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.)


Sera Rivers said...

Oddly enough, something similar happened to someone I know over the summer, though it started with a grey circle. A vein was growing through her retina or something like that and progressed into her retina detaching. I hope you recover soon. Listen to your doctor's every order. My friend has had multiple surgeries and is now off to Boston for more.

Love the humor of your blog. Glad you have good humor about it.

rbarenblat said...

You tell the story so matter-of-factly that it's easy to forget how alarming it must have been.

A few years ago, on Christmas evening, I lost vision in one eye. We feared it was a detached retina, and I swore a blue streak because I didn't want to deal with lasers and gas bubbles. But when I finally drove myself to the ER on Boxing Day, it turned out that I had had a stroke -- my eyes were fine; the problem was further back, deep in my brain.

Thankfully my vision has returned, though we never did learn what caused that stroke, or the other one I had a few months earlier. The body is mysterious.

Wishing you healing, anyway.

Bev Jackson said...

Hi Mark, just finished a week of holding my head down, sleeping with my face down, chin to chest for 7 days (to hold the gas bubble in place against the hole) and thought I'd lose my mind. It was truly more horrible than the surgery. I had a rather large macular hole in my retina, which is still healing. So brother, I feel your pain.