“Simple Medicine” by Aaron Maltz

No one seems to believe me but I know there’s cancer in my foot. I’ve been to five doctors now and they all seem to think I’m batshit crazy. They don’t say that outright but I can see it. They’ve drawn blood and taken x-rays and talked to me at length about their conclusions but I can see the hate they hold for me. It’s in their eyes. There’s a deadening in there that looks past me and I know they aren’t giving me the kind of treatment I deserve. They’re thinking about their fancy car or their sexy secretary, who also holds me in contempt every time I call on the phone. I can hear a distance in her voice.

My foot aches and I decide to take action. I’m no longer interested in what someone with a piece of paper tells me is true or not true. I know what’s going on with my body and won’t allow some pansy-ass rich kid tell me what’s right and wrong. So I put an ad out on the internet. On Craigslist. I tried to be as straightforward as possible. Here it is:

Looking for immediate medical attention. I have cancer but no doctor will treat me. I need someone without bias to give me the correct assessment. Will pay generously.

So far I’ve received fifteen pictures of penises and three from Africans asking for a money transfer. I don’t trust Africans.

I received a response today from a man named Charles. He sent a picture. He looks trusting. He has a receding hairline and a slightly chubby face. He’s clean shaven and has glasses. He reminds me of someone but I don’t know who. I trusted that person. I’ve decided to reply and seek his opinion.

The doctor showed up today and he’s everything I’ve been waiting for. Even though his name is Charles, he asks me to call him Dr. Manette. That’s his professional name. I like it. It sounds dignified. English. He spent an hour examining my foot and agrees that there’s cancer inside. He can feel it in his hands. His medical opinion is that if we cut off the foot, the cancer will cease to spread throughout my body. I like that word. Cease. It puts an end to my worries. I agree that the foot has to go. I don’t go on too many walks along the beach anyhow.

For the sake of recovery, he has decided to set up an office in my home. He says it’s best for my rehabilitation after the surgery. I agree. I don’t want to be stuck in some sterile room paying ten-thousand dollars a day while some college student checks in on me every hour. He has agreed to a fee of five-hundred dollars for the whole procedure. This sounds reasonable. I have more than enough stashed in a coffee tin buried out back. The surgery is set for tomorrow as he agrees that we need to stop the cancer as soon as possible.

This morning, Dr. Manette has brought over a new bed, a vital monitor, and a bunch of IV tubes. He says that he doesn’t agree with modern science but that these tools are the bare minimum to ensure my safety for the operation. I agree. I’ve seen plenty of shows that use these same machines. I ask him if he has those paddles that can start someone’s heart if it stops and he says that he can bring those over as well. I’m overwhelmed that I’ve finally met a doctor who listens to my needs and believes that I have a right to live as much as some rich Wall Street type. His eyes don’t look past me but instead right into my soul. I don’t think he’s Jesus but I believe that he is spiritual. He’s agreed to stay at my house through my recovery.

I don’t think I’m going to miss my foot. I’ve known for the longest time that it’s killing me and I’ve come to see it as an enemy of sorts. I don’t know why it decided to start there but I have no other recourse than believing it’s been cursed by an outside source. Dr. Manette has asked me several times if I’d like to go on a walk or take a picture of the foot before the surgery but to be honest I’m ready for both it and the cancer to be gone. I don’t want to spend one more day on Earth with that diseased appendage attached to my body.

I’m lying on my new bed in the living room and we’re discussing the need for anesthesia. I don’t believe in taking drugs but Dr. Manette has convinced me it’s for the best in this situation. He says that he can localize the drugs and numb my leg but that the procedure will last two hours. He has found that it’s often harder for patients to lie still for that long knowing that they’re going through a procedure than to just be asleep the whole time. I’m conflicted until he lets me know that we can put off the operation until I’m sure of what to do. That lets me know that he’s concerned for my well-being, so I ask him his honest opinion and opt for the full anesthesia. The full knock-out. I don’t want to know what’s happening to my body until the next time I open my eyes.

