It’s been more than six months since I first presented the idea of finding a new eye specialist to my husband, and if anyone said we’d be where we are right now, I would not have believed them. I would have wanted to, secretly hoping against hope they were right, but I wouldn’t have possessed the faith or fortitude to buy into the possibility. At least that’s what I tell myself, even though my actions, attitude, and secret ultimatums suggest otherwise.
The truth is, I’m heavily invested in the outcome, and have no idea how I’m going to cope if the gamble doesn’t go my way. The only saving grace is how cautiously optimistic my surgeons are, and the fact that if it does go wrong, then at least my world will be unquestionable. As it is, we’ve kept my pending procedure very low key. Balancing my thoughts, feelings, expectations, and questions has been difficult enough, let alone adding the well-meaning but inadvertent pressure from the input of others to the mix.
The last three months has been a waiting game as my brilliant ophthalmologists from past, present and future have banded together to brainstorm, research, and contingency plan for the possibility of giving me back a blue sky.
Let me explain. I have a congenital eye condition that not only has me well within the bounds of legal blindness, but also has been considered inoperable for as long as I can remember. Over the years, my vision quietly deteriorated into darkness without my permission or comprehension, leaving a trail of questions, confusion and chaos in its wake. However now, after what feels like an eternity, I am on the brink of gaining some of it back.
I’m excited as we sit down to finalise the last of the hospital paper work. This project has been a mission in logistics as much as a demonstration of faith, surgical skill, innovative thinking, and advancement in technology.
Your husband can sign, the nurse receptionist says, as though this type of momentous occasion happens all the time, and I’m simply one person on a long list of people she’ll see today. I am so relieved, because the amount of times I wish someone could just do that on my behalf is ridiculous. Even holding a pen these days makes my hand tired. No longer can I reproduce the scribble that is supposed to pass for my signature to look like anything other than a child’s scrawl. It’s always so embarrassing and stressful trying to write on the line, and I’m always left feeling somewhat humiliated by the effort and show of personal ineptitude. So as is my new custom, I don’t care, and encourage my husband to do all the work.
The staff seemed to be more comfortable dealing with him anyway. And I’m too distracted with anticipation and disbelief regarding where and what we’re doing here. I maintain an outward appearance of calm composure, when really the fact that I’m not running around in circles and squealing with glee is proof of just how practiced at pretending I truly am.
I’m happy to be left alone, even if it is completely politically incorrect, and shows a serious lack of disability awareness training on their part. In this instance it serves my purpose, and even keeps me amused as I observe from somewhere above my body.
Besides, I can’t always take these things to heart, or keep fighting the good fight. Sometimes a girl needs a day off. And sometimes it just doesn’t have to be about me. I mean, who cares if people don’t get it? Maybe that’s where I go wrong. Maybe in the push for understanding and acceptance I’m actually making it harder for myself. What if it were okay not to always understand one another? What if the divide didn’t have to be bridged? What if I just took the pressure off every once in a while and just let it be?
We are the only people in the waiting room, and it isn’t long until a male nurse whose name I don’t catch and can’t be bothered asking comes to fetch us. And by us I mean he may have spoken my name, but he makes eye contact and gestures to my husband.
Sighted people think we don’t know when they do that, but actually, much of the time we do. We just don’t know how to call it out, because how do we explain something when the reliance on your vision to tell you the truth of things is so heavily weighted that you refuse to acknowledge the softer more subtle nuances of communication? The question is, where does the awkwardness come from? Because I don’t think it is me. But thanks for turning what could be a simple situation into something uncomfortable for everyone. Whatever, I think as my husband automatically takes my hand and I follow accordingly.
The squeak squeak of the nurse’s shoes is obscene in contrast to the silence of the hallway. Don’t they annoy the crap out of you, I silently ask the back of his head? I flash my husband a cheeky smile and quietly asking him the same. We walk through one set of double doors and then another before being taken into a curtained off area to await instruction.
