Up and down with the doctors


When you get down to it, for most of us going to hospital is like going to court – at least for the punter, either the patient or the client.

First, no sane person wants to be there.  The occasion of the visit is usually some hurt to you and some consequent pain.  At the very least, there are other and better things that you could be doing.  Resentment is never far from your surface.  Neither is suspicion.  How far are the agents of the system who are on display complicit in or responsible for your predicament?

Then, the moment you walk through the door, time seems to stand still, and you feel hopelessly out of place.  You know what it means to be a ‘displaced person.’  The markings of foreign distinction are everywhere in uniforms, furniture and equipment.  They have their own impenetrable coded language, hierarchy, and rituals.  You may feel displaced, but you are constantly reminded of that fact.

Next there is the uncertainty.  Unless you are very badly advised, you will be told two things about any medical procedure or legal trial.  First, each involves risk.  Secondly, the result of neither is predictable.  You can be very badly hurt in either.  Hospital might be the only source of death, but in either a court or a hospital you can take a hit that will ruin your life.  And yet you have to make decisions on matters of such consequence in a chamber that is at best unreally strange – and yet both imposing and threatening.

Finally, and above all, there is that sense of loss of self-control or that sense of disempowerment.  From the moment the drawbridge goes up, you feel that you are a prisoner of the System.  You are subject to the power of others.  You sit there helplessly watching its agents play with your mind.  Will it ever end?  How in the name of God did I get here?  Even the gown they put you on is degrading.

The word ‘domination’ is interesting.  It comes from the Latin dominus – lord.  We might have a queen, but we don’t have lords down here, and only Poms into kinky sex go in for domination.  Too many professional people do not understand the dread that so many descendants of convicts have for any form of authority.  Recent events in the UK and the US show that well educated people have not understood those who are not so well educated – and you end with a black hole like Farage or Trump – or One Nation.

These reflections came to the surface over the last few days.  On Tuesday I had a bronchoscopy at Royal Melbourne.  I did yet another scan first.  I arrived before ten and left well after five.  The procedure involves looking at the affected area while the patient is under anaesthetic or sedated to the point of unconsciousness.  (Don’t ask me what the difference is.)  I was warned that mine might be difficult because of the location of the lesion.  I’m now told that it was and that they spent fifty minutes doing the probe.  That is why I felt punched up after it.

They did not get affirmative proof of the malignancy of the lesion but the good news is that there was no evidence that it had spread.  Surgery, the preferred option, was still on the table.  They wouldn’t let me go until my blood pressure had settled.  I’m afraid I may have got a bit difficult – but I felt hopeless and powerless.  I felt imprisoned.

I finally escaped into the wet and bleak Melbourne evening.  A mate from school kindly picked me up and drove me home and stayed the night.  And boy do they police the pick-up.  That must be physically supervised by the System – what Ken Kesey called ‘the Combine’.  In the name of God, please keep me away from anyone like Nurse Ratched.  (I see that in writing about that great book, I said that ‘McMurphy has balls and Nurse Ratched wants them.’)

On the way home, I started to feel an ache or pain in the middle of the chest that seemed to move to the right.  It affected my sleep and stopped me from sleeping on the side.  It seemed to me that it was within the range of predicted consequences, but I thought that I should check with base.  It occurred to me also that my breath was shorter.  That being so, I was advised to go to my local doctor and get an X-ray.  I attended on him at 2.15.

A physical examination revealed an asymmetry.  I went next door in the hospital for the X-ray.  That meant I was within the clutches of the System again.  I must have had a premonition, because I normally take the Wolf to town, but now I had left him at home – alone and palely loitering.  A concerned looking radiologist said that the doctor would be down to talk to me.  A procession of equally concerned nurses asked me about my breathing.  They seemed surprised that I was still standing.  I had been arrested again.  They kept getting the run-around on the phone at RMH and they could not make contact with those who had done the procedure.

