Eyemagedon: How I Became a Cyclops, Part II

Monday, June 3, 2013 | 1 Comment(s)

"Honey, I can't see out of my right eye.  Like, the world is a Monet painting, but blurrier.  When I say I don't want to drive at night it's because I see 4 headlights for every one car.  And.  It's really scary."

The majority of the times you hear the words "really scary" paired together, it will either be an adult exaggerating danger to a child, or a child interpreting her reality in a tone which changes r's to w's.  "It was weally scawy Momma!"

When one adult addresses a peer with this phrase, however, the tone is decidedly less tongue in cheek.  Adults are rarely scared.  Mostly because we have developed a vocabulary which allows us to call our fears different, less in-your-face, labels:  Insecure, depressed, anxious, nervous, panicked, intimidated . . .  To admit outright fear is not only the admission of something deeply vulnerable within us, but oftentimes it's accompanied by the feeling that we lack any matter of control over the situation.  Which we almost always do.

When I told my wife I was blind in my right eye, I was both vulnerable and helpless.  I felt relief in sharing the burden of my current handicap.  Being in darkness is difficult, being in the darkness alone is equal parts lonely and terrifying (two additional substitute synonyms for "scary").  It felt so good getting this crap off my chest, so I called my parents next.  Told them.  I finished off "going public" with an email to the rest of my family.  The message was "I've been keeping this all to myself, it's been unhealthy, I'm telling you all this now so that I can't keep it to myself even when I want to in the future."

For what it's worth, getting support from loved one's is only half the battle.  Allowing yourself to be supported is the other half.   Two different things.  Both difficult.

My wife took a personal day to come with me the doctor the following Monday. It is decisions like these that set the words 'I do' aglow in my heart, where they are inscribed.

The ocular surgeon's waiting room was large and decidedly like a hospital waiting room.  Faux-nice padded chairs in lines, with magazines set up at mathematically calculated distances.  Neat, efficient, cold.

The staff used a closed piece of frosted sliding glass to separate the nurses room from the waiting area. They didn't open that little window unless you full on knocked.  My wife, who politely took a phone call related to my health insurance out into the waiting room, was left hollering at the glass trying to get back to me, while being full on ignored by the woman directly opposite her.  I do not like frosted glass.

In the examining room, the first nurse I interacted with was also extremely matter-of-fact and wasn't really grooving with the nervous joke making I was throwing her way.  More eye charts.  Left eye could still see wonderfully.  Right eye, nada.  She then handed me a eye covering which looked like a flat plastic cooking spoon, except that it had tiny holes in the flat round part on the spoon end.  Through those holes I could magically read the letters on the bottom of the eye chart.  I COULD SEE!!!!

"Good," the nurse said, and carried on with her medical progression.

I waited a few beats and asked, "Um . . . if it's not too much trouble, do you mind telling me why I could see with that last eye covering."  This time I tried to inflect my voice to convey "how the hell are you not explaining to me what just happened.  I just saw out of my friggin blind eye.  TALK TO ME DAMMIT!!!"

She seemed to get the hint and realized the lack of consideration she was paying the other human in the room.   She explained that the holes in the patch work as a pseudo-cornea, focusing the light towards the back of my eye.  The fact that I could see with the patch meant that nothing besides my cornea was malfunctioning.  In other words, with a new cornea, I would be able to see again.  "That," she said, now deciding to editorialize, "is good news."

I am relieved to tell you that the surgeon himself and the nurse that worked with him were extremely personable.  All surgeons, in my experience, have a certainly "my shit don't stink" attitude.  Plastic surgeons extend this air of invulnerability into the absurd when uttering phrases such as this is the "cleanest procedure" or "the prettiest surgery" which attach positive adjectives to gruesome modifiers.   This haughtiness, I'm convinced, is necessary to their job.  When you spend your life cutting into other human beings, you had best believe in yourself, both to protect you emotionally from the reality of your profession and also to convey that self-assurance to your patients so that they let you do your job to them.

