Shopping for a Surgeon by Ally Malinenko

After he calls and tells you that it’s cancer
your brain immediately
takes over
smashing your heart
and all its terror
down to your toes.

What now, you ask.
Well you need a surgeon.
You want this doctor
to treat you because
he was the one who told you
and it feels like you have a connection

a thin gossamer web that will always connect
you because you’re 37 and you have cancer
and you’re standing at work
near the bathrooms
trying to breath

but he says no,
I’m not an oncologist
and you need an oncologist
a word that makes your stomach
turn or would if you hadn’t
already shoved your heart
down into your toes

so he gives you a name
but the nurse there
is dismissively
tells you that doctor hot shot
can’t see you for another month

and you start yelling into the phone
that goddmanit you’re 37 and you have cancer
and you need a doctor, okay
you need a fucking doctor
and she says she’ll see what she can do
and hangs up

and the next guy won’t take your insurance
sorry kid, good luck
and then the hot shot cancer center
the one with all the ads on the subway
the one that says
they’re doing it better
well goddamnit they won’t take your insurance either

and you think is this how this is done?
as you comb the website
and try to find a doctor
that hasn’t been sued
(too much)
and is nearby
and sounds reliable
or has a good face
because you know
from you parent’s experience
that you’ll be staring at it for a long time

and then a day passes
and you still don’t have a doctor
and you’ve got
cancer
and you’re 37
and you still don’t have a doctor

and then the phone rings
and it’s him again
and the sound of his voice is heaven
and he says he showed your pathology
report to a surgeon
and she said
it was early and small
and she felt confident
and you eat those words
early
and small
which taste like strawberries
and confident
which tastes the best of all
and he gives you her cell phone
number
and you call and leave a rambling
message
thanking her and thanking her
and thanking her for the appointment in
two days
which you realize
is the your tenth wedding anniversary
but who cares
because it’s done
now shopping for a surgeon is done
and you’ve moved forward
one little step into this future
and you haven’t collapsed
yet.


Ally Malinenko is the author of the poetry collection The Wanting Bone (Six Gallery Press) and the novel This Is Sarah (Bookfish Books). She lives in the part of Brooklyn the tour buses don't come to.