I can well understand why they thought RMH should look after what looked like a collapsed lung.  That sounds worse than the technical term pneumo thorax.  It involves an irregular placement of air.  I hurriedly and worriedly made arrangements for good neighbours to collect and look after Wolf.  That had problems – one of them is currently undergoing radiotherapy for a similar problem.  Then I was off, all strapped up and hooked up in an ambulance.  I was back in RMH within 24 hours – almost to the minute.  What an absolute bastard!

Well, at least I would be able to see firsthand how Casualty works in one of our overloaded public hospitals.  And that would prove to be educational – for want of a better word.

I was driven down by Mat and looked after in the back by Al.  I had very informative discussions with both of them either en route or in Casualty.  They both struck me as very professional people who were both sensible and caring.  We discussed the problems of young people with drugs and the accidents that can happen on the freeway – or the areas notorious for heavy injuries, including a recent death, caused by roos.

After about twenty minutes, they found a cubicle in Casualty and I was unloaded from the ambulance trolley.  I was very glad for their sensible care.  My view of Paramedics is now very different – I had been inclined to lump them in with firefighters, who are not in my good books.  Al and Mat are truly professional people – we shouldn’t get too snooty about that title.

A youngish female nurse then began the formalities of incarceration, and that awful sinking sensation just got worse.  People in Kyneton had said that I might be there for days!  Then, to my most grateful surprise, the doctor who had done the bronchoscopy, a most capable man from Respiratory, came in.  (He had also supervised one of the bike stress tests and had allayed my terrors of that process.)

He looked at the pictures and was less concerned.  I was not surprised since he had advised me that this was a foreseeable consequence and that they might just decide to allow the irregularity to take its own course – or do something to promote the correction.  Had I lived locally, I may have been sent home, but since I was there – in the clutches of the System – I may as well stay there, under observation, and with X-rays to ensure that the irregularity was not getting worse.  In saying that, neither he nor I was being critical of those in Kyneton – in light of the findings before them, and the facilities available to them there, any course other than that which they adopted would have been foolhardy – not least if I had gone home and carked.

So, I had to wait for a bed.  This did not look to me like a panic night in Casualty, but there was enough hustle and bustle, and merry humour to ensure I would not sleep in Casualty.  I expect that they hand out beds on need, and my priority rating was about zero.  On one view, I shouldn’t have been there.

The hours went by.  I engaged with a medical student, as I had in Kyneton, and would do again in town.  Put largely, they now spend four years on theory and four in practice – a model I commend to the lawyers; along with the fact that most of the professors are in practice.  I had only had a bowl of soup in two days, but I was past hunger, and even scarcely conscious that this was my second AFD of this year.  I felt better when the nurse said that draining the lung over days was an unattractive option that the doctor had excluded.  To that extent, my luck was holding.

I did start to wonder if people suffer nervous breakdowns while trying to survive Casualty.  There was a change of shift, and a very affable male nurse told me that he had switched from being an academic political scientist – a most interesting shift.  Then he came back with news that I had a bed.  Protocol required that I go by wheelchair, and then there were the same old forms and questions.

It troubled me when I heard a kind of wailing, or keening, or banshee –from a very troubled old woman – which I sometimes thought was answered.  Was this perhaps the psychiatric ward?  Had I really been handed over to the Combine?  A very nice nurse of Indian extraction gave me some pyjamas, and to my surprise I fell asleep, at about midnight.

I was awoken many times.  The first was when my cell-mate decided that 2.30 am was a good time to be on the cell phone.  To be fair, she was sotto voce, but not sufficiently sotto not to disturb me.  For about half an hour she then competed with the banshee howls, and those infernal machines that blip so audibly every ten seconds like Chinese water torture.  (I had fashioned some ear plugs from wet Kleenex – they were a bugger to get out next morning.)

