Thursday 4th February 2010
Gestation: 18 weeks, 6 days
One year ago.
My wife is falling apart.
First there was the left shoulder reconstruction. Then the ectopic pregnancy. After that, the right shoulder tendinopathy. And now, the development of peripheral neuropathy.
All in the last six months.
All since we got married.
She’s actually, properly, falling apart.
* * * * *
On waking, we snuggle.
“How are you today?” I ask, still half-asleep.
“The tingling has moved to my chest.”
I feel my breath escape.
“Should I be worried?”
“Not yet,” I say.
But I don’t really mean it.
We get up. All through breakfast, mundane morning thoughts are repeatedly dislodged by less comforting ones.
“I’m going to contact one of the Neurologists I was taught by in Med School,” I say finally, chewing on Weeties. “He’s not going to ask you how you’re feeling, and he definitely won’t give you a hug on the way out. But he knows his stuff. He’s like an Encyclopaedia.”
“Thank you, honey.”
Suse heads off to work, while I head to my study to try to work. For the first few minutes I pretend that life is normal, and that there aren’t more important things going on. I keep the act going for about five minutes, before the thoughts start flooding in. Soon enough, everything is wet with fear.
And so, again, work takes a back seat. My presentation is taken hostage; tied and gagged, and thrown in the boot.
And I’m on the road to Neuroville.
* * * * *
I ring my training hospital. I haven’t spoken to anyone there for ten years. And even if it is a Receptionist I’m waiting for, it feels like I’m returning to the Principal’s office at Primary School.
After seven minutes of being on hold, I am put through to the Outpatient Department, only to be given a ghost number for a Neurologist in Richmond. Luckily, though, they gave me a clue. They let slip that his rooms are at in Erin Street.
The Epworth Hospital backs on to Erin Street.
For the next eight minutes, I ring and re-ring the Epworth, failing with one Receptionist, and getting the next. Each time, they answer with irritation, swatting at me like that mosquito that won’t disappear.
That same damn mosquito.
“Hello there,” I say on my third attempt, “I was just wondering…”
“…Listen, are you still looking for that doctor?”
“Well, I’ve never heard of him.”
“But I haven’t even told you his name yet.”
“What was it again?”
“That’s supposed to be a name?”
“Yes, he’s a Professor of Neurology.”
“Not here he’s not.”
“Well, he has been in the past.”
“Not since I’ve been here. And I’ve been here a long time.”
“We’ve got a Robert Samuels. He’s an Oncologist. Do you want him?”
I wait to see if she’s joking.
I’m still waiting.
“I was kind of looking for Enoch Samuels. The Professor of Neurology?”
“Well, I don’t care if he’s a Professor of Neurology, if I haven’t heard of him, then…”
I cut her off before she can end the sentence. I know how it goes. The other two already filled me in.
I ring back the Outpatient Department, again waiting to chat to my Primary School Principal. Instead, I’m transferred back to the front desk, and then finally onto the Department of Neurology.
“Enoch Samuels? Yes, we’ve heard of him.”
“Great. No one else seems to think he exists.”
“Well, he does.” I can hear the face she’s pulling. “He runs our department.”
“I know. I know exactly who he is. He taught me as a student. I certainly haven’t forgotten.”
I run the story, as quickly as I can. “Does he have private rooms?”
“These days, unless a patient has a complex genetic or degenerative pattern, they’re not his cup of tea.”
“Bog-standard peripheral neuropathy is something he leaves for mere mortals, is it?”
“Something like that,” she says, laughing.
She gives me the names of a few mere mortals. They have about a century’s experience between them. I ring each and every one of them, only to find that there is a waiting period of months for every one of them. The earliest possible appointment – with someone I’ve never even heard of – is in five weeks’ time.
I hang up.
I’m a little boy in the centre of a system; people rushing all around.
* * * * *
And so, once again, I phone a friend.
This time, the friend is a Professor of Neuroscience at the Children’s Hospital. Arnold is a kind man, a very kind man, who I know through my training in Paediatrics. He took me for practice exam cases, before becoming my actual examiner, in my final exam, in another state of Australia.
Flown there, just for the surprise.
“Hi there,” I say to his receptionist, trying to sound light, “I was wondering whether Arnold was around?”
“Not right at the moment. Can I help?”
“Arnold knows me from training. I need to speak to him about a certain issue,” I say deliberately. “I need to pick his brain. And I’d really appreciate it if he could call me back.”
“He’ll ring you back,” she says. “Don’t worry. He always does.”
* * * * *
True to word, within an hour, I get a call.
“I hear that you want to pick my brain.”
“Don’t know that there’s much there to pick anymore.”
“Yes, well, there’s more to pick than I have,” I say, again trying to sound light. “Arnold, my wife has had seven days of pins and needles in her arms and legs.”
I tell him the story, from beginning to end, rationalising and derationalising as I speak, still unsure whether I’m over-reacting.
After about two minutes, he cuts me off.
“Who have you tried so far?”
I give him the list.
“What about any of the peripheral neurology gurus?”
“Do you care where you’re seen?”
“What do you mean?”
“Does it have to be close by?”
“To get this sorted, Arnold, we’d fly to India.”
“Give me five minutes. I’ll call you back.”
Four minutes, fifty-six seconds later, the phone rings.
“Be at Suite 53, Private Rooms, Corpus Christi Hospital, at 5pm tonight. And just call ahead, to let the secretary know you’re coming.”
“Can do.” I feel my shoulders drop.
For a moment, I feel like my voice is going to crack. “Thank you so much, Arnold.”
“You’re welcome,” he says kindly. “Just get your wife sorted out.”
* * * * *
to be continued…