Despite explicit instructions from my lovely publishers, I sometimes gift copies of The Red Light Zone to special people in my life. Last Christmas my wife and children found signed books in their stockings and their gratitude defies description. Generous to a fault, I’ve also given tax deductible copies to would-be business associates. And then last week I presented one to the surgeon who had diagnosed that little blister on my tongue as full-on mouth cancer. This, it has to be said, was my attempt to divert him momentarily from the conversation we were having about my impending surgery in Dundee. He had been describing how I would be under general anaesthetic for nine hours as a crack team of specialists removed the tumour and filled the gap using a skin graft from my forearm. Nine hours under the knife, two weeks in hospital, three weeks to recover and, oh, by the way, I’ll be talking with a bit of a lisp for a while.
“So what is it you do for a living?” he asked me.
“I’m a writer and I run a company called ‘Writes and Speaks’,” I told him, thinking it might be time to rename that as ‘Lites and Spleaksh’.
That’s when I told him about my book, fished a copy out of my rucksack and signed it for him. I wondered if this small act of kindness might persuade him to go easy on me when they wheel me into the operating theatre a few weeks from now. My surgery is scheduled to take place on the first anniversary of The Red Light Zone’s publication, but I’ll have to postpone the celebration party I was planning. Yep, I was going to invite everyone mentioned in the book, the staff and managers of every book shop in Scotland and all six thousand people who have visited this website in the past year. Honestly, I was really. But only if my lovely publishers paid for the booze. But enough of this fanciful thinking and back to reality.
“No one thinks they are going to get mouth cancer,” my surgeon was telling me, “but it’s actually the fourth most common type of cancer. Usually caused by smoking, or a virus or maybe in your case just simple genetics and bad luck, but we do this kind of operation almost on a routine basis and we in Dundee have a 95% rate of success. That’s an official Government statistic.”
I resisted the temptation to make some cynical comment about Government statistics.
“I’ve always liked Dundee,” I told him, “I used to go on holiday around that area as a child.”
I was rambling now. Trying to find some way of keeping up my end of the conversation beyond out and out screaming. The surgeon insisted on talking about medical stuff. Well, you know what they’re like.
“It’s good that we’ve caught this at such an early stage,” he was saying, “Three months later and things would be a lot more serious.”
I have my dentist, Jennifer, to thank for that. I asked her to look at my blister ahead of a routine appointment. She didn’t like what she saw and referred me to hospital for a biopsy. That led to a CT and MRI scan. Lots of pictures of my tongue were taken along the way. I was asked to sign a release form so they could be used for teaching purposes or in academic papers. I did so happily. Anything for a bit of publicity.
“In the meantime,” said my surgeon, “Go and enjoy your Christmas. Your problem is now my problem. You’ve passed it to me and its not going to get any worse in the next few weeks. Spend time with your friends and family. Eat and drink. Have fun, have wine.”
Good advice, I thought…and not just for the next few weeks.
“Thankyou,” I said, easing myself off his examination chair, “And you have a good Christmas too. Hope you enjoy the book.”
And the same to all my readers.