Going Blind, Gaining Sight

“Mr. McGrane, you’re going blind in your right eye.  If we don’t operate immediately, you’re going to lose the eye completely.”

This is not what I expected to hear from my eye doctor.  I came there complaining of sties; he told me I was going blind.

The last time I got news that bad was over 30 years ago, when a physician told me that my new-born daughter was so ill that she probably would not last the night.  All I could do then was sit there and sigh deeply, speechless.  I did the same in the retina specialist’s office.

Odd, silly thoughts came to mind: “I have a school rally for my grandchildren to attend…I’m getting ordained in 90 days…I have a committee meeting at church next week…how could I be going into surgery now?,” as if they all were more important than my sight.

The issue was a tear in my retina, and it was pulling the entire retina away from the back of my eyeball as the viscous fluid of the eye percolated into the gap, rendering me blind.  The doctor sat there on his stool, hands on knees, as I sat behind a phalanx of eye examination equipment.  Finally, from the corner of the examination room, C spoke up: “Kevin, you have to do this.”

“Yes,” I said, “of course.”

His surgery unit was at the end of the hall, the deed must be done now before it gets any worse, and he was giving me 20 minutes to make some phone calls while the unit was prepped.  In minutes, I was being tilted backwards in a large chair that looked like a dentist’s chair as a nurse poured an anesthetic wash into my right eye.  They fixed what looked like a large o-ring on the inside of my eyelid to keep it open during surgery, and they went to work.

The surgeon entered the sides of my eyeball with a pair of needles as he peered into the interior of my eye through the pupil with a microscope contraption strapped to his head.  The procedure pulled the tear closed with one needle as the tear was cauterized shut with the other needle, which is connected to a device that brings its temperature down to near-zero.  In essence, the tear is frozen shut.

The anesthesia only works so well, and I could feel much of what was going on.  But what was worse, I was not unconscious – I was fully awake and forced to watch every second of the procedure going on inside my eye.  I found it horrific.

Once the tear was sealed, a small bubble of gas was pumped into my eye to act as a compress splint.   I was to lie on my left side for the bubble to float up to the right side of my eyeball where the repair was done, gently pressing up against the seal.  “You’re going to be on your left side for three weeks,” he said.  “You can only get up for five minutes every four hours for the first seven days.”

“How long will this recovery last?”  I asked.

“It could be as long as 30 days…” he replied.

C and I got home and I wedged myself into the sofa on my left side, dutifully staying that way for a week.  It left me with much time to think, as my right eye was swollen shut, and looking at the world through one eye was unpleasant.  So, I kept both shut most of the time and listened to the radio or to the voices in my head.

The voices confirmed my fear of going blind.  I remember once discussing with some friends which of the five sense we would never want to lose, and I chose sight.  Never to read a book again, see a sunset, a beautiful painting, my children’s smiles…I would gladly give up listening to Brahms, or tasting a new cuisine, or smelling a flower, before losing the ability to look into the face of my lovely C.

On Day 3, I hazarded an attempt to open my eye and it would not open: it was fused shut by dried blood on the eyelids.  After soaking it with warm, wet washcloths, I was able to pry it open gently with my fingers.  What I saw was a swirl of black dots in my vision, like a snow globe of black snow, and a large bubble that covered half of my peripheral sight.  The doctor told me to expect both, as they are from the effects of the surgery: the bubble is the splint, and the dots are droplets of blood.  Both will disappear over the next month.  Looking beyond the black dots and the bubble, though, I could see the rest of the world quite well.  The surgery was a success.

After a week of lying on my side, I hobbled back to the surgeon for a checkup.  I felt more in need of a chiropractor than an eye doctor after seven days on the couch.  He peered into my eye, declared that it was coming along nicely, then announced, “And now it’s time for the laser follow-up.”

“Pardon me?”

Apparently, he forgot to tell me that the second part of the treatment is to circle the repair with a laser treatment to secure the area.  He promised it was not nearly as unpleasant as the first session.  Well, it wasn’t as bad as the first session, but it wasn’t pleasant at all – I felt like he was microwaving my eye from the inside out.  Then it was back on the couch for another week, but now I could get up one hour for every three.

I was not fully functional for five weeks.  The kaleidoscope of black dots disappeared, but the bubble took longer and swam around in my eye like a pollywog for a month.  My eye is now quite serviceable, yet I have two semi-transparent “floaters” that have taken up permanent residence in my right eye.  They rest quietly there when I read or sit, but spin around a bit when I’m active.  They are my constant companions now, and I take them with me wherever I go; a small price to pay for serviceable sight.

It is frightening to realize that I was in serious jeopardy of losing my eye, and I had much time on my hands during convalescence to mull over what life would be like with only one eye, or even no eyes.  What would I do?  How independent could I be, living at Windy Hill?  Or rather, how much of a burden would I be to my C and other members of my family?  It was frightening and depressing.  Yet it was only a taste of what it must be like for others who realize they are going blind, that a normal life of independence was about the change forever.  I still have difficulty bringing myself to think about it, yet they have to live it.

And that possibility is still there.  My surgeon told me that with this one incident, my chances of it occurring again are higher than the medical average.  I am to be vigilant of any of the symptoms, and have him on speed-dial for an emergency call if they pop up.  It’s like a ghost that haunts me.  Perhaps that is a good thing, in a way, for I have a tendency to bury the hard lessons I have learned and forget them, forgetting the empathy and compassion I should have for others in similar straits.  Perhaps ghosts are not such evil things after all, if they can help make us better living souls.

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