The second time I was awakened was for observations.  Well, it is axiomatic that if you want peace and rest, the last place you go to is a bloody hospital.  The third time was when an older woman patient was having a scrap with a nurse right outside my door, and in the most fruity terms.  ‘If you don’t wipe that fucking smile off your face, I will fucking do it for you.’  It was evident that this poor old woman had form for this kind of outburst, and she was sadly full of self-loathing as well as hostility to the System.  But I wondered why it had to take place just outside my door, and I wondered if we were now looking not just at a possible nervous breakdown, but total madness.

Anyway, sleep after that was out of the question, and the object was to ensure my release as soon as practicable – it did not bear to think what might happen if I had to endure another night like that.

Happily my good doctor arrived on time, with a couple of students, and offered me the option of his draining some of the air to promote the process of repair.  This procedure took about 40 minutes and he thought he had got a fair bit of the stuff out.  During that time, I had met the professor who had attended the original process, and who turned up with about ten students in tow.  We put on quite a show for them.

Then I had to wait to get an x-ray, and so I slipped into that form of timelessness, fretting about whether I would get back home in time to pick up the Wolf before my neighbour had to go back to Bendigo for radiotherapy.  Minutes turned to hours, and I was finally taken down on a trolley for the x-ray.  A young lady with the broadest of Irish accents then helped me up toward the frame for the x-ray – and for the second time in two days, I felt like I might faint in that position.  They were able to take the x-rays with my being seated, and I prayed that the notion that I may have fainted did not get back to other parts of the System and give them evidence to prolong the incarceration.

In the parking bay outside radiology, it was gratifying to see the range of colour and ethnic backgrounds in those pushing and parking the trolleys.  You see it throughout this hospital.  People in England are worried about what might happen to the levels of nursing staff if they get too hard on immigration, and from my experience, we could have that problem here too.

After some mild pestering, a particularly nice young lady of Chinese descent gave me the news that liberation was at hand.  There were still a couple of meters of documentation to go through, but I finally got out – that is, I finally escaped – at about 1 30.  I was determined to get a taxi from  RMH straight to the Kyneton hospital where I had parked my car so I would be in time to collect the Wolf from my neighbour.

I had an extremely pleasant Pakistani cabdriver.  He has three children.  One of them has a degree in mechanical engineering.  The second, the daughter, is about to complete a degree in science.  The third is still at school.  They had all gone to private schools in the western suburbs.  He lives at Taylors’ Lakes.  This was a Thursday, and every Thursday he and about 11 mates get together at the house of one of them for a barbecue.  It is a boys’ only event.  They have the barbecue and then take coffee and play cards.  These evenings run from about 6.30 to 11.  Then they drive home – stone cold sober – because they are Moslems, they don’t drink.  I wish that some of those who get exercised about immigration, and particularly Moslem immigration, could reflect on the success of people like my driver yesterday, and the contribution that they make to the life of this country.

My neighbour told me that the Wolf had had an adventure.  He got anxious during the night, so they brought him back here to sleep.  When they came to pick him up next morning, he had shot through.  The Wolf had done a Lassie!  I don’t know whether he had set off in search of me, but thankfully the Ranger picked him up, and he has since been in a softer and more chastened mode.  I feel sorry for the poor little bugger in being left like he was.

So, I could go home and then start to field calls.  I have to say that I’m afraid I got a little curt because I was feeling, as the phrase goes, a little tired and emotional.

Some people like talking about these things.  I’m not one of them.  When you talk about things that you don’t understand, bullshit is inevitable, and I had got a full serve at lunchtime from my cellmate talking to members of her family about the comings and goings and thoughts of doctors and nurses.  When I started this process, a good friend of mine said that I would be exposed to any number of old wives’ tales, and that I should just endure them and forget them.  That was good advice.  You see it all the time as a lawyer when your client is obviously getting advice over the back fence which is worth far less than what client has paid for it – zero.  If there is no point in discussing what the doctors are doing, because that is beyond our full understanding, there is in my view even less point in discussing your own reaction to the process.  Who benefits from loaded self-psychoanalysis?  Even the pros bugger that up.