The next time I open my eyes I’ve just been roused from a dream involving my son. I’m looking around and am not sure where I am when I see Dr. Manette and wonder for a moment if he is my son. But then I remember that my son is in Vermont and I haven’t spoken to him in twelve years. Dr. Manette is wearing blue scrubs that have some blood on them and he is seated next to me while looking at my vitals. He looks in my direction and smiles underneath his surgical mask. I’m at once relieved that the cancer is gone but too nauseous to take a look. I find myself falling back into a dream involving a boat and a playground.

It’s been three days since my surgery and I’m proud to announce that I no longer have cancer. Granted, there’s a stump where my left foot used to be but the doctor has announced to me that I’m free of the disease. He’s back to wearing civilian clothes and I’m still lying in my bed in the living room. I’m surrounded by pictures of my late husband who I know would approve of my proactive response to this condition. He always accused me of being too soft during his time on Earth. I lie back knowing that I’ve made the right decision. I’m dying for lasagna but the doctor has assured me that I need to avoid such foods for at least a few more days. We wouldn’t want to upset my stomach.

On the fifth morning after my surgery, I awake with the knowledge that the cancer has not left my body. I thought it was only in my foot but it has managed to travel into my right bicep. I know it’s there. I can feel a foreign entity almost talking to me through my skin. Some would call this a form of paranoia but I know better. I’m in touch with my body and I know that that’s where the cancer is now hiding. I explain my concerns to Dr. Manette and he has agreed to take a look.

Dr. Manette agrees that the cancer is now in my right bicep. He is very sad to say that we need to take off the right arm in order to halt the spread of the disease. I’ve only begun to process that I’ve lost my left foot but since I’m not walking yet, it’s not much of a reality. But losing my right arm is going to take some getting used to. That’s my writing arm and my predominant feeding arm. I’ll have to relearn many skills but the last thing I want is cancer running rampant through my body. I agree that we should take the arm off as soon as possible to put an end to this distressing enemy.

The doctor and I have begun to have an almost unspoken understanding of one-another. I believe that he can sense what I’m feeling before I’ve spoken. He promises me the best lasagna possible once I’m able to keep down such dense foods but in the meantime I continue to live mostly off of what is in my IV drip. No chemicals, he stresses. Just sugar and water. I can tell that I’ve lost weight, something I’ve needed to do for quite some time. We agree to take off the right arm in the morning.

I haven’t asked for anesthesia but I know that it’s been administered by my dreams. They take on a more profound state. It’s almost like I’m experiencing parts of my past that I haven’t remembered for some time. I’m there with my husband and son and we’re doing mundane tasks, like shopping for groceries or waiting in line. The dreams are no longer absurd but rather memories that I haven’t revisited. I’m grateful for the doctor for providing me with such solace in these troubling times.

When I come to, I have the premonition that I’m being saved. I instinctively use my right hand to scratch an itch but realize that I no longer have a right hand to do so with. I make to do so with my left but find that isn’t working either. The doctor is by my side, letting me know that there’s been a complication. The cancer, it seems, was in my left bicep as well. I’m grateful that he was able to distinguish so in my time of need. It seems that this cancer is more aggressive than thought and we need to be as proactive as possible with such a combative opponent. I fall back into a daze knowing that I’m in such good hands.

It’s now been almost two weeks and I awake to an ambiguous time with the scent of glorious food everywhere. It’s no longer lasagna but cheeseburgers and pizza and fried chicken. I believe that it’s all awaiting me in the next room but Dr. Manette stresses that it’s not in my best interests to consume such fats at this time. Medicine is so complicated. I lie back and ruminate on all the mistakes I would make were it not for the angel who decided to champion my cause. I believe I’ve finally met the man who is able to rid my body of the invasive devils of existence. But I’ve come to understand that the devil cannot be sated by so much as simple medicine. I nod off wondering what other tricks can be up his sleeve.

My dreams this time are of being dragged and tugged in a dark room. It feels like I’m in the jaws of an animal while my body lies prostrate, unable to defend myself against the enemy that devours. My organs feel as if they are being removed through a lower orifice and that I try to scream out against the injustice but find that my throat is missing.

