Head down, face parallel to the ground: the position of dejection. Something happens, when the body's put in a particular postion, as every practitioner of yoga knows; the pose begins to shape how you feel. Try it, right now; turn your face down toward your lap or the surface of the table in front of you, and stay there for maybe thirty seconds. Feel it, something beginning to tug your spirits down? Pose of penitence, of shame.
However, I have some wonderful blind readers who've taught me that, when you don't need to look at the person who's speaking, it's often the most natural position to keep your head face down. That way you're looking at the matter at hand, at the conversation between you. I like this idea better, but the first one is the one that won't leave me alone.
Two days later, my new friend Mike drives me to the clinic. He's an actor, and he's playing Albany in an e-book version of Lear, where readers will be able to click back and forth between the text and the scene in action. He's brought the script along, and he sits reading in the waiting room while I'm lead into side chambers, dilated, peered into. How far down into one can they see, when the pupils are open and one of those searing lights comes blaring in? I'm thinking about the blinding of Gloucester, and all the references to seeing in the play; to see is to discern, to comprehend, to judge, to find a way forward, to recognize one's mistakes, to become aware of possibility, to find a solution to a problem. We mean a host of things when we say, "I see."
Laser, I've always heard, doesn't hurt. Dr. Federici, my dapper and reassuringly at ease opthamologist, says that some people experience it as a toothache in the eye, which doesn't help me to imagine anything except that I'm not going to like it. Some, he says, don't feel a thing. At first simply a blip of green light -- shades of Gatsby! -- a green light that feels softly focused and then seems to land, strangely enough, on the back of my eyeball, and with each suceeding little green burst that landing feels more and more like a punch.
But the small blows, it turns out, are not landing on my retina, but on the blood clouding the back of my eye, which drifts across my vision in an unpleasant grayish scrim. Much as Dr. Federici tries, nothing is accomplished, and we drive back home, where I have two more days, head down, to wait.
There isn't a lot you can do with your head down. I am assured that if I had full-tilt surgery, in the OR, I'd have to remain face down for six to eight weeks, which I am pretty certain would be the end of any claim to sanity on my part. It gives me some comfort to know my penitential spell is shorter, but it's possible I may have to undergo that kind of surgery if the laser doesn't work, so that doesn't help much. You can't really go for a walk with a seven month old golden retriever, or safely drive a car, or shop for groceries. Hard to have a conversation without at least raising my head sometimes. I imagine some kind of state wherein I'd arrive at a meditative calm in response to imposed restriction -- but that's a dim prospect out there somewhere, one that feels like someone else's life.
Back to the doctor. This time my eye's far more clear, so the pummeling little beam hits its target. Four hundred and forty... what, units, shots, bullets? of green light seal the tear in the back of my eye and then ring it three times. Dr. Federici says the combination of the laser and the bubble will, this time, wipe me out and he's right; my eye aches, I want to sleep endlesslessly, and I don't have to come back for a week. In the meantime, face down. But there's hope in the sealing of the rupture; maybe the end is -- sorry -- in sight.
The equipment I've rented online arrives, in a big box, a bewildering bunch of green vinyl pads redolent of an old weight room at the Y, and a lot of black pipes and knobs to turn. I'm really glad Mike can put it together, though when it's assembled the results seem truly disappointing. There's a horseshoe shaped contraption to sleep on, face down, which frames your face the way a hole in a massage table would, but when you lie on it the smell of the vinyl and the previous pentitents who've rested there overwhelms. Well, not an odor exactly, more like an aura, individual weeks of discomfort and defeat, multiplied.
The more elaborate contraption sits on the edge of the table, and two pipes with adjustable knobs support another face-rest. This allows you to sit at the table, lean way over, rest your head on a padded platform parallel to the surface, and stare at -- what else -- a piece of green vinyl between three and six inches from your head. It's awful. I think about Temple Grandin and those devices she made to help cattle feel more at ease on their way to slaughter. I wish that the manufacturer of these items would consult with her; there must be a more cheerful way to be face down, something that doesn't make one feel worse.
(more to come -- apologies, but I'm only able to do a part of this at a time)