Walleah Press

Famous Reporter 41 : June 2010



Famous Reporter 41





           The Seventh Doctor

The first doctor i saw was my
local GP
       he said i had the flu
& the lump in my neck
was bunched up muscle
       he told me to go home–
drink plenty of water
& eat Panadeine Forte & Valium
i saw him again five days later–
& told him i’d hardly slept
       he sent me home once more
& told me to add sleeping tablets
to the mix
two days later when i was
dangerously dizzy
       like dad when he was drunk
& disorderly
       i drove myself to the public
some people said to me later
i was silly &  should have
called an ambulance
       but i’m not in the ambulance
       & i didn’t have money for a
       & i’m an independent
bastard too
after a near side-swipe to
a neighbour’s car just
a hundred metres from home
        i sat up pretty quick–
thinking of the thickness of a coat
of paint
       & i rolled the window down
& caught the breeze
       it was a slow five k drive                                        
after a few minutes in the emergency
waiting room i thought i was going
to fall off the chair
       so i asked to lie down on a
       a man with a grey flecked beard
came across & spoke
       he told me they were reserved for
sick people & i should stay in my chair
       i told him he’d be sick if he didn’t
wheel the stretcher over  for me NOW
after i’d lain down he leaned over me
& said
       you’ll   have to get off  if anyone
comes in who really needs it
       i suggested he’d better be able to
fight if he thought i’d be getting  off
it only took another five hours & i was
moved in to see the second doctor
       when he saw how awkward i was–
& noticed how long it took me to sit
       & saw i hadn’t shaved for a week
& heard   my slurred speech
       he folded his arms & told me to go
home       have a sleep        & go back & see
that first doctor
i told him to get fucked
       met his eyes
& said that if he didn’t look at me
       i’d spread him over the floor
after a look & a feel he sent me
for a cat scan
when i returned he said
       i’ve called in a specialist–
you might have to wait for an hour
or so because he’s coming from
another hospital
when i saw the third doctor he said
       you are very sick–
you have an infected abscess
& it’s very close to the voice box
       you’ll need to go into a bed
       you may need an operation
in the morning
when they got me installed upstairs
i saw the fourth doctor
       he said
you’d better prepare yourself
       this could be the big c
i thought i’d already met the big c
when i saw that second doctor
in the morning i met the fifth doctor
        a woman–
who one day later told me i did have
       but the way she told me  
made me think she was the big  c
       the lady doctor  told me to go
home        she said they’d ring me
with a time to go to another hospital
       to see another doctor
after a week when no one had rung
       i rang the hospital
i spoke to a sixth doctor who told me
they never said they would ring me
       he said i was confused–
& that i should wait for a phone call
       or a letter
i told the sixth doctor that maybe
he was confused
       i said i remembered what
i’d been told
he said
       no        you are confused
we will tell you when we want to see
        & we’ll do that by letter or phone–
whatever suits us best
        if you don’t like it–
you know what to do
       you can go private & call the tune
& have doctors suit your timetable
i reminded the sixth doctor
i was a public patient & had no
private cover
       but i told him too i was
an old fashioned bloke
i said
       i’ll keep an eye on the letterbox
& an ear out for the phone
        but i’ll go outside every hour
& check the roof for homing pigeons
       so feel free to send your instructions
by carrier pigeon
       i’ve got a long ladder & a seventeen
foot high wall & i feel quite confident
i can climb the ladder & open up
the metal band & retrieve any messages
you might like to send  
       i’m happy to use the old technology–
or the new        i’ll leave it up to you
the sixth doctor suggested we end the call
with respect       i said
       maybe i am confused & i don’t really
have cancer
       can you confirm that i actually do
have cancer
yes        he replied        you do
& can you confirm that i did have an
ultra sound examination
yes        he replied         you did
& while i freely admit i don’t have much
medical knowledge
        i do have a good understanding
of the nuances of language & speech
       & i do believe when the ultra sound
examination was carried out
        there was a good deal of surprise in
the voices of the five or six people
behind me in that darkened room
       would you  agree on that point
yes       he replied       i agree
& while i don’t want to appear pedantic
       would you agree that four      or perhaps
even five biopsy samples were removed
during that examination
        i’m sure i do remember the pull on the
       & i’m sure i heard instructions
on how deep to go       one point five
centimetetres       two centimetres
etcetera      etcetera
       i mean i won’t argue on the number
of biopsies or the depth of the needles
       it’s the procedure i’m referring to–
would you agree that i did in fact have several
biopsy samples taken
yes        he replied        i agree
well thank you       i said
       i’ll keep an eye on the letterbox
       an ear out for the phone
       & i’ll check the roof hourly
thank you doctor for your decency
                                 your humanity
                             & your kindness
& we both hung up
after a few more weeks i got to meet
the seventh doctor       a surgeon
       a decent bloke who showed me
decency & got it in return
       he explained my condition
in a language i could understand
        his handshake was as solid as
his eye contact & i liked his style
the seventh doctor had me lie on the
operating table for a biopsy
on my tongue because they couldn’t
locate my primary
       the cancer in my neck was a secondary
on the day of the op he & his team all wore
blue overalls       white gumboots
caps & masks
       they looked like concrete finishers
on a building site
       but their hands were soft & their vowels
were rounded
before i was sent off to sleep
the seventh doctor talked to me
about painting
       & Robert Hannaford
& poetry        & art as therapy
       he sure didn’t sound like
a concrete finisher
when i awoke i was put into a ward of
other old men who coughed all night
& kept one another awake
       & when the screen curtains were  
