Perhaps you haven't heard, but I have been going to see The Doctors as of late. It is my new hobby.
Let me offer a brief history:
1. I was born, and apparently a doctor was present.
2. I had stitches when I was approximately four or five. Right by my eye, so that was scary, for everyone.
3. I had multiple episodes of strep throat, throughout my childhood and adolescence. I believe that my identity as a poet was formed in the Fevers of Strep, wherein once I thought I saw a spider as big as my fist in my bedroom but was too weak to even call for my dad to come get it, for like, five whole minutes, and then I faintly, feebly called Dad. DAD. because literally it was as big as a truck. (See? hyperbole.)
4. I gave birth to one two three four five children, with no anesthesia, except for childbirth the first when I had a local, because no one was going to stick a needle in MY backbone, no sirree (see also: Our Bodies, Ourselves, and other accounts of heroic going-without-anesthetic from history).
5. I had no doctor for literally years.
But then my dad had a stroke and then my sister had a stroke, and, come to think of it, my MOM had had a brain aneurysm/repair. So my other sister and I figured we needed to make sure our brains weren't busy cooking up additional strokes on our behalf. Obviously, we needed to get scanned.
In my case, this meant finding a doctor first, so I could get a referral to get scanned.
Let me offer a brief history:
1. I asked my friends for doctor recommendations.
2. I asked my daughter for doctor recommendations.
3. I called doctors that had been recommended to me, and in short order, I had a doctor, and ergo, a doctor's appointment.
4. Thus was borne my new hobby.
VISIT TO THE DOCTOR #1.
At the reception desk: Please fill out these one billion forms and also please take this quiz about your state of mind. Are you sad? Are you ever anxious? Do you have trouble sleeping? Do you sometimes have trouble taking pleasure in normal things?
Me: WHAT!? please.
Me (in writing): I would be glad to talk about these things with the doctor.
Me (in my mind): ...but I am NOT WRITING THIS DOWN, hell no, and you can't make me. (that last part I said out loud to the historian.)
In the room:
Nurse: Here is your blood pressure, not bad. How's about a flu shot? Take off your clothes, so you can be defenseless and vulnerable, because that's how we like it.
Me: (defenseless and vulnerable) (possibly doing a small amount of light crying) I hate this.
The historian: I know. I know.
With the doctor:
Me: I haven't been to the doctor in nine billion years. I have a skeptical relationship with the medical industrial complex (actual thing I said, which I was pretty proud of at the time).
Doctor: Sounds pretty reasonable to me.
Okay, then, Medical Industrial Complex, we have a match.
Doctor (palpating): hey, now, what's that nodule in your throat-stroke-thyroid region?
Me: the hell you say?
Doctor: how about we get that ultrasounded? Also, give me all of your blood.
VISIT TO THE DOCTOR #2.
At the dermatologist.
Dermatologist: And now I will take a divot, I mean this mole, out of your back. Also, wear sunscreen unless it's a blizzard (actual thing the dermatologist said). Hey: benign!
REPORT FROM THE LABS (aka, my blood).
Doctor on the phone. You are not a diabetic. (confetti!)
AT THE RADIOLOGIST (brain scan).
Technician: what music would you like to be played in earphones that you'll barely be able to hear over the sound of the universal gears grinding while we look at your brain?
Me: Joni Mitchell, please.
Joni Mitchell: love came to my door with a sleeping roll/ and a madman's soul
AT THE ULTRASOUND CLINIC (throat nodule investigation, part 2).
Technician: lean back and expose your throat like a sacrificial victim.
Me: uh, okay.
Technician: Yup, that's a nodule.
REPORT FROM THE RADIOLOGISTS.
(a) you got no aneurysms in your brains. (confetti!)
(b) yup, that's a nodule.
Doctor: well, you can wait a year and get that nodule ultrasounded again. Or you can go to the endocrinologist and get a fine needle aspiration.
Me: OH BOY THAT SOUNDS FUN
Doctor: So we're agreed then.
