Alan Perry

The picture shows Alan Perry with the Amigos at the 'Poetry in the Square' Festival, Castle Square, Swansea, Summer, 1999.
Alan Perry
Photograph by Bernard Mitchell

MEDICAL

Previously in The New Welsh Review .

As they pulled up in the hospital car park, Perkins reminded his wife for the fourth or fifth time that morning to 'be herself'. After all, she didn't have to act ill: she really was ill. Any fool could see that. But it might be advisable, he told her, not to mention the HRT treatment. If they thought it was a hormonal problem, they'd think it was something that could be cured. Then they'd send her for treatment somewhere and the next thing she knew, she'd be better.

'Isn't that the whole purpose?' she said.

'You know what I mean,' he said. 'We don't want them to think there's an easy way of making you better, otherwise, before you know it, they'll say you are- '

She cut him short. His logic bewildered her and she'd had enough of pep talks anyway. Any more and she'd cancel the appointment there and then.

They got out of the car and went in through a side entrance marked Out Patients. Ty Thomas Taig was a private concern built in the grounds of the old, Victorian hospital on the edge of Town. His wife had been sent there for an appointment by the Gold Stallion Insurance Company before they would make a first payment on her invalidity claim. Perkins was more nervous about the appointment than she was and had been for days.

His wife gave her name at Reception and they sat down in an empty Waiting Room. It was hot in there and windowless, with oppressive walls covered in pink and red roses. His wife picked up a medical journal and immediately began reading but Perkins couldn't keep still and was soon complaining about the heat: 'It's like an oven in here,' he said, getting up to examine the wallpaper, ' - and you'd think they'd have chosen nice restful blues instead of reds and pinks - '

'Stop moaning,' she said, 'or I'm going.'

He sat down... hot, flushed and miserable... sullenly watching her read. Five minutes passed. Then another five. 'Who is this guy Madoc, anyway?' he said, 'And what d'you know about him?'

'He's a very nice man.' she said. 'Very sympathetic - according to Dr Kojak.'

'Yes, but he's working for the Insurance Company,' Perkins said. 'He's bound to be biased.'

'He's totally independent,' she said. 'He doesn't work for them. He can say what he likes.'

'Don't trust him,' he said. 'These psychiatrists are all the same. They twist everything you say- '

'Don't worry,' she said. 'I know exactly what I'm going to say. I'm going to tell him everything.'

Perkins didn't like the way she said everything. They'd had their ups and downs in the past but 'everything' seemed to hint at some sort of expose. He was about to tell her not, on any account, to bring him into the conversation, when the consulting room door opened and an unseen figure beckoned her in...

*

She seemed to be in there a very long time. After a bit, Perkins moved to the seat nearest the Consulting Room door but couldn't make out a word. At one point, he thought he could hear her crying, but couldn't be sure. He picked up the medical journal his wife had been reading, opened it, read two paragraphs of an article about Mad Cow Disease and closed it again. On the wall opposite was a framed jigsaw puzzle of Anne Hathaway's cottage and beneath it, an old, free-standing Singer sewing machine with a bronze dinner gong on it and a basket of dried flowers. He got up and went and looked at the jigsaw puzzle, puzzling over why anybody would want to frame it and why it was accompanied by such a curious conjunction of objects. It occurred to him then that the whole place might well be bugged and that the dried flowers might possibly conceal a miniature mike... courtesy of Gold Stallion. He examined them closely, was about to part the paper-dry petals when the Consulting Room door abruptly opened and his wife emerged, red-eyed and pale: 'He wants to see you next,' she said.

*

Perkins had been caught totally off-guard but it was too late to protest. Before he knew it he was in the Consulting Room, the door closing shut behind him.