Another nurse, whose name I also don’t catch, and don’t care to follow up on comes in shortly afterward and speaks to my husband about what they are going to do for me. Because yeah, I’m not sitting here obediently waiting for the thousands of eye drops to be administered, my blood pressure to be taken, or wait for it, to be asked how I am today.
Again, whatever, I think as I silently tip my face up for the first set of presurgical eye drops. A cross is drawn over the eye that’s going to be operated on this morning, as if my specialists, who have been preparing for this for months, don’t already know.
Occasionally someone pokes their head in and asks me how I’m going, and by me I mean they ask my husband and refer to me in the third person. We make bad hospital jokes and play quietly with our daughter. Well, as quietly as a two-year-old plays with a mummy and daddy who don’t hush her.
Holy shit honey, these drops are amazing, let’s just take them home, I say as the lights on the ceiling, which hadn’t been there before, begin to form like white twinkling stars above me.
I’m surprised when at some unexpected juncture in time and thought my two eye specialists materialise before me. Aren’t they supposed to be in surgery already? I glance questioningly at my husband, partly because I’m confused that I didn’t see them enter the room, and partly because I’m confused by their presence.
They seem to have something to tell me, because there’s an awkward pause after the preliminaries. The laser machine isn’t working, they chime almost simultaneously. We’ve tried to get it to work, but unfortunately we didn’t realise it needed maintenance when we booked this procedure.
Good God, what time did you arrive this morning, I want to ask, as if that type of detail matters? But my words vanish. I suddenly find my heart is where my mouth should be as I wait for them to continue. What, the fancy laser machine that was going to hang, draw and quarter the beast, also known as the ugliest cataract in the world, isn’t working? What are we going to do? Are they going to send me home? Will I have to come back another day? I’m not sure I can wait any longer, I think, panic crawling over my skin.
For months I’d been holding the tidal wave of hope back in case the yes turned into a no. So many hurdles needed to be overcome. Even as I sit here, a small part of me is on edge waiting for something to fall apart. I try not to sink into the pit of chaos pooling in my stomach. But oh God oh God oh God! What if they need the laser? There’d been so much talk of this laser and how they were going to use it, and it being the least invasive method, even though it probably wouldn’t work, which is why they have at least three other methods up their sleeve. What if, what if, what if? Oh God, what are they going to say, I wonder as time stretches like a piece of surgical thread between us?
So we’ll just operate old school, one of them finally continues, as if it’s no big deal and they’d already factored such a scenario into their carefully laid plan of giving me the impossible. I let out the breath I don’t know I’m holding. We are to go ahead, and before I know it, the next hour has flown by and I’m being unceremoniously led back down the hallway toward the theatre.
Where’s the chorus of trumpets heralding my arrival to this pivotal moment, I wonder as we reach the sacred doors? My life has been building to this for so long. I cannot believe this is all there is. No shining light, no choir of angels, no champagne, no party poppers, no cosmic shift. And where were my family?
I turn around to find them lagging behind, casually talking to the nurses at the station as though we have all the time in the world. Seriously darling, I think. We don’t have all day. I know our daughter is cute, and they all want to speak to her, but there’s been plenty of opportunity for that already. Let’s go. I have to go. Where are you?
Hey honey, I call, breaking their conversation. I have to go. I can hear our daughter toddling down the hall toward me. I can give her a kiss, and it’s all I can do not to cry with joy. I can’t go into theatre without giving her a kiss good-bye. What if something should go really, really wrong? My husband will need to tell her that yes I did kiss her good-bye when her future self inevitably asks.
See you in a little while sweetie, I say as she runs back to her daddy. I pray it’s a promise I can keep. It doesn’t feel right not to kiss my husband, but we had long since stopped, because if I had even a sniffle today, they would have cancelled the surgery. So I just wave and hope he knows how much I love him.
The Eye Operation
The room is astoundingly quiet, as though it’s insulated from the rest of the world. In a way I guess it has to be. No distractions live here. This is a place of peaceful purpose. It smells of efficiency, effectiveness, and anesthetic.