AT THE ENDOCRINOLOGIST'S.
Endocrinologist: thyroid thyroid thyroid (points to diagram) thyroid cancer (points to thyroid model) thyroid cancer?
Me: I can't hear one thing you're saying because the word cancer is somehow in usage in this room?
Endocrinologist: So we're agreed then.
Nurse: lean back and expose your throat like a sacrificial victim.
Me: FINE (used to it by now)
Endocrinologist: (sticks a needle in my nodule) Are you all right, ma'am?
Me: Well, it's not exactly delightful, but I'm okay.
(they spirit away some of my vital animal fluids and probably a little bit of my soul)
Nurse/Endocrinologist: stay right here--we need to make sure we have enough of your vital animal fluids and we may need just a wee bit more soul-juice
Me: (lays there like a sacrificial victim)
Endocrinologist: I need to stick a needle in your throat a couple more times
Me: ugh, fine.
REPORT FROM THE ENDOCRINOLOGIST.
Endocrinologist: Yup, cancer. You should get the left lobe of your thyroid removed within the next six months. Call my head and neck surgery guy.
AT THE HEAD AND NECK SURGEON'S.
Surgeon (who has a cold or something? so is wearing a mask, and is also carrying a huge knife(not really, just making that up. Hyperbole!)): I concur with your endocrinologist. Let's remove that left lobe within the next six months. Surgery surgery surgery. Also, the thyroid comes pretty close to your recurrent laryngeal nerve, so there's a chance, less than 1%, that we might damage that nerve, resulting in temporary or (very unlikely) loss of voice.
Surgeon: (who knows what he's doing/thinking behind that mask)
Me: (actual thing I said): Well, I have a lovely singing voice, and I am a poet, and I need to be able to read and also to break into song at the least provocation.
Surgeon: (thinks I am a loon, apparently, although who knows what he is doing/thinking behind that mask)
Me: (settles down) Ugh, fine. Less than 1% chance, you say?
Historian: (taking copious notes)
Surgeon (swishes out of room in a lordly way with his cutlass)
And thus, I will be having thyroid surgery on Monday. And I will be fine, and also my recurrent laryngeal nerve will be fine (less than 1% chance that it will not be fine). Statistically I will be fine.
Today, after work, I went to KRCL and talked with Lara Jones about poetry. (It's National Poetry Month!)(In related news, I have been too busy/preoccupied to write a poem a day, which I wish were not the case, but bygones.)
I have been thinking for the last year or so about voice, specifically my poetic, political, citizen's voice, and what I want to do with it. Ms. Jones asked me, after I had talked about a few poets who give me courage and make me want to write poems that might give other people courage, and beauty, and the will to act: What about your own poetry? When you teach students about poetry, or read work in the community, or send it out, what do you hope will happen?
It's a question I realize, at this late date, I don't have a final answer for. I am hoping that's a good thing. Not so long ago, if someone asked me why poetry? I would have answered, because I can. But now, my answer is different.
This week, I read with Neeli Cherkovski, who said, among a bunch of other things, that all poems are instruction. The historian asked me if I thought that were true. Horace, the Roman poet, famously wrote in Ars Poetica that poems should both instruct and delight. I told the historian that I thought Cherkovski's claim might be true if you took a certain view of instruction--something like an Emersonian notion, that by reading or hearing poems, and thus experiencing the poems' ins and outs, turns, reversals, we are engaged in the forms of thought they embody. This, I guessed, would be a kind of instruction, I said.
I want poems, which are an embodiment of my voice--not the only embodiment, but one--to make beauty, to enact thought, to take the mind and the ear and the body, to incite movement and strike fellow feeling. I don't think it's too much to ask of myself as a poet, to aim for all of that.
I also don't think it's too much to ask of my surgeon, he of the head and neck and the fictive big knife, to be extra careful around that recurrent laryngeal nerve, because I need my voice, for itinerant singing, and because using it is one of the forms of my courage.