Madoc was a short, little man with a wizened smile and a frail handshake. He motioned Perkins to sit down and sat down opposite him at his desk. There was a pause as he cast around for an opening, smiling down at his hands, which were spread out before him on the desktop. 'I think you know what this is all about, Mr Perkins,' he said. 'I've been asked by the Gold Stallion Insurance Company to write a medical report on your wife. Now, I've had a long chat with her... about some of the things that have been troubling her... but to get the whole picture, as it were, I'd like to hear your side of things.' Madoc's hands locked fingers, grappling one against the other. 'What, for instance,' he went on, 'do you see as some of her main problems... over the last year or two, let's say- '

Perkins took a deep breath: 'Well,' he began, 'there've been quite a number, really. I'm sure she's told you most of the main ones but basically, I would say she's definitely not been' -he groped for the mot juste - 'her old self' for quite some time now.' Madoc nodded, waiting for him to elaborate. There were only so many ways of saying somebody was totally knackered and Perkins didn't want to exhaust them too quickly. 'She's been tired, listless and extremely depressed,' he went on, trying hard not to make it sound too much like the script for a Sanatogen commercial. 'Completely lacking in energy and drive- that old 'get-up-and-go' ... ' Madoc kept smiling enigmatically, his hands at rest now, steeple-shaped beneath his chin. Perkins kept talking, hearing himself mount symptom on symptom, cliché on cliché. It took him a while to hit his stride but after he'd cited the stresses and strains of teaching, the enormous upheavals in the Education System, low pay, low morale, mountains of paperwork and the lack of the 'personal touch' in the classroom, Madoc started to look impressed and had even begun taking notes. 'And, of course,' Perkins dictated, 'Redeployment didn't help: being forcibly transferred from one school to another, really hit her for six. Gave her a feeling of total inadequacy- '

'And how long has this been going on?' Madoc said, still writing, but faster now.

'I would say,' Perkins said, carefully choosing his words, working his way to a pension-clinching finale, 'that for the past four or five years, and for six days out of every seven, my wife has been suffering from some fairly major or minor symptom: ranging from bad back, headache and palpitations to high blood pressure, asthma and deep depression- '

Madoc's hand was racing over the paper now. 'And what about sleep?' he said, without looking up. 'How's she been sleeping?'

'Rather erratically,' Perkins said. 'She's been getting these terrible dreams.' Madoc's eyes lit up. 'Oh really?' he said. 'Dreams are a particular interest of mine. What sort of dreams?'

'Well, there's this one in particular,' Perkins said, irrepressible now, 'about a huge tidal wave... a 'tsunami' I think they call them... that sweeps in out of the Bay and swamps the whole Town. All that's left is a bit of the Civic Centre clock tower sticking up out of the water. In the dream, she's warned me time and again that this tsunami is coming but I won't listen and then, when it does come, I race down to my father's house to try and rescue him. Before it hits, she's running up and down the streets knocking on doors trying to warn everyone. She gets that one a lot. She wakes up in a cold sweat- tossing and turning. Sometimes it's so bad I have to sleep in another room.'

'How does the dream end?' Madoc asked.

'I'm not sure,' Perkins said. 'She's never told me. I don't think she manages to save anybody... or herself. I think she wakes up before the end.'

'And this wave: does it completely engulf her?'

'I think so... but to begin with, she's running from it, trying to get away.'

'Is she on her own... or are there other people with her?'

'On her own, I think. All the other people are inside their houses. Is that significant?'

'It could have a bearing. We'll have to ask her... ' He scribbled a note, put the pen down, leaned back with folded arms and smiled. Perkins felt pleased with himself - had the feeling he'd done quite well: excelled himself, even. 'And your wife tells me you are a writer,' Madoc said, totally at ease now. 'What sort of things do you write?'

Perkins smiled modestly. This was more like it: he could coast from here. 'Poems and stories mostly,' he said. 'But I'm also working on a novel.'

'And I suppose your interests lie mainly with the modernist writers... '

'I suppose so,' Perkins said.

'I like the Welsh englyn writers, myself,' Madoc said. 'I go to all the Eisteddfodau and it never ceases to amaze me how quickly the bards can compose, given a set theme. Siarad Cymraeg?'

'No, but my wife does,' Perkins said.

'Yes... to get back to your wife,' Madoc said, suddenly business-like again. 'As I told you before, this report is something of a formality I'm obliged to carry out at the request of the Insurance Company. You've both given me plenty of information but is there anything you'd like to add before I start writing it up?'