My mind is whirring too fast for this environment. There’s no tick tock of time in here, and I’ve been running against time for what feels like forever. So I feel out of place. Mine is the heartbeat which doesn’t match the rhythm of the others. My presence is what’s throwing everything out of sync. I’m the one who needs to take a deep breath, but doesn’t.
I’m flittery and jittery and flighty and heighty. Pitter-patter, pitter-patter, skitter scatter, skitter scatter. My being bouncing all over the place like one of those rubber balls. I’m aware of the inappropriateness of my vibe, but I cannot contain my excitement. I just know this is going to go well. Because this does not feel like a room where mistakes are made or mishaps occur.
A nurse places a heated blanket over me, which instantly makes me feel cosy and safe, calming me down with adeptness I hadn’t expected. I suddenly feel contained and surprisingly self-possessed. I need one of these for home, I think with a giggle.
The anesthesiologist is nice enough, but not really my cup of tea. Obviously he’s there to do a job and my nervous babble isn’t helping. He’s only listening because he has to, and is making his impatience known. Given he is the man who’s going to keep me alive through this procedure, I should ignore his bedside manner and trust in his skill.
I am so worried the anesthetic won’t hold, just as it hadn’t when giving birth to our daughter. I know this is different, but if it doesn’t hold, the consequences are far, far greater. The last thing I really remember is someone putting an oxygen mask over my face, the lights above me courtesy of those crazy eye drops, and the anesthesiologist asking me to count backward from one hundred.
We’d been having such a falsely animated conversation about who knows what, and just when I thought it wasn’t going to work, the next thing I know I’m awakened and in the theatre with my two knights of shining eye surgery at my shoulder. My procedure is to take place under a local anesthetic, but they had to put me under a general first in order to administer the local around and in my eye.
Good morning gentlemen, I say as I come back to consciousness. There’s a very bright white light in my vision, which if I weren’t so blissed out on brain addling pain relief I would probably marvel at more. When was the last time I saw light? I wonder just how bright this bright white is. I’d been warned by the presurgery paperwork that I’d see colours and shapes and feel a tugging. I worried I might flinch if I felt something. I worried my overzealous pain receptors would ruin everything.
Had they factored in my nystagmus? I’d been worried about being able to keep my eye still. Wouldn’t it be easier under a general? It would be easier for me. But it doesn’t take me long to realise that it wouldn’t have been nearly as fun, and my fears about them accidentally slitting my eye in half, or being able to feel or see anything are unfounded. As it turns out, this is the most fascinating experience of my entire life. This big, bright white circle with its ants and occasional jellyfish is beautiful.
In terms of colours, I’d imagined it might be like those colours you see when you look at the sun for too long. You know, those moving stick figures of greens, pinks, oranges, reds and yellows that dance in a sort of slow motion. But it’s nothing like that. It reminds me of when I used to try and look at the moon through a mini-scope as a child. Just a big circle of gritty whiteness that I couldn’t understand the big deal about. But this isn’t grey like that. This is white white white with little ants periodically crawling over it.
The doctors quietly talk between themselves, each switching positions or instruments like a carefully choreographed ballet dance. My cataract is the dragon which needs slaying. They seem to work as one, each synchronising with the other perfectly, and picking up where the other leaves off automatically.
They never forget I am a person. Even when they’re discussing the complexities or concerns of my case, of which I purposely hadn’t Googled as I didn’t want to be armed with the dangers of a little knowledge, they keep me involved, be it via a gentle query or an explanation.
Even though I have a million questions, I have to remember not to move. No talking, the anesthesiologist had instructed before putting me under. It is really, really important you stay as still as possible, he said. But what if I can’t, I’d wanted to argue? Did he understand that?
Oh, I’m not happy with that traction there, says one surgeon to another. What the hell does that mean, I wonder in my head, imagining all sorts of disastrous consequences? What if my eye is going to fall off? Surely the thread of my retina will hold. Oh please God, please God, please God make it hold, I chant silently.
