Tuesday, December 28, 2010

My Right Eye 4: Gravity is Not Your Friend


Any further description of recovery from laser -- trying (and not succeeding very well) to stay face down, doing a pretty remarkable amount of sleeping -- has become moot now. Ned and I came into the city for Christmas, got a happy little tree from a British vendor on 6th Ave, and Paul and I wrapped it in blue lights. Christmas night we were walking out to go to dinner at one of the comfortable but vaguely naff gay restaurants on 8th when my right field of vision half-filled with a darkish, greenish spot, an undulant bit of blood or jelly roiling on the bottom half of my vision. It didn't go away over dinner. I knew what it was, and left the restaurant while Paul waited for the check, and took myself in a cab to the ER. The usual drill: one resident peering into my eye, and when she or he saw what was going on, calling the next level of resident, who'd appear in a while, some holiday event or nap disrupted, peer into my eye, and then begin the cycle again. The people at the hospital were kind, and when I was afraid a lovely Asian-American man who was running the front desk actually held my hand.

Over the course of the next five hours or so we determined that my retina was again detached, and -- truly weird -- the little bubble of gas in there had actually slipped through the tear and was now behind my retina, sliding around, Surgery was called for, and it would probably be Monday. Till then, face down. Gravity, one doctor said to me, is not your friend.

I was home and in bed by two in the morning, and woke to snow, and then the snow just simply kept going, the marvelous blizzard of Boxing Day. Marvelous if you were inside looking at it. Outside, buses and trucks stuck and blocking the streets, people actually stuck in cars they couldn't get out of all night, and -- horrors -- an A train full of passengers stuck out in Queens, people in there all night without food or water or a bathroom. Nightmare material. But it was deep, beautiful snow, and the city took on that extraordinary quiet which always reminds you that you aren't aware just how constantly and alarmingly loud it is here until that rare silence comes again.

Which meant that when I arrived at NYU Hospital on Monday morning, no one was there, except the very gracious Dr. Hoang,
waiting for me in the lobby to tell me to come back tomorrow, bless his considerate heart.


Today I did go back, and met Dr. Reddy, who'll be my surgeon. He peered deep into my eye in what are now the familiar ways
(look all the way up, up and left, left, left and down...), held my eyelid down with the pressure of a slim wooden rod while he peered some more. Then he declared that my retina was indeed thoroughly detached, and surgery would take place, but not today. The OR was backed up from the storm, and some of Dr Reddy's team hadn't returned yet from the holidays, and he'd need them all on hand because it was going to be complicated surgery, maybe a long one, maybe more than one. Probably a scleral buckle, a belt of silicone wrapped around the outside of my eyeball to hold the retina in place. Maybe oil inside the eyeball. Strange to think that the vitreous jelly I was born with will no longer be there; apparently it doesn't really do all that much now save pose the possibiity of further retinal detachment. My eye will be full of some other fluid.

Somehow I feel oddly relieved. I'll go back to the hospital later in the week, when they call me, and whatever will happen will.
I'll have less sight in my right eye, but I'll have sight, which I cannot imagine living without, though I know people do. I understand intellectually that we have a phenomenal capacity to tolerate all sorts of losses, but oh I do wish to be spared that one. I will emerge from surgery with a bloody and swollen eye, and a scary (but I imagine sexy) black eye patch, and I'll begin the enforced stillness of recovery,, which sounds, in Dr Reddy's description, not quite as Gothic as I have understood it to be.

If I close my left eye and look through the right, what I see is greasy darkness, through which a few bright spots -- a lamp say -- gleam, I think this must be like what my friend Steven Kuusisto sees; in his book PLANET OF THE BLIND he describes taking a walk with his guide dog through Grand Central, where neither of them had been, and actually enjoying the adventure of getting lost in there. I love that attitude. When Steve came to Houston to read for us there, he wanted to go work out on a treadmill, and we didn't have much time, so we went to the nearest place: the gym connected to the gay bathhouse on the edge of downtown. Steve is straight, so it was another adventure for him; he couldn't see what was going on on the porn screens, and if some guy cruised him in the locker room, he wouldn't be the least bit bothered, He ran happily on the racing conveyor belt of the machine while his dog slept on the rubbery gym floor. I believe she was the first service dog ever to visit the baths!