I must confess that I have some difficulty in seeing what the fuss is about.  The following propositions appear to me to be inarguable.  We are all going to die.  A major mechanism of that end is called cancer.  When you get to seventy, the biblical age, you cannot in my view complain if you get a tap on the shoulder.  I lost my two best mates to cancer more than five years ago, so on any view I am ahead.  It looks like my cancer has been diagnosed early enough to be dealt with.  I was a heavy smoker for a long time, and my life will be shortened in any event as a consequence.  The question then is whether it may be further shortened by this recent, and most fortunate, discovery.  I live in the best place in the world to deal with that issue.  And because I was an Australian born when I was, I have had more opportunities in life than almost any other bastard on this planet.

These facts of life being what they are, I don’t really see what the fuss is about.  For those reasons, I issue bulletins to the family, but otherwise I would prefer to talk about the usual suspects – footy, or whatever – even politics.

The Wolf and I went to bed in a fairly chastened manner, but I had had the benefit of the best part of a bottle of Leconfield Cabernet, while he had had the benefit of the remains of my ox-tail and mashed potatoes.  Rather to my surprise I had a reasonable night’s sleep.

I have made a mental note to develop a kit to have available for the next time I am subject to random incarceration.  In addition to toiletries, and nickers, it will contain best quality earplugs and sedatives and sleeping tablets.

Finally, may I tell you that my Pakistani cabdriver did not let me down?  Whenever I get one of them, I say that I was there when the Pakis knocked over the Poms at the MCG.  ‘You mean 1992 – the World Cup?’  ‘Of course.’  ‘I was there too!’  ‘Of course!’  It is truly both beautiful and wonderful.  I must’ve been one of the few bastards there that day that was not then or about to become a Paki cabdriver.  As soon as you mention the subject, a bright light flashes across their eyes – just like when Peter O’Toole said to Omar Sharif that ‘We are a long way from Damascus!’

The range of ethnic backgrounds in the staff at RMH is a wonderful thing for a white man from the sticks to behold.  Do you know what the trouble is in living in the sticks in this country?  THERE ARE TOO MANY BLOODY WHITE PEOPLE!

A morning in Nuclear Medicine


The cab driver from Southern Cross to Royal Melbourne Hospital was a laconic Turk.  He had a lot to be laconic about.  It was not so much the fall of Troy to the perfidious Greeks and their sulky champions – it had been a slow day, and he is probably one of those cabdrivers whose business capital is being shredded by the process that we antiseptically describe as ‘disruption’.  I tried to cheer him up.  He seemed to pick up on our discussion of house prices in Newport. That is not a subject that occasions happiness or relief in me.  I have a daughter who lives in Newport, and she correctly formed the view that I could not afford the luxury of living there – on a good day, I might get a small pad in Altona.  (Well, at least it’s named after a German town, and it is about half a century since I was doused in kerosene and had paint-scrapers applied to the bitumen sticking all over my body after cleaning a big vertical tank at the refinery there.  It had had a narrow manhole that my charge hand said that only I could slip through – that was one time you let me down, Len Foster.)

A volunteer at RMH showed me the way to the Department of Nuclear Medicine.  There I was to have some tests directed to determining the working capacity of my heart.  It felt like I was traipsing through the bowels of an aircraft carrier of some considerable age.  The highlight of the trip was formed by two huge photos of nurses at RMH, one taken in 1916, and the other in 1972.  There were of course obvious differences in uniform over the spread of nearly three generations, but far more remarkable were the differences in facial and bodily structures.  The photos are studies in themselves.  They reminded me that the male stock that we sent to the Western Front was very different to that which we sent to Vietnam.

There was a mild hiccup when I arrived at Nuclear Medicine.  I should have gone off one heart drug earlier before the tests than I did.  There was a suggestion, that I was not keen to embrace, that I may have to come back.  I could even feel a tantrum coming on.  The nuclear physician understood and shared my reaction.  He said he would talk to his boss.  He – I will call him Roger – seemed a very decent man, and I will come back to him.