What if my retina snaps and coils back into my head like a spring? What if my eye pops out like a marble, flies through the air and lands in the anesthesiologist’s mouth. It’s entirely plausible. Then what if he swallows it? We’ll have to wait for it to pass, and that could take forever.
Oh, that iris has dropped a little, the other says. What the hell does that mean? I imagine my iris coming away from the seam, all the while completely mesmerised by the circle of bright white light with its ants, and occasional jellyfish.
I don’t think we should push it any further, one of them remarks after a time. I can no longer tell which specialist is which. They’re just so seamless, as if there’s only one person talking, accept there are two. I know there are two. Two of the most amazing men in the entire world.
Why not push, I respond inwardly? I was used to pushing things to the limit. But then I remember we are dealing with my sight, and maybe we shouldn’t push it after all. I have to remind myself these down to earth, approachable geniuses are the experts, and they’re as invested in this as I am in terms of creating a successful outcome. They promised to get my cataract, and get it they would. I just had to trust.
This wasn’t all up to me. This wasn’t something I could talk myself into or out of. This wasn’t something I could manage by myself. If anything, it wasn’t even about me. This was something potentially life changing, and all I had to do was enjoy the ride. What a relief it was not to be doing anything. What a relief it was that the outcome wasn’t on me to make this work. What a relief to be here at all. Oh God, thank you. Thank you so much for all of it.
Try now, or die wondering, I think as I consciously keep very, very still and silent, looking at that bright white circle with its ants and jellyfish. They’re so pretty. It’s almost peaceful. Yes, that’s what it is. Peaceful. Beautiful, peaceful, peaceful peace. I almost don’t recognise the feeling. When was the last time I’d experienced peace? God only knew. But oh how I long for more of it. If this is meditation, then I am in. If this is cataract surgery, then bring it on. If this is my life, then it’s an extraordinary privilege to be here.
Nobody gets this, I think. Nobody gets to come back from this. People go blind, but to come back from it? Where do I even begin? There isn’t even a word for that. I am in awe of my circumstance. Nobody gets this! I have nothing to do, nothing to see, and nowhere to be. Oh God, why can’t it always be like this. Oh, hello floaty, floaty, floaty things. You’re so beautiful.
Oh, the laser wouldn’t have worked on your cataract anyway Megan, one of them continues, breaking into my reverie. That thing was too big and ugly for our delicate machine. We would’ve had to take it out the back door no matter what. It’s not ideal, but I think we’ve got it. Now to remove the vitreous. We’re a bit worried about the temporal attachment of your retina, but we’ll just keep an eye on it.
One of the main concerns about my surgery had been that no one really knew what we were going to find, or how my eye was going to react when they began. It could have gone so horribly, catastrophically wrong, unravelling like a ladder in a stocking without any way of bringing it back. Even with today’s modern equipment, there’s no way to gain a clear picture of the damage behind my eyes, so it was like operating with nothing but a crumpled old pirate’s treasure map for guidance. This is why it took months of preparation and many brains behind the scenes to make this all happen; theorising, researching, and mitigating as many risk factors as possible.
Still I watch the bright white circle with its ants and occasional jellyfish. I like the jellyfish, I think happily, not really comprehending what the doctors are saying. What do they mean by they have my cataract? What does that mean? No, seriously, what does that mean?
The voices start again. Okay, so we’re not going to put in a lens today, because we want to see how things go. A lens might take away vision, as it won’t allow all the light to filter through. But this should give you some peripheral vision. I have never had peripheral vision, I think. Or did I have peripheral and not the other kind?
Everything is all muddled in my mind. I thought by peripheral they meant central. I cannot work out my positioning of what was supposed to go where. What was central vision again? Do I have central vision? I don’t think I do, but can’t remember. So if I don’t have central, and hadn’t ever had peripheral, then what do I have? My mind circles that last statement like a vulture trying to hone in on what the doctor is saying.
