung cancer and diabetes, or treated effectively, like heart disease. Who are these women? Do you need me to tell you? They are not lawyers with lots of insurance. They are women who live in the poorest counties in America, for whom a day on an uncomfortable MRI or radiation table is a luxury they can't afford and we don't provide.

Their plight puts our discomfort in context. We definitely need more padding on these tables. But even more urgently, we need to make sure we have enough of them, and that everyone has access to them. It's something to think about, the next time you find yourself strapped down, bone to metal, earplugs in, the noise drumming so loud you can barely think. We're the lucky ones. Be well.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



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