“I’m afraid the next appointment the doctor has is in April,” the receptionist said.

“Well can you make a referral to someone who could see me sooner? I have a lump, you see,”

“Oh. Then I’m going to fit you in. A lump can be nothing but it can be something. You can’t wait.”

Ten days ago, you see, I found a lump. Not a convenient lump. A lump in my nether regions. It’s the twenty-first century so I took a picture of it to inspect, then worried I might post on FB by accident and deleted it. Never-the-less it was a lump both “feelable” and visible.

If I have only one regret from Joshua’s fight with cancer it is that, two years ago when he first lost a little weight and had a couple of bouts on unexplained vomiting, that I let him brush me off and avoid the boring trip to the doctor. I’m pretty sure, at the stage, they wouldn’t have picked up the problem. But I will go to my grave not being sure. So, the lump had to be seen to.

Three days later I found myself sitting in a converted period building in Houghton across the desk from my new emergency gynae.

“I am going to do a full exam but before I do I want to get a little history,” she said. And then I realised my big, giant, insurmountable problem. It wasn’t the lump. For those of you who have never been to the gynae the third question is always the same: How many children / pregnancies have you had?

 I hadn’t thought this through. I don’t intentionally make people feel uncomfortable, you see. I mean I do on this blog but you are here by choice. You can only blame yourself. In general, though, I don’t try to make people feel awkward – which isn’t to say that I don’t fail most of the time. (There may also have been an incident in Woolies where an annoying man called me “babe” and accused me of cutting the line…but apart from that…).

In that moment I realised two things:

One: I need to get better at answering the question “how many kids do you have?” without crying

Two: I need to get better at answering the question “how many kids do you have” without making the other person cry.

I failed on both counts with the gynae.

The polite answer, the answer that will stop my gynae from crying is easy. One.

I tried it out when I got home. If I repeated it enough, surely it will lose the power to floor me? But even if my throat would relax to let my breath pass my mouth wouldn’t cooperate. It filled with the thick paste sensation of a billion white fungus cells. I imagined my tongue lying swollen and immobile somewhere in there. It refused to shape the word.

The cost of “one” is too great. It’s a denial not just of Josh but also of me. “One” swoops in and scours away the piece of me that I don’t have word for: nothing so physical as a heart or so intelligible as a thought. I’d call it my soul if that didn’t come with theological baggage. It’s the part of me right in the centre and the part of me that has grown infinitely lonely in the last six weeks. I worry it will never heal. I worry even more that it will.

For now I’m holed up, practising different answers but mostly avoiding the question.


P.S. The lump turned out to be nothing serious.