When I tell the doctor in the morning about my dreams, he nods as if already expecting this type of response. This is very normal, he says with a knowing nod. But remember that what we’re up against is an enemy like none we’ve seen before. He’s right. The cancer in my body has taken on the form of a giant shark. We remove it from one area but in doing so have left another appendage vulnerable. I truly don’t know how I would survive such an ordeal had I not met Charles.

He has asked me about my will this morning. Nothing morbid, he stresses, but it is something to consider. He reminds me so much of my dear William. Always thinking five steps ahead. I’m often too wrapped up in my emotions to consider such details but I’m grateful that someone is looking out for my best interests. I weigh the thought and realize that I have no one to leave my estate to in such a situation. No worries, he adds. I have a lawyer who can handle such matters with the mildest of concerns. I’m not quite ready to introduce a new character into my story but do so with the reassuring smile of the doctor.

I’m awoken to a new member of the team beside me. A Mr. Hiss, he introduces himself as. He wants to shake my hand but refrains given the fact that I have no arms. He asks me many questions I am unprepared to answer and I look to Dr. Manette to do so in my inability. He smiles a wry smile, one that I construe as somewhat flirtatious, before asking me what I would like to do. I have no immediate family nor friends. The whole operation seems somewhat silly to me. Clearly, there is only one person at the moment I would like to trust with my entire life. and he stands before me. I state as much before the doctor and lawyer look at one-another. Mr. Hiss asks if I’m sure and I take offense to such doubting of my character. I’ve never liked lawyers and he is no exception. Granted, he is not wearing a fancy suit with slicked back hair but I distrust him nonetheless. Behind that smile is knowledge waiting to be unleashed for personal gain. I instruct him that despite his Jewish demeanor, I’m willing to entrust him with the power to leave all my personal belongings to Dr. Manette and there will be no more discussion on the matter. He has papers that need a signature and I instruct him that Dr. Manette can sign on my behalf. Afterward, I fall back into a dream involving pruning flowers. They all seem to have an opinion on my decision making but I snip them at the base before they have time to spew slander.

I awake on what must be my twentieth morning and am convinced the cancer has spread to every part of my body. I feel worn down to the nub. My bones ache with a convincing growl and my eyes are unable to comprehend what lie before them. I can feel Dr. Manette’s touching grace by my side, informing me that the cancer has spread to damn near every part of my body. Oh Christ in Heaven, what am I to do? How can one woman endure so much pain over a lifetime? Not to worry, he informs me. He has a plan that he is certain will alleviate all the suffering I’ve endured. I’m nearly brought to tears at this thought, and then I find myself actually crying, something I haven’t done in some time. I find myself crying out for my husband and son and my mother and father, along with all the injustices of the world. I want nothing more than to wipe these tears away but lack the arms to do so. Dr. Manette has stepped in with a rag wiping away the residue. Now, now, he says tenderly. There’s no need to cry. We should be celebrating such a triumph! We are in the midst of curing cancer! he proclaims. I ruminate on this and come to the conclusion that he’s correct. Finally, after so many years of struggling with doctors and family and friends, someone has decided to hear me out and respect my beliefs. What I’ve always known to be true has finally come to fruition and I have only to thank the kind people at Craigslist and Dr. Manette for championing my cause. I’m still on the fence about Mr. Hiss but I trust that any friend of Dr. Manette is a friend of mine. I lie back for a moment and then ask for his proposal.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, prepare yourself for the future. We all know that the body is mortal and weak against such formidable foes as cancer but my angel, Dr. Manette, has proposed what I believe to be the most breathtaking step in medical history. The body is an enemy, this much we know is true, but the brain is our saving grace. I know who I am and I have no wish to flush that down into oblivion. I know too much to be silenced by a simple disease so today I’m undertaking a complete removal of my identity from my failing body. We are going to remove my brain and keep it alive in a jar. Dr. Manette assures me that I will retain my complete sense of self without the confines of a body riddled with cancer. I am beyond overjoyed at this prospect. I cannot tell you how happy I am to finally be rid of this bag of problems while maintaining my true person. I agree at once that we should begin the procedure as soon as possible. He gives me that wry smile again, the one that tells me I’m making the right decision, and says that we can get started first thing in the morning.

