Wednesday, December 29, 2010

No City I Know

Because I'm allowed to hold my head up again, I've been out walking and errand-running while I wait for my eye surgery to be scheduled. I have learned how hard it is to do some things with one eye: walk down a broken escalator, put money in your wallet, swipe a debit card in the slot on the little machine. I walked up to the Whole Body store on 25th St to buy vitamins, and because I couldn't see to fit my card into the slot the cashier became quite solicitous. She had to key in my account number twice, and when I offered to give her another card she demurred. She didn't want anything to be more difficult for me. I was both grateful to her and about to cry; I'd never quite so clearly been seen as disabled. Then I went into Whole Foods to buy something for dinner; the store was busy, i was trying to walk forward, be aware of where my handheld green plastic basket was so I didn't whack anybody, and thread my way through the people and the carts, and suddenly I just wasn't sure I could handle it. I had to stop behind a column and just breathe next to the no-sulfites bacon till the feeling passed. Then, determined not to be defeated, I shopped.

Walking home on Seventh, I stopped and covered my left eye, so I could look at Manhattan through my right. What I saw was a murky gray city, tinged pink with my blood, and the dark shapes of figures moving toward and away from me; the one bright spot was a beautiful ripple of reddish neon, saying what I couldn't tell you. It was apocalyptic and like no city I know, and I thought, This is the adventure my soul is having.

Then I had to jump over one of those big slushy puddles that are the ice-cold perils of city intersections when the snow starts to melt, and just as I came down on the other side a taxi six feet away honked at me and scared me half to death, and I was filled with rage. The furious don't think about the spirit at all.

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.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My Right Eye 3


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)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

My Right Eye 2


Some experiences are so particular -- sui generis, unlike any other you've known -- that the memory of them is hard to hold onto. Already my first treatment seems like an hallucination: my right eyeball numbed, the prod of a stylus marking a spot on the lower right hand corner -- no pain, just the odd feeling of a bit of pressure on the eye, the surface bouncing back as the point is removed. Then I'm told to look way up to the right, so as not to see the needle approach. What sounds more horrific than a needle in the eye? Though in fact it doesn't hurt at all, just a curious sensation of having been punctured or entered, and then -- seemingly in seconds, a bit of the vitreous gel from within my eye's extracted to lower the pressure, and -- swoosh, though of course there isn't and sound -- a bubble of gas is injected in its place.

There are cloths covering my face, only the right eye open to the right open to the various lights that are coming and going, and with the advent of the bubble follows the most extraordinary lightshow: the bubble, refracting light, goes flying up to the top of my eye, pushing back dark floaters and bits of stray gelatinous matter, all that darkish flotsam receding, and suddenly the view goes simply blank, all white, as though I'm looking at the screen of a crashed computer. Then, as though that train of thought has generated the visuals that come next, appear little squares of color -- hot pink, black, chartreuse, gray, flicking on and off, rearranging patterns, like some kind of animated composition illustrating, what, jazz? It's pleasurable, this show, and then it's gone, and in its place a bright sky half blue and half golden yellow, bits of weather moving through, and it fades to the dark bulk of the opthamologist's head, and the miner's lamp on his forehead.

Bend over, he says, put your face between your legs. And I do. In a while there's a resident on his back, on the floor, looking up into my open eye, and ah-ing, and then there's another. They are so pleased and proud of their work! My eye is indeed far more clear, and floating in the enter of my vision is a round blue bubble, bobbing a little, for all the world like a contact lens on the surface of a swimming pool.


The ten minute procedure took two hours, though indeed most of that time involved dilating, being eyed (so to speak) by many residents, and the overall general happiness about the procedure. Instructions for recovery: keep your head face down for the next two weeks. Ninety per cent of the time. My immediate response is: impossible. More or less impossible. And come back in two days for laser treatment to seal the tear; meanwhile the bubble will be holding my ripped-open retina (which I'm imagining as a frail, iridescent film, something like fish scales but more delicate) in place.

(more to come)

Monday, December 6, 2010

My Right Eye

Thursday night Paul and I went to dinner at a Belgian restaurant on 17th Street. We were enjoying the warmth of the place and the foxy Antwerp-meets-Chelsea style of the maitre'd, and I was thinking about a slightly uncomfortable matter I wanted to discuss, when an odd thing happened. My right eye filled with a swirls of what looked like dark brown smoke. I thought something was wrong with my contact, excused myself, washed my lens in the mens room, and it seemed better, but then it wasn't. The odd perception seemed to fade away, and after a while we went home and watched an episode of The Wire.