After the nuclear injections are made, you have to wait before they take the first set of pictures (scans).  And you then go out in one of those silly open-fronted hospital gowns – the dream of any flasher – and sit there with two or three others involved in the process.  It is then that those on the conveyor belt to death or redemption exchange sympathies and anecdotes.  I was reminded of the day I turned up early at pathology at Kyneton and found that there were already three in the queue ahead of me.  The first said that he supposed it was time for the lady to do her vampire routine; the second said that we were all headed in the same direction; and the third said that we were all destined to go underneath the grass.  Bloody charming – the humour can be a little mordant.

One of the guys I talked with would have been in his mid-70’s.  He was English.  He had no teeth between his eyeteeth.  He also had a very curious view about climate change.  He thought that the winters were getting warmer and that the summers were getting cooler.  If you live near me, any such view is out of the question, at either end, and I wondered whether the condition that had brought him to Nuclear Medicine had affected his mind.

We were just getting on to discuss house prices at Newport when a charming young lady, whom I will call Julie, asked me to come in for the bicycle test.  I was very glad to get this invitation because the nuclear physician had expressed doubts as to whether I could successfully do this test since I had had one heart drug only 24 hours ago.  It now looked like we could do the whole session of pictures, stress test, followed by more pictures – with, I gather, different injections being made from time to time.  You start to feel like a bloody colander.

Julie is one of those professional people who ooze calm and confidence.  Her father was from Latvia, and she has what I would describe as an eastern European mien.  As it happens, Julie lives in Newport, and she was thinking of cycling around Malmsbury and Hanging Rock this weekend.  She, too, was the full bottle on house prices at Newport.

Julie was accompanied by a doctor during the actual time I was working on the exercise bike.  On this occasion, I did not get the statutory declarations, as I might call them, of the possibility of my dying on the job – and I did not miss them.  The doctor was extremely pleasant.  He was a man of colour, I think from the Subcontinent.  I sought to sound him out by referring to the recent cricket matches between Sri Lanka and Australia, but we did not get past discussing the cricket.  He was very absorbed in his work.

The setting up and completion of that test took almost an hour.  I then went back to the waiting area to wait for the next set of pictures.  I there had discussion with a man who I knew had come from Hungary.  (I knew that because I could overhear his examination while I was waiting for my injections to settle.)  He was a most charming and intriguing old man.  He had one of those gorgeous eastern European accents that you used to hear all round the MSO.  (Do you recall the time when Barry Humphries referred to the guy at the Bendigo or Ballarat town halls who said that ‘If it were not for the Jews and the poofters, we’d be up Shit Creek’?)

I asked him when he had left Hungary.  He said that was in 1945.  He left when the Russians came in in their tanks.  I omitted to ask how old he was then.  (I later overheard him say that he had been born in 1928.  He is therefore getting on.)  He was very interested to hear my description of the ballet of Anna Karenina that I saw in Budapest in about 1989.  He laughed out loud when I said that the first thing you see when the curtain goes up is a headlight of a steam train coming straight at you.  And his eyes fairly sparkled when I said that our gold medallist in the Pentathlon had gone to live in Hungary to improve her fencing and equestrian events.  He told me how good the Hungarians were at those sports.  I believed him.

He was a very interesting man, and I was sorry when they came to take him away – rather to my surprise, for a session on the bike.  He was very frail and shaking.  I later spoke to him after the session when he was resting on a hospital trolley.  He looked very distressed, and I had to suppress a wobble of the bottom lip.  I wished him all the best, and he said he was going to need it.  Via con dios, good and brave old man of Budapest!  (The salt of the earth?  At least our raw fabric.)

After he left, a small Chinese lady in full civilian dress padded in, and sat down.  I was about to open with her, when a head came out of a door, and said that her scans had remained constant, so that she could go.  She padded off, nodding contentedly in what I imagine is a Chinese way.