Ned is being taken to the dog run in Union Square every day by two utterly charming boys from Barcelona, Rob and Geary. They aren't boys, really, but there is something so playful and a bit rogue-ish in their demeanor that we immediately started to refer to them that way. They have beautiful Catalan accents, and Rob has a bright blue mohawk that is sometimes spiked up but mostly not. The first day Ned was a little uncertain; the second day he was thrilled to see them, and today when they appeared -- unexpectedly for him, for a second walk -- he cried aloud in a way he only does when he is so excited about something he can't contain himself. It's clear that he has a crush on them, that he's extra well-behaved when they're around, and that the affection is mutual. Paul and I were just coming home from lunch today, after my return from the hospital, when we saw Geary leading Ned out of the front door of our building. We held back so as not to disturb, and watched; Ned's tail was wagging broadly when they came out the door, and he went prancing down 16th St toward the park with a kind of carriage that could only be expressing delight.


One bright note: my retina's so screwed up that now I have no restrictions, these next few days, Well, I am told to take it easy -- but I can hold my head up, something I've not been allowed to do for a month. My neck has forgotten what this feels like. I took Ned for a one-eyed walk on Seventh Avenue this evening, and we had a happy time losing two tiny squeaking tennis balls in snowdrifts. I am about to walk out to Marshall's and prepare for my convalescence by buying some new underwear, and maybe some flannel pajamas.


Janet Isserlis said...

thinking of you, thinking healing thoughts.
all best

Pascale Petit said...

Really sorry to hear about these trials you are having with your eye. I do hope the surgery goes well and things go a lot better soon.



Sera Rivers said...

It seems your spirits are rising. I like this post a lot... seems whimsical. Perhaps it's the feel of holidays in the air. Good luck with your big surgery.

Elisabeth said...

What a devastating time for you. i think of Milton's On His blindness, a poem I learned by heart as a school girl and the fear I have carried with me ever since, the fear that one day I too might lose my sight. My grandfather went bind in his late seventies. I have a blind uncle and another whose blindness is on the way. Macular degeneration is hereditary as I understand.
A detached retina sounds so fearsome, and all this cruel bodily contortion in the name of prevention sounds almost unthinkable. I could not imagine keeping my face down for so long.

Good luck with the surgery.

galincal said...

Holy Crap! What a lot of ingenuity you will benefit from. If you have to suffer a detached retina, aren't you at least glad that you have modern medicine at your service?

Have you heard of the new book by Oliver Sacks..."The Mind's Eye"? Might be a timely read, or listen.

I'm sorry you have to go through this but I admire your dignity. The word verification below is "beleve"...so I will "beleve" that it will all go well and you will have an easy and complete recovery. You clearly have thousands of people rooting for you, and all that energy has to count for something.



The Plush Gourmet said...

Hi. Your attitude and the way you are walking through this adventure totally delight me. We would be good friends, I think. Please do keep writing and sharing as the Retina Repair Excursion continues. Reading your blog makes me wish that I had had the ability to voice my Adventures in Spinal Neurosurgery over the last 22 years. Blogging seems so much healthier than pitching walkers at therapists and swearing at mirrors :)

Katherine C. James said...

Beautiful writing.

I follow Paul on Twitter, and learned about your eye through him. Paul posted a link to your blog today, and that's how I came to read what you wrote here.

It is a terrible, vulnerable feeling to have one's eyesight affected. This last year I faced the weird eye alterations—in my case flashing lights and black spots—that indicated a vulnerability to a detached retina. I was instructed to hold my head still and upright for two weeks, and was spared the detachment. My only aftereffect is some blurring in my eye. My eye doctor at Stanford, who is also a surgeon, told me during my follow-up exam that, as with our appendix, our vitreous is vestigial. A perplexing fact given its tendency, just as with the appendix, toward significant malfunction.

On Paul's blog you noted that if you were a wife, you and Paul would get more support from certain quarters. I agree with you, and hope that will continue to change. It is long past time.

I wish you well with your surgery.