My dreams are once again fraught with demons pulling me in every direction. They’ve all convened at once to convince me that my decision making is incorrect. I find myself in court amongst a jury of flowers and sharks and doctors, all hurdling insults and slander in my direction. They’re all telling me that I’m stupid for reaching such conclusions without the presence of my husband but I can see through their reasoning like serpents with apples. William would want nothing more than for me to make my own decisions and I tell them such. I tell them with such a fury that a storm develops in that courtroom and begins to blow away those forces. The hair of the sharks and doctors and lawyers all begin to sway before the back wall of the room is blown down and I’ve created a tornado and they’re all swirling in it one-by-one and William is off to the side laughing his head off and the pandemonium I’ve created. It’s grey outside of the storm and I feel the barometric pressure crashing upon me until the clouds are on top of me, forcing me to sink to my knees in submission and I’m crying out for my Lord to save me from such an assault. My nose is in rich earth being pressed upon by the Lord when he asks me if I trust and believe in him with all my might and I find myself fighting against this pressure screaming YES YES I DO and pushing back against my head and suddenly the storm has descending upon my being and I’m swept up in the tornado and I can feel my limbs disappearing one-by-one and instead of being frightened I’m free to live and feel and explode from my inner self all the thoughts I’ve had but never communicated and I’ve overcome by a sense of peace from this liberation of limb!

When I come to it’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I sense that I’m awake yet I no longer have eyes. I can hear footsteps in my living room yet no longer have ears. I know that the light on the back porch has blown despite being reduced to nothing more than a glass jar. Dr. Manette is talking to me and I swear I can smell cheap whiskey. Was that there before? He touches the side of the jar where my brain resides and I can feel his thoughts. Even now, he’s able to communicate to me without speaking. I’m not sure I’ve ever met a more blessed man than he. Even more so than my husband, who lacked the power to understand just what I wanted when I wanted it. Now, I’m finally at peace. I can float as my person inside of my jar safe from society’s ills. I no longer have to endure commercial breaks or presidential debates or fluoride in the water. All those worries are finally gone and have been replaced with a lightness that I can only describe as divine. I believe that this is what the Buddhists refer to as enlightenment. For the first time in my life, I find myself worrying about nothing and bask in the pleasure of my own thoughts, free from distraction and from wickedness. I believe that I have truly found God.

I come to several mornings later and have the harrowing suspicion that the cancer is now in my brain. I can feel it buried in the left hemisphere. They say that the left brain is the artistic side and now I’m wondering if it’s that part of my personality that has caused the cancer. I try to scream for help but no one can hear me. I try to shake myself against the glass but find that I cannot move. The cancer has finally won. The disease has taken hold and I believe that I’m not long for this world. Should be any day now. I can still feel Dr. Manette’s presence but find that our relationship has become less intimate than before. I no longer feel that he reads my thoughts and holds me in his best interest. I can sense many more people now in my space. They are removing my belongings and pawning them on the streets for cheap drugs and illicit sexual encounters. They are letting in illegal immigrants who are out to steal my money buried out back in my coffee tin and selling organs on the black market. Oh please Dr. Manette, please tell me this isn’t true. Please tell me that these are the ramblings of an old woman who has endured so much pain in life that she can’t see right from wrong. Please console me in this time of need. I don’t have much longer before my thoughts cease to be and all I ask for is a little company before the lights flicker. Are you out there Dr. Manette? Can you hear me? Is anyone listening?



Aaron lives in Portland, OR, where he’s in pursuit of becoming a professional farmer and writer. He currently farms for Our Table, located in Sherwood, OR. He’s also a lifelong metalhead and writes for the metal website, Invisible Oranges.


Featured image on this post © Bennett North. Author photo © the author.