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.

The Surgeon

This is an everyday story. We all know stories like this one.

“My friend never smoked but she had a cough. Her doctor said, “ Better have a chest x-ray.” The chest x-ray showed a shadow on her lung. The GP sent her to a respiratory physician. That doctor spoke with my friend, listing the possible diagnoses and explaining the process that would define the cause of her cough. She asked some questions. She was pretty scared, but she doubted she could have cancer: she had never smoked.

“My friend was sent to a chest surgeon for a bronchoscopy. She saw the surgeon in the operating theatre just as the needle was inserted into her vein for the injection that sent her to sleep. After the procedure she felt sleepy. She came home with a memory, or perhaps it was an idea she daydreamed, that the surgeon said: ‘Visit my rooms next week for your results.’ It seemed the sort of thing someone would have said.

“My friend’s husband telephoned the surgeon’s rooms and made an appointment. He accompanied his wife – who was still coughing – to her appointment. The surgeon appeared right on time, at 10.00 am, precisely. (The husband is himself a precise man. He notices things like that.) The surgeon gave them the diagnosis. They left the surgeon’s rooms at 10.02 am. My friend believes the surgeon said: ‘The biopsy confirms you have lung cancer. You need an operation.’ My friend’s husband confirms the duration of the visit and his wife’s recollection of the surgeon’s words.

“The next time my friend and her surgeon met they were once again in the operating room. While a nurse gowned and gloved the surgeon he gave instructions to a second nurse about instruments and the overhead lights. The surgeon had no time for conversation with my friend before she was anaesthetised.

“The morning following the operation the surgeon visited my friend and told her she was well and the operation had been successful. Three days of coughing and three nights of agonising pain followed. Morphine and Endone did not relieve her pain. On the fourth day the surgeon visited a second time and said, ‘You can go home.’ In fact she could not; she could not walk unsupported and every breath was followed by a wince and a gasp she had to stifle. A nurse arranged for my friend to convalesce in aftercare. Ten days later, still with her original cough that now shook her chest wound violently, my friend went home. Six weeks after the operation she was still coughing. It was time to see the surgeon again.

“My friend’s husband attended – her chest hurt too much to drive. He sat in the waiting room and timed his wife’s visit to the surgeon. He told me later: ‘Mr. S. beat his previous record. She returned to the waiting room in 30 seconds.’

“That afternoon I delivered some food my wife had cooked for our friend. She told me, ‘The surgeon said the cancer’s gone.’

‘Good’, qouth I. ‘ Great! Will you need chemo?’

‘He didn’t say.’

‘Will you have radiation treatment?’

She shook her head: ‘He never said.’

‘What’s next?’

“I don’t know.’”

As I said, an everyday story in this age of miracles and wonder. An everyday surgical miracle worker, himself a wonder of brutish mutism. What we do not read of is any disciplinary action taken by the authorities against the surgeon for his brutism.

Why not ? – I wonder.