All I know is that even with the anesthetic, my eye feels lighter. Physically lighter. As though a rock has been resting on it forever, and now it’s not. My eye is cold as the air hits it for the first time. I’m fascinated by the sensation. The novelty is like spring water to my soul, as if a window has opened up and there’s a whole new world I never knew existed just waiting for me. Then I realise it’s like a circle of hope beckoning me closer, asking me to walk through it and see what’s on the other side. This must be what enlightenment feels like, I think to myself. But another surgery? Won’t that hurt, I wonder as still I watch the bright white circle in fascination.
And we’re done. Where did the time go? Where was my cataract? I should ask for it, I think, forgetting to open my mouth. Done, I finally ask out loud? Yep, we think it’s a success. Your recovery will be slow, and we have no idea what you’re going to get back, but hopefully we’ll know within a week. It will probably take a year for your brain to adjust fully, the other adds, but yes, we’re happy. Thank you so much, I say, the words hardly filling the space in the room let alone touching the sides of my gratitude.
Do they know what this means? Do I? It’s as if something is opening up, but I cannot articulate it. I cannot articulate it through the pain, the overwhelm, and the cacophony of sound. Suddenly it is all very busy, and I’m jolted into a circle of fire and brimstone.
Your husband and baby are outside, a surgical nurse says as she wheels me to the lift. I have a patch over each eye. One for the obvious reason that they’d just operated and we need to keep it safe and dark. And one on the other eye so the nursing staff won’t think I can see them, and will hopefully adjust their behavior and approach accordingly.
My eye begins to ache almost immediately. An inescapable, intense hurt as though it will fall out of my head at any moment. The whole socket pains like a blue-rimmed peace of heavy, heavy, hot, hot, hot burning piece of coal. My entire face hurts and I can barely breathe through it. What I wouldn’t give to take the constricting mask of my bones off.
My head throbs and I feel terrible. I’d been extremely fretful regarding how I’d cope without seeing my baby girl for an entire twenty-four hour period, but honestly, if her and my husband weren’t waiting in recovery, I wouldn’t care. Having them here is almost too much, even though I know they wouldn’t be anywhere else. They’d taken a quick trip to the playground, as I’d been in theatre for close to two hours. Otherwise, they’d milled about the hospital in eager anticipation.
When I’m taken to my room I’m convinced I can see it through the patch. I have a design in my head of what it looks like, and don’t understand when I feel disorientated. Why is the chair facing the wall and not the door? Why is my bed over there and not where I think it ought to be? And whoever designed the bathroom did a terrible job. Who would put a toilet behind a corner like that? And where’s the light, I ask myself, as if I needed one?
What window, I wonder as my husband comes in and explains to me there’s a courtyard I can use just outside. He’s insane, I think in my post-operative daze. I hear our daughter coming, but when she enters, her toddlerness is all too much for me. She’s been waiting such a long time for her mummy and is understandably tired. I can hear it in her tone. I want to cry, but is it with joy or anguish?
Look at mummy’s glasses, she says to daddy, pointing to my patches. And to think I’d been worried as to how she’d receive me. I hadn’t wanted to scare her, but in her usual innocence, she’d made it into something beautiful. Because yeah, I guess my patches do look like glasses. I laugh as she climbs up on my knee and starts to talk.
We haven’t really told her what’s going on apart from mummy is going to the hospital for an operation and a sleepover. Not that she knows what either of those things are. But as for the potential let there be light outcome we’re banking on, and pretending we’re not, we’ve kept that quiet, as we don’t feel it an appropriate conversation to have with her two-year-old mind. And by quiet I mean she probably knows everything, because it’s all I’ve spoken about with my husband, my mum, and my best friend over the last six months. All we really want her to understand is that mummy won’t be at home tonight, and that she’ll come and get me after her Vegemite toast tomorrow.
The head nurse potters about bringing me tea, a sandwich and some medication. I can barely bring the cup to my mouth. For some reason I keep missing and can’t understand why. Surely my mouth is where it’s always been.
Do you want lunch, someone asks? Sure, I say automatically, even though I don’t really want anything. However, I can’t cope with coordinating a knife and fork, let alone a spoon or navigating the distance between the plate and my face. So my husband has to feed me. Even that’s too much stimulation, but I love him for trying.