In the case of my surgeon, it seemed that considering the delicacy and vulnerability surround the eye as an organ, he had folded over his self-confidence into trying to make sure his patients are informed about what the hell is going on, as he prepares them for sharp objects to come exactly where you don't want them to go.

He looked at my eyeball.  He made the comparison of my cornea to a Dali painting.  He told me that he wished I hadn't gotten Lasik, as that procedure thins the cornea, which is part of the problem I'm having. I asked him if he didn't mind adding some hindsight lenses as long as he was in there.  He got the joke.

I asked questions, he answered them as best he could.  The takeaway message was that my other doctor, the one who had sent me here, was the cornea specialist. This doc, he was the "muscle."  He felt the procedure of sewing my lids together could only help my problems, and it was totally reversible, so we might as well do it right now.   Taking a deep breath, I agreed.

I was brought into the surgical room.  It appeared more like an extremely well sterilized dental-office room, replete with mechanical reclining chair, than the rooms you see doctors preforming heart surgeries in on TV.  I even got a bib.  '

"I'm gonna scrub down your face now, said the nurse, it will itch a bit, but after I put this stuff on, there is no more touching your eyes for the rest of the procedure."

She said this like I was currently rubbing away at myself when really I was arm-at-my-side focusing, already trying to meditate myself into a comatose trance that I would only later realize to be an absurd self-delusion.  This was not the type of procedure that allowed mental exit to one's happy place.  The scrub was iodine based and while it did leave a feeling of having your skin coated in a very thin layer of wax, it wasn't too irritating.

The chair was reclined.  I assumed the position as the surgeon came in the room.  This was happening, and it was happening now.  The doc wheeled his chair beside me.  I kept wondering when they would give me the happy pill.  Where was the assistant to administer the "amnesia causing drug" that I was sure would be part of this protocol.  I mean, if they drugged me out to stick a camera up my ass (colonoscopy), I had to assume at least the same courtesy for sticking needles in my eyelids.  Sure, said drug might prohibit me from writing up the details of the upcoming procedure, but I would take this literary hit without complaint.

It is fair to say that, considering the length of this post, said pill was never administered.  If they had comment cards in the lobby, mine would have read, "Thanks for your understanding and expertise during such a difficult time.  But seriously, you NEEDS to give me stronger drugs next time you bring that sharp ass shit near my eyeballs!"  I still lack a cogent explanation for why this never happened,

"Ok," said the doc, "it's important that you say completely still from now on."

"No shit Sherlock," I didn't respond.

What happened next gave me nightmares for the next 3 nights, so, please take that as a warning for what follows.

I did not know the order of operations for this eye surgery.  With the doctor wheeling his chair close, I felt a hot pinch in the corner of my right eye.  Instead of releasing, this pinch transitioned quickly into sharp pain that, in my meditating head, felt as if a scalpel was filleting open my upper eyelid like a piece of fish.  The pain was close to unbearable.  It was not so acute as to cause a full bodily system shutdown, as I was lucky enough to have already experienced back when I slipped a disk in my back (mercifully they knocked me out for that surgery).  It was more of a 'scream for your life' pain that you see tied-down prisoners on TV writhing around as a result of.

I pictured my bloody eye hanging open and, inside my mind, inside my meditation cave, I cried.  I had no words for what was happening, but my surgeon was not suffering from the same vocal paralysis.  He started chatting me up.  He started talking to me exactly like dentists do right after they fill your mouth with gauze, fluoride, and suction tubes.  I couldn't respond.  I couldn't even make sense of the situation, picturing my bloodied face being addressed as if I still looked human.

Then he said, "OK, that was the top lid, now we are going to anesthetize your bottom lid."  

My mental picture of myself changed.  They hadn't cut me open yet.  The experience up until this point had been the insertion of the Novocain needle, and the feeling that my lid was being filleted was, in reality, the excruciatingly ironic pain of my eyelid being numbed.

