Eat Your Weeties

‘Hello Toby, I’m Howard.’

‘Hi. I’m Toby’. A laugh: ‘I guess you knew that…’

Doctor and patient shake hands. The doctor takes in the young man with the ready self-laugh. Tall, thin, Ned Kelly beard. Laughing eyes, a vital face and something serious, a gravity lurking between the smiles.

‘I’ve got a Toby’, says the doctor, ‘Every family needs one. And one might be just about the limit – to judge by mine.’

The smiling eyes crinkle: ‘Well my family had two of us, in a manner of speaking. I got my name from my grandfather. That wasn’t his true name but everyone called him Toby on account of the mobile he had above his bed when he was small. He loved Weeties you see…’

The doctor doesn’t see.

‘My Grandpa loved the breakfast cereal so much they hung a mobile made from Uncle Toby’s* Weeties packets over his bed; and everyone always called him Toby. They named me after him. Or at least in memory of him.’

The Ned Kelly beard rises and falls, dances with Toby’s face, mobile, in the telling of his story.

The doctor: ‘Nice beard Toby.’

‘Glad you like it, Doctor, but today’s it’s last day. Tomorrow I shave it off – to raise money – for cancer. And that’s really why I’ve come: I need you to check my wound.’

The man pulls up his shirt, exposing a circle of blood in the centre of a depression just to the right and below his belly button. The doctor indicates the couch. Toby lies down as he explains: ‘They’ve just closed off my colostomy, about six weeks ago. They said I wouldn’t need dressings after six weeks, but I should have the GP check on it. What do you think?’

The doctor thinks it looks like a fresh bullet wound, this dimpled circle of bright dried blood. He has a gentle poke around Toby’s belly: nothing inflamed, healing progressing well…so far as the doctor can tell. He doesn’t deal often with colostomies freshly closed. He looks up, his face a question.

‘Eleven month ago I had rectal cancer. They took out the lower bowel and I passed waste through that hole in my belly.’

‘And now you have the standard plumbing, you use the opening at the back and it all works again?’

‘Like a champion, Doctor.’

‘How does a man of…’ the doctor checks Toby’s date of birth, does some sums: ’How does a twenty-five year old get cancer of the rectum?’

‘Eating bacon… so they reckon.’ A smile as Toby, standing again now, looks down at the doctor’s yarmulka: ‘You’d be pretty safe, Doc.’

‘What was the treatment, Toby? How was it?’

‘Chemo. Radiation.’ A grin. ‘The first chemo wasn’t too bad. Later it was rugged. They’d run it in through a drip over a week.’

The doctor pictures a man of twenty-five enduring that protracted chemical poisoning. For himself he’s always believed he’d accept death rather than the vomiting, the weekly cycles of wretchedness, the titration of benefit – the death of cancer cells – against the loss of weight, the loss of immunity, the vomiting, the vomiting, the vomiting. But as he looks at Toby he sees vitality, faith in living. He sees a man who’d embrace suffering and try to chase death away. The man would believe he’d be cured, like all of them.

‘And it worked. You’re cured?’

‘That’s what they reckon.’ Toby’s whiskers cannot hide his triumph, his delight.

Deeply the doctor too feels delight. And relief, like a cloud lifting, the cloud of many defeats.

‘Will you be able to have children, Toby? After the radiation.’

‘We’ll see. Every chance I will. Might make a new Toby.’

‘Anyway, Doc, the beard goes tomorrow. For charity. I don’t want to boast but I’ve raised seven thousand dollars in less than a week.’

The doctor has an idea, a question: ‘Toby, I write a blog. Would you like me to write your story? And publish it on the net?’

‘Terrific idea, doc.’ Serious now, the face contracts: ‘Tell my story. Use my name. Tell everyone. The address for donations is:’




* Uncle Tobys

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Uncle Tobys is an Australian brand of breakfast cereals and other breakfast food products. The brand has a lot of history and is mentioned in an 1892 newspaper. Their main manufacturing base is located in the small town of Wahgunyah, on the NSW / Victorian Border.

Do You Have Children? 

She was the first patient in my day.
She was sent to this city in North Queensland by the foreign mining giant that employs her. 
I had never met her before. We introduced ourselves.
 She said: ‘I was woken by awful pain in my bladder. It’s an infection, I’ve had them before. I couldn’t sleep for the pain. It was four in the morning, but I got up and went out and walked the streets until I found a 7- eleven. I bought some Nurofen tablets for the pain.’
‘Did they help?’
‘A little.’
Her urinalysis was positive.
‘I think you’ll need an antibiotic. Antibiotics famously render the oral contraceptive pill inoperative. Maybe. So during this cycle you shouldn’t trust the pill… unless you want a baby.’
A smile and a shake of the head. The smile is not that smile that says, ‘Tread with care.’ She is a mature woman at peace with herself. Excepting for her hostile bladder. The smile licensed me:
‘Do you have children?’
Another smile as she sat and formulated a response to my silence.
‘I never thought I would. Now I realise I really have to decide – this month in fact. You see I’ll turn thirty-nine next month. I wouldn’t want to have a baby after forty.’
‘Why the late uncertainty?’
‘It hit me I might come to regret never experiencing that.’

She talked about childbearing and childraising, describing the contrasting experiences of her sisters. I agreed it was a momentous question. We talked about bladders and we parted.

 At home I asked myself how I’d describe my own experiences. I’d be unable to resist describing – at clear risk of malicious misinterpretation – the intense pleasures of bathing or changing soft bodies, the satiny skin, the small weightiness in arms or lap.
I thought about my feelings and the word that came was ‘intensity.’ Had she asked I might have said, ‘Becoming a parent deepened me. I believed I was tender towards children, but my firstborn taught me how I had tiptoed through mere shallows.’
I recalled an early piece of Martin Flanagan in the Melbourne ‘Age’. He described nursing his small daughter through a night of torrid fevers. From memory, I recall him writing, ‘I know I will never feel closer to this child than I have this night.’
I might have quoted an early patient who became an enduring friend. Her asthmatic sons struggled night after night for breath. She told me how she’d walked the floors, holding them, counting breaths, weighing ambulance against a dash in her own car.
Inevitably I was visited by verse.
I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour
And heard the sea-wind scream upon the tower,
And under the arches of the bridge, and scream
In the elms above the flooded stream….

(W B Yeats, ‘A Prayer for My Daughter’)

I might have described the common and uncommon thrill of feeling a newborn curling her fingers – by reflex – around the finger that I rest on her palm. I might have said, ‘The unearned trust of my child makes me know – as I have never known before – I am significant.

I might have said, ‘My children gave me a clarity that was visceral: I knew through them my task, the meaning of my being alive. I knew I would give my labour without question or measure or thought of recompense.

I could never have dreamed the reward that would follow – grandchildren. And of course, with grandchildren comes the renewal of mission, of labour, of redemption of my aging. Feeling anew that deep significance I stride towards my latter end with head high.’


Had she asked, that’s what I might have said. But of course we will not see each other again.
Postscript: But we did see each other again – the next morning. With her consent I read aloud the words you just read. I looked up. Her face was suffused, on her lips the widest smile, from her eyes a flow of tears.
She thanked me and in answer to my question she said, ‘Sure, you can publish that.’