The next day, driving out to Long Island, I kept thinking the windshield look dirty. I squirted the washing fluid a couple of times, but when the wipers stopped moving, it didn't seem much better. Experimentally, I closed my left eye, and whoa: It was snowing, a steady stream of little gray flakes, like the sort of road-dirtied particles of sleet you'd see on a highway in mid-winter. It occurs to me that person with less skill at denial than myself would, at this point, have taken some action. But when it comes to the body -- and I suppose to other matters as well -- I have a long-standing habit of hoping thing will go away, then being forced to rush to respond when they do not. And I was looking forward to the evening, and figured I could call my doctor later if need be.

Saturday, late afternoon, when the mild flurry in my right eye became a storm: what had been curlicues of smoke were now large brown floaters in random shapes, sort of menacing, and there was a green half-circle at the bottom of my field of vision, and if I covered my left eye what I could see through the right looked coated in vaseline. Ned needed a walk, so I took him on his leash down the road to a Jewish cemetery a block away where he can run off-leash when there's no one around -- and i've never seen anyone there yet. That evening the twilight was descending, the leaves were blowing; at least I thought those were leaves, and what were those black and white shapes playing under the trees, and those rushing shadows? I couldn't see Ned anywhere, and suddenly the active dark was a little terrifying, a restless and uneasy forest. We walked home, and I did what anyone accomplished at denial might: took a nap. Then I got up, called my doctor, and at his advice drove myself to the ER at Stonybrook.


Nothing could be further from my expectations about an emergency room. First, there's free valet parking for the patients. Honest. Just inside the door a guard at a desk asked me what I needed, and sent me directly to Triage. I was asked a few questions, made some jokes with the kind and interested woman behind the desk, who seemed happy for a little wit to be injected into what must often be a dire conversation. For some reason, as we spoke the green spot in my eye turned, all at once, an alarming and hostile red. I like red; I'm not used to seeing it look threatening. Was it the light in the room, or was my retina tearing open that fast? I was immediately taken to a private room where I could lie down, rest and await a series of concerned people. I was in this room for about six hours, but in truth never felt neglected; in between the various persons who came to shine lights of increasing intensity into my eye -- so that i was soon seeing, along with everything else in there -- craters and cracked mud in dry desert lakes. I fell asleep in my room in the dark, was examined again; people had to go and get larger and more intricate lamps to shine into my eyes. Once a resident held up an eye chart, and I could see on it absolutely nothing. Then I realized, in a while, that i could make out letters, not because i could focus but because whatever obscured my vision was moving -- a kind of gelatinous matter shifting under the surface of my eye, the thought of which made me feel ill.

In a while a resident concluded my retina was detached; a more advanced resident appeared, rubbing his sleepy face, and eventually concurred; a senior opthamologist was consulted, the poor fellow roused from his bed at four A.M. I was presented with my options, the most attractive of which was the less invasive procedure, something that could be done in an office, with a local anaesthetic: a bubblle of gas would be injected into my eye (good God) to hold the retinal tear in place, and then lasers would seal up the wound. This might work but didn't always. I might still require surgery.


Now it seems to me a bit surreal that I drove home, but that's what I did. In truth, my left eye just seemed to take over, and the road didn't look especially different to me. East Hampton, empty at five-thirty in the morning, the little shops decked in lights, was beautiful, a toy town under a Christmas tree. My dog Ned was thrilled to see me -- he's seven months old and I've never left him alone overnight -- and seemed bewildered by the upside-down schedule: why would I come home in the morning and go to bed? I was convinced (just how tired was I?) that I was to go receive my bubble on Monday morning, but in retrospect that makes no sense at all; it we'd waited that long I could easily have lost my sight in my right eye.

So I didn't understand, two hours later, when the phone began to ring and ring. Who was calling me so insistently?. On about the fifth call I dragged myself out of bed, only to find my doctor wondering where I was. Nothing else to do: I threw on some clothes, Ned hopped in the car, and we drove to Stonybrook. The procedure, they said would take ten minutes.

(That's all the typing my tired eye will allow for the moment. Part two follows shortly.)