Perkins thought for a moment, ran through a quick check-list in his head: 'No, that's about it,' he said.

Madoc reached across and shook Perkins' hand, thanking him for his cooperation. 'Oh, and one other thing,' he said, as Perkins stood up. 'Your wife's dream. Could you call her back in for just a minute. I'd like to ask her about that.'

Perkins opened the Consulting Room door and called to his wife. She came back in, dry-eyed now and slightly bemused. 'All finished, Mrs Perkins,' Madoc said, 'but there's just one more thing. Your husband tells me that you dream a lot? And that you have some dreams that repeat themselves from time to time.

'Well, yes,' she said, glancing suspiciously at Perkins.

'I was thinking of the dream about the tidal wave,' Madoc prompted.

'Tidal wave?' she said.

'You remember,' Perkins said. 'You told me you get it all the time. The dream about the tidal wave coming in and swamping all the rooftops of the Town... '

His wife gave him a blank look.

'You must remember that one,' Perkins said. 'You've told me about it lots of times. You even wrote it down once - '

'Did I?' she said.

'Yes, you did!' Perkins said, in desperation. 'You can't have forgotten.'

She shook her head. Madoc looked disappointed. 'Any other dreams you get?' he persisted. 'Any repetitive dreams of any kind?'

She racked her brains, anxious not to let him down. 'Yes,' she said. 'Sometimes I get a dream that the bedroom window is wide open and I fly out through it and over the Bay. It's a beautiful, clear, moonlit night and I'm flapping my arms like wings and soaring high over the Channel- '

Madoc didn't seem too impressed by that one. 'Anything else?' he said. 'Dreams can tell us a lot about a person's state of mind.'

'And I dream about my father sometimes,' she said. 'That he's still alive, or that he's alive but dying... ' Her eyes started to fill up as she spoke. Madoc seemed about to question her further but stopped himself, sensing perhaps, that enough was enough. He stood up and thanked them both again, wishing them well and assuring Perkins' wife that the report would be completely impartial.

*

'Should be a piece of cake,' Perkins said, as they crossed to their car. 'I laid it on thick. Made everything sound ten times worse. We got on like a house on fire... '

'Yes, but what did he say about me?' she said. 'Not a lot,' Perkins said. 'We talked about literature most of the time: Welsh poetic metrics and the englyn. It was fascinating- '

'So, I'm at the end of my tether and you spend the whole time talking about bloody poetry. I might have guessed!' she said.

'You were mentioned,' Perkins said. 'Once or twice.'

'Be serious,' she said. 'You were in there an awful long time.' Perkins laughed and wrapped an arm around her: 'Of course we talked about you,' he said, '- a lot.'

'What did you tell him about me?' she said.

'Probably much the same as you told him,' Perkins said. 'That for the last four or five years you haven't been yourself. What did you tell him about me?'

'There you go again,' she said. 'Me! Me! Me! I'm the one who's ill. He said I should take more care of myself, stop worrying about other people and enjoy life. He said we should go on holiday.'

'We will,' Perkins said. 'All in good time... '

'He said soon.'

'It will be.'

The doors to Out Patients swung shut behind them. 'And another thing,' she said as they crossed to the car park. 'Who told you you could discuss my dreams with a complete stranger?'

'He asked me about them.'

'Yes, but why did you tell him anything?'

'Because I wasn't expecting him to call you back in,' Perkins admitted. 'Because I thought he'd be able to tell something from them. And you've got to admit that wave one's very unusual. He'd probably be writing that one up for some medical journal at this very moment if you hadn't denied all knowledge of it. Why the hell did you do that? I felt a complete idiot. You nearly blew everything.'

'Of course I remembered it,' she said, 'but my dreams are my business. I don't want everybody knowing about them.'

They got in the car and Perkins switched on the ignition. 'He was really interested in how that dream ended,' he said. 'How does it end, anyway? Do I save my father? Do I save myself?'

'You both drown,' she said. ' - sunk without trace.' Perkins eased his foot down on the accelerator and pulled out into the busy rush hour traffic. 'And what about you?'

'and I live happily ever after,' she said, ' - of course.'


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