When a few weeks ago I was provisionally diagnosed as suffering from cancer, a friend of mine, who is a distinguished equity silk, permitted himself a philosophical reflection. It was to the effect that if I was going to get cancer, I was in or near the right city, because Melbourne was as good as anywhere else in the world with this form of illness. Yesterday I got good evidence to support his view. I went for the first time to the new Peter Mac on Grattan Street. It is opposite the Royal Melbourne Hospital and diagonally opposite Melbourne University. It is truly a thing of wonder. I was told that it had only opened for business, if that is the term, on 23 June this year. Being a public hospital, it may not be a joy forever, but it is bloody close to being a thing of beauty.
The design imposes on you as you drive up to it. There is an indented arrival area outside a very soigné café that might call to mind an upmarket if not snooty hotel. Inside it is all light and space and a sculptured atrium with a winding walkway that reminded me of the Guggenheim Museum on Fifth Avenue. This place was set up and is now re-established to treat an ailment that gives most people the heebie-jeebies. That is why we use terms like Bengal lancer and native dancer. Those responsible for designing and building this facility obviously know this better than me, and they have sought by their work to neutralise the suspicion and fear of most of those who enter it. I think that they have succeeded brilliantly.
I went to get a PET scan. Imaging is on the fifth floor. You use those lifts that require you to press a button for your destination and then a voice tells you which lift to take – an innovation that might unsettle some migrants, or some of the older pre-revolution citizens like me. All members of staff have obviously been trained and disciplined in how to deal with visitors. (I would put equal stress on each verb.)
For reasons I will come to, I had to wait some time before my turn came. This is a public hospital and you certainly see the public here in all degrees – I may well have been the toffiest bastard in the waiting room. (I even thought of hiding the label on my designer scarf.) While I was waiting, I watched Fiji annihilate England in the Sevens.
Then a very nice young lady called Emily Hong took me to my room, and a chair that overlooked the whole of Elizabeth and Peel Streets, that huge flag, and the Turf Club Hotel. The view was so good, I disdained the TV. They inject you with a substance that glows in a scan under certain conditions. You then rest for an hour on a reclining chair, and then go for the scan which takes about twenty minutes – and which may distress those who suffer from phobias. (They might think of offering the eye-covers they give you on long haul aircraft.) After what I thought was a decent interval, I made a serious tactical mistake. I looked at my watch. Only twenty minutes had elapsed, and from then on the watch got consulted at ever diminishing intervals.
When I thought that the hour had expired, I pressed the button Emily had left with me. In came a man who looked remarkably like Peter Gordon, who gave me the good news that I was next up and, more importantly, that I was free to go the dunny. Then another nice lady called Jo came and took me to ‘take the pictures.’ The scanner was not the kind of cocoon I had once experienced and was similar, I thought, to the one I had used at Kyneton. When the pictures are taken, you wait until a doctor has seen them. Then they take the device out of your arm – and you are free to go – and free to eat. (This is one of those bloody fasting jobs.) I had been there three hours, all the time marvelling at what was all around me.
Over the road I went then to the RMH to see the surgeon who has been asked to remove the offending item – assuming it is a cancer. Well, any institution would look its age compared to the gleaming novelty I had just come from, and the RMH was somehow intimidating. For some reason it reminded me of Gotham City sans Batman. Well, I somehow found my way to where the surgeons consult, after a lift that was slower than those of the Waldorf Astoria and the Cavalry and Guards Club. The surgeon had however left – for reasons I will relate.
I had proposed to drive down to town but the appointment was for 9.30 and I was afraid of the freeway at peak hour. So I got the 7.11 from Kyneton which was due in at Southern Cross at 8.30 – plenty of time to enable me to get to the number 19 tram that I had used fifty years ago. We got as far as Water Gardens – which is not a place most of you would like to stop at. A Metro train in front of us had broken down. The conductor was extremely helpful – but they were being misled by Metro. We were told that the train would be removed. I had told the conductor I was going to a medical appointment. She asked what time it was, and I said I had plenty.
Events falsified that statement and I told her I would a get a cab from Footscray. She took my name and said Vline would indemnify me. After nearly an hour both networks tossed in the towel, and we abandoned train. It was hopeless trying to get a cab, so I took a Vline bus to Southern Cross, and a cab from there to Peter Mac. I got there at 10.00. I was half an hour late. I had managed to get through to them by phone to warn them. My mistake was not to get them to do the same with RMH and the surgeon. Hence he had left by the time I got there, and I was left starving and palely loitering, a victim of a schizophrenic train system. I abstained from offering mordant comment on the irony of a doctor’s insistence on timekeeping.
So, I am currently left with the provisional diagnosis – the evidence for which came up quite by chance – that there probably is a cancer but that it can probably be dealt with by surgery.
I am putting this post out now to give people the gospel – the good news – about Peter Mac.
May I say that yesterday, even allowing for the train bugger-up, I was proud of my country and my city? There is no doubt that Melbourne is the sporting capital of the world, but it is now very well served in music, theatre, opera and art, and it offers as diverse dining as you could find anywhere. Although we complain about our public transport, Berlin is I think the only city that is obviously superior to it for transport. Melbourne University is I think the most highly rated in Australia. And now we have a landmark medical institution that is the best in the world. But let us not cringe about world ranking – let us just rejoice that we have got this one absolutely right. You only have to look across the Pacific to see how truly blessed we are with our medicine – and to see why any government that even hints at flirting with what we have will be sternly punished.
One of the great things about this city that you notice when you live outside it is its diversity. You get it in the cabs. The guy who took me to Peter Mac was from India – about 45 minutes from Delhi. So, we talked about Darjeeling and the other Raj towns – he advised me not to bother going to Simla. The guy who took me back to Southern Cross was from Egypt – about 45 minutes from Cairo. He had a splendid pork pie hat, and when I said I was starving, he kindly offered me a banana. The sad thing was that while the Indian man goes back home every year, the Egyptian has not been back in sixteen years, and does not intend to do so. It must be terribly hard to forsake the land of your birth forever.
Finally, the other good news is that Melbourne Storm are on top, Melbourne City has signed our Timmy, and the Melbourne Football Club looks set to escape the half century curse of the late Norm Smith. The Mighty Demons!