During this time, the head of nuclear medicine, Roger’s boss I suppose, would occasionally stop to have a word with me in passing.  He is a very matter-of-fact type of person, and his simple manner called to mind a manager at the Daylesford IGA telling me where I could find dog food.  That is I think a sensible way for a person in that position to behave.  There is no need to feed that old wives’ tale that they think they are God.  (Leave that to those my lot who wear ermine.)  His name is a good old-fashioned one – Associate Professor Meir Lichtenstein.  After the second lot of pictures, he came out and told me that they would do another one with a different camera and that I would be called in when they were ready.

While I was waiting, I heard Professor Lichtenstein examining another patient who sounded very young, but who apparently had been suffering from strokes.  I gathered that the question was then whether his condition affected his intellectual capacity because the professor was giving him tests in simple arithmetic.  It is very sobering to reflect that a person so young could be so sorely afflicted.  That is one thing about going to public hospitals – no matter how badly you think you might be travelling, the next poor bastard may be doing a whole lot bloody worse.  A little later, a male nurse of some age and a real burnished colour came in to comfort the young man – whose face I never saw – with that smiling white-eyed benevolence that people of such colour are so good at.  You miss this diversity in the sticks.

Now let me go back to the nuclear physician, Roger.  Quel nom!  Nuclear physician!  How do you improve on that, Mate?  He is a good-looking and plain speaking man on, I would think, the sunny side of 40.  He has a simple, direct manner and he is happy to engage in conversation, which is I think important in professional people dealing with others who may be in a state of anxiety if not fear.  We had a good laugh about the extent to which the sexiness of the French lady at La Couronne had contributed to my heart attack by selling me chocolate croissants and sausage rolls every Saturday and Sunday for years and years and bloody years – not to mention the baguettes which would later accept slabs of butter and fatty roast beef, served with full cream milk, before the siesta with the schnauzer (Ferdinand) and a Burmese cat (Miles Davis or Ella Fitz).  I gather these issues are not unknown to Roger.

I asked Roger if I could read my book while I was waiting for the injections to take effect.  Since the book was The Europeans, by Henry James, that led to a discussion about immigration.  Somehow I got on to his family.

Roger’s parents had come out here from Egypt in 1968, well before his birth.  They had done very well and they had been able to afford to send him to a private school (which in a very un-Melbourne like moment, I did not ask him to identify.  Bugger.)  His father was of French extraction, and he had trained in and got tickets in fine arts in both Paris and Florence.  No wonder he did well at the end of the earth where they were just coming out of six o’clock closing – even if his business was in graphic art down here.

Roger’s mother’s contribution was of a different order.  She is still with us, but in her time she was a woman of singular beauty in Egypt.  As such, she was given a small appearance in the epic film The Ten Commandments.  She even got to meet Charlton Heston – this was of course decades before that ghastly moment when Heston held up a gun and declaimed ‘from this cold dead hand’, so symbolising the madness of Americans about guns.  Roger treated me very well and I was very grateful.  I wished him all the best, but we agreed that poor Egypt looked like being past recall.

After the final set of pictures, the boss had a brief word to me saying that nothing untoward had been shown, but that they would report to the people at Peter Mac.

I was then free to go, which I did after going past again those big photos of the nurses, and a lot of that old kind of ducting that hangs from the ceiling that I used to crawl through to clean in the 1960’s.  (Crawling through ducts in hospitals or the RA CV was a piece of cake, but if you had to access ducts above a greasy kitchen, you had to act much like a human pull-through, and you had to ring your overalls out to squeeze out the fat when you were pulled out. There was every chance that you might come across one or two dead rats.)

So, I was released back into the world at large, after seeing a pretty good slice of life in a place where people go to fend off death – all this in the most blessed city on earth.

And I can’t help thinking that the medical profession may be travelling better than mine.  That’s one of those statements that is large enough to be plain silly – but it is gnawing at me, and from different angles.

A Bengal lancer in Paradise – My Debut at Peter Mac


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!