As the second needle entered my lower lid, and the doc continued to ask me questions that required full sentence answers, I managed to squeak out, "I'm concentrating."  I'm not sure if it was the weakness of the strand of voice that floated out of me or the embedded message regarding my immediate need for the doctor to shut the fuck up while making eye incisions, but he seemed to finally get the message his silence in this instance would be golden.  I'm pretty sure he 86'd the small talk.  However, I may have have just completely stopped listening.

Knowing that the hot poker entering my eye was not, in fact, a knife, provided some small measure of comfort.  This tiny bit of insight (ocular pun!) held forefront in my mind, my conceptualization of getting my bottom lid numbed was a bit different than its upstairs neighbor.  The needle was pushed along the entirety of the upper crease of my bottom lid like a shower rod through its curtain's rings.  Then, its tunnel forged, the needle was drawn back out the entrance of its newly made cave.

"That's the worst of it.  I promise," said the doctor, realizing that I was still somewhat rocking in the chair like a character out of Awakenings.  For the most part, he was telling the truth.  In a world where mental illness is considered less than more readily observable maladies, the worst was over.  My lids chocked gumdrop full with Novocaine, I wouldn't feel much psychical pain for here on out.  My brain, sadly, wasn't similarly spared.

Minutes later when they began sewing, and I watched the thread pulling away from my eye as if I were a pillow being embroidered, I didn't really have the option to feel nothing.  And though I was shielded from the pain of the experience, I could still feel the floss as it tugged its way through me.  I tried to detached myself from what was feeling increasingly traumatic, but I couldn't close my eye.  And looking away also wasn't an option.

Even without mind-comforting drugs, it is still difficult to chronicle the emotional sensation of eye surgery.  The best description I have come up with so far is thus:  Having someone cut into your eye feels extremely extremely personal.  Somehow your eyes, when manipulated in such an extreme manner, feel like proxies for your soul.  And when the surgery begins, it is as if an extremely sharp knife is resting directly on the unmarred surface of your heart.  You are not punctured, but every cell in your body capable of feeling has turned its ribosome eyes towards the potential energy of the precariously balanced blade.  Even the tiniest movement will surely nick a vital ventricle.  You may not be dying, but you have never been so acutely aware of the fragility of your mortality.

A moment later a streak of blood splattered across my decreasing field of vision as if it were a Dexter advertisement.  While my gut told me this was a normal part of eye surgery, every other instinctive piece of my mammal-hood went into temporary shock.  The sewing procedure continued, iteratively, closing my abused cornea behind my pincushion eyelids.  The world to my immediate right disappeared in a haze of helplessness.  I remained seated, mostly upright, my remaining eye glassy with a liquid which usually resides deep inside my heart, protecting my soul from the ruthless and unforgiving nature of a world which will doubt you relentlessly.  But now, soul temporarily punctured, it has come gushing to the surface, one last heartfelt protest before resigning itself to the insanity of its reality.

And then it was over.  I took a few minutes to recalibrate, but once back on my feet, it was a matter of minutes before my wife and I were at the car, preparing for the ride home.

My head was still spinning.  The pace of life felt as if it had lapped my ability to make sense of it.  I asked my wife if we could take a second to sit in the lawn adjacent the parking lot and just talk for a second.  I needed to tell her what had just happened, as if someone hearing my previously muted words  out-loud might somehow cauterize the helplessness I was currently drowning under.

Twenty yards later, I sat myself down among the lush green strands of the well-manicured lawn outside a Connecticut medical facility, and I cried blood for twenty minutes.  The vampiric streaks imprisoning the right side of my face in crimson bars.

On a day spent grappling for my own sanity, crying blood was the first moment that finally made sense.

Portrait of the Artist with One Eye Closed

1 comment:

  1. Yuck, Matt. I'm glad you are well on your way to full vision again!