drawn in the morning
        i asked the man alongside me
if he’d like a Rothmans plain
in his morning haze he couldn’t fathom
my joke
later that morning i met a tribe of surgical
doctors who told me to go home
        my results would take five days
to process
but at six o’clock that night i had
to go back
       the abscess had started to swell
       & i met doctor eight
he arranged my re-admission & i was
given a different bed in the same ward
& dripped with antibiotics
       when i awoke in the morning my chin
was a mass of sores
       & my bottom lip looked as though
it had been pumped with botox
doctors nine & ten came to see me after
i asked the nurse to get me a doctor
       but they were completely baffled
they didn’t seem to be much older than
my teenage daughter
       & when they started mentioning the
possibility of  a staf infection
       the nurse looked really alarmed
doctor nine suggested to doctor ten
they should go & look in their books to
see if they could identify the problem
when they left i told the nurse i’d like
to see a grown-up doctor
       i was scared        & so was she
when she came back with doctor eleven
she told him she’d like to move me from
the ward to a private room
doctor eleven said he didn’t deem that
       he suggested it was maybe school sores
i suggested it might be cold sores
       but doctor eleven couldn’t agree
i said i wanted to see a specialist
        it was a teaching hospital
& they must have someone capable of
an accurate diagnosis
by the time doctor twelve arrived the
nurse had panicked & moved me to
a private room
        i repeated to doctor twelve
i thought it might be cold sores due to
       but he couldn’t agree either
the following morning a tribe of surgical
doctors looked at me
       & no one seemed too sure
it was then that doctor thirteen came
to my bedside & cut the heads off
some of the pustules & swabbed me
days later        when the results finally arrived
        the spread had really increased
& the lip grown larger
       & i did in fact have cold sores–
but they called it herpes simplex virus
two days later they sent me home
with a bottle of condy’s crystals
       & packets of anti viral tabs
about two weeks further down the track
i met doctor fourteen       a dental doctor
       the split corners of my mouth were
still healing but she needed to inspect my
gums & teeth before my neck dissection  
the next day
       i asked her to be careful       said i
didn’t have a big mouth
       (although i’m sure some doctors
[& others] would dispute that)
       but she treated me with care–
stating that i did have a small opening
(& though i enjoy puns        i said nothing)
        her advice was to get a tube of
Daktarin cream & use it overnight
        but more importantly–
to smear it over the corners of my mouth
just prior to the operation
       she said it would be likely to stop
any cold sores from coming back
       & she was right
that next morning i saw doctor seven
again        in the same operating theatre
       he had his tribe of surgical doctors to
back him up along with two anaesthetists
& a few nurses
        as i was wheeled in        
my eyes scanned for familiar faces
       doctor eight was smiling broadly
so i winked at him     
        he understood my style & his smile
a couple of days later doctor eight
told me the surgical team had read
some of my poetry aloud as i was going
       that was doctor seven’s idea
doctor eight said they’d stopped because
some of it seemed a little ‘R’ rated
        he said that after some of my lines
were read he remembered hearing me read
when he was a teenager at St Peter’s College
       i remarked that it must have been
during Ray Stanley’s reign
       when the school was a bit more liberal–
& more than just one voice was heard
he laughed at that
                             & i laughed too
i wasn’t laughing when i woke up from 
the neck dissection though
       it was 5:20pm when i sighted the clock
in the intensive care unit & i was feeling
       squinting        wondering where my glasses
were        & trying to calculate how long i’d been
lying there        & did they know i was awake
at 7:30pm they wheeled me back to the ward
       the same one i’d been in before but again–
a different berth
& there to greet me was my girlfriend Emily
& my youngest son Paul
       we counted backwards & calculated
it must have been a long operation
        they said the wound looked like i’d
been carved up with a broken flagon
       they said a bottle would have been
far too small       they said it looked scary–
       & because i couldn’t see what
my visitors saw
        i asked a nurse for a mirror
it scared me too
by 9pm though i was asking for food
       as much to my own surprise as that of
my visitors
        but the swallowing wasn’t fun
doctor seven had cut me from the bottom
of my left earlobe
       to the top of my collarbone
then curled around & up to my adam’s apple
       it was a cut as big as a baling hook
& with its thirty metal staples
       it looked almost as shiny & nearly as
he’d performed his surgery on Holy Thursday
20th March 2008
       & with the neck muscle removed he’d
left a hole        but he’d taken the tumour too
(intact we hope)        & with  two previous
infections it had been quite a messy job
he was back at my bedside on Good Friday
morning        away from his own four kids
         explaining that i’d gone through the
easy part of the treatment
        that the chemo & the radiation were
to come in about six weeks
        after the wound had healed
he told me to go home & get into
the full cream milk       the banana smoothies
       all the chocolate i could eat      & anything else
that took my fancy & was fattening
       to get some weight on because i’d sure
as hell get it stripped off in six weeks time
       he told me too that my voice box had been
welded to the tumour
       that he’d had to cut it free & there’d
been some nerve damage & my voice mightn’t
improve a lot on what i had at that point
       but i was still talking
& i was still listening
        grateful to have doctor seven on my side
it was a good Friday to get that news
       i lay in bed eating Easter eggs–
silver paper & cellophane
surrounding me       
       chocolate        sliding down my throat.

Geoff Goodfellow's first collection No Collars No Cuffs, first published in 1986, is now in its 9th printing. Eight books have followed, most running into multiple print runs. Geoff's poem 'The Seventh Doctor' is the anchor poem for his forthcoming collection Waltzing with Jack Dancer: a slow dance with cancer.