Meanwhile our restless toddler begins to lose the plot completely and I almost end up yelling at my husband to take her and go. The sound of her crying is like a physical assault upon my already fractious being. Why won’t she stop? Please honey, you’ve got to go, I beg as he packs up the pram. I’m sorry, but you’ve just got to go.
The anxiety is coursing through me like an electrical current causing my eye to hurt even more. I literally see red, and not only does it scare the hell out of me, but it steals the last ounce of energy and tolerance I had and whisks it away with my reason.
I know sweetie, we’ll be back later, he responds, kissing me ever so gently and lovingly on the head. I want a moment alone with him to hold his hand until I find my place with him, but oh God, our daughter’s crying is too, too much. Please baby girl, mummy knows you’re tired but I don’t know how to put your need first right now, I plead. I feel guilty as I hear them walk down the hall.
After they leave I lay in my bed for an unquantifiable amount of time listening to the nurses chatting with one another at their station. The pain continues to increase. I’m not sure I can handle it. Eventually I relinquish and press for some attention. In a stroke of brilliants, I remember the anesthesiologist writing a script for some heavy-duty pain relief.
Just like that the head nurse appears. Have you had codeine before, she inquires before giving it to me? Yep, that stuff is sunshine, I reply with as much enthusiasm as I can muster, looking forward to the bliss bomb that’s bounding my way.
Fifteen minutes later I’m hugging the toilet bowl throwing up, desperately afraid with every heave that my eye is going to fall out of my head, but absolutely unable to do anything about it. The nurses in their ignorance are amazed I made it to the bathroom by myself. I can only assume they don’t know I can hear them as they discuss it rather too loudly and condescendingly outside my room before entering. But don’t they know I’ve been fully blind for months, maybe even years? It isn’t rocket science. Why else would I be here?
Heave, heave, heave. Oh God, what if my eye really falls out and ends up in the bowl? I begin to panic. With every cough, every splutter and every convulsion the pressure around my eye socket increases, and it really does feel like my eye is hanging by a thread. As my eye weeps, I worry it’s bleeding like in one of those medical dramas.
Bleeding is a possibility. Is it happening now? Is the goo blood or just goo? And is goo okay? Nobody spoke to me about goo. For weeks afterward this stresses me out. I imagine every drip, drop, slop, or weep is bright red like a nosebleed. I’m afraid my days of light are over, because surely it’s too good to be true. Surely I cannot be this lucky, this blessed or this gifted from the universe.
Oh my God, will I have to give back my child? Will that be the price I pay for the return of my sight? Is that how life works? I can barely breathe. What is this going to cost me? Not her, please dear God, not my baby girl. I am so afraid. So terribly, terribly, I cannot breathe afraid.
No, no, it won’t be that, I reason. It would be my husband. Oh God, what if it’s my husband? No, I want to scream. No, no, no! But I can’t. I’m stuck in a place inside my head where screaming is forbidden. Screaming physically isn’t possible, just like in those dreams where I’m being chased by a monster. I can’t even open my mouth.
Nobody had explained to me what to expect. They certainly hadn’t said it would be this invasive, but why did I think it would not? I am so afraid. I cannot stop throwing up. I’d held it as long as possible and tried to talk myself out of it, but the nausea is all too much.
The head nurse laughs and reminds me that she’d in fact asked if I could handle it. Well, I thought I could, I croak as she helps me to the bed. What else you got, I ask? Because this is about a ten on the scale of pain, and I cannot do this. I cannot believe it hurts as much as it does. Nothing has ever hurt this much.
The afternoon wears on and the pain doesn’t decrease. I vomit hard three more times. Each time the pressure behind my eye has me terrified I’m going to lose it and this has all been for nothing because I can’t handle the pain medication. How did I forget I don’t do pain well, let alone pain management? Codeine, morphine, it doesn’t matter. None of it makes a difference to the pain. Or if it does, the nausea is so much worse than the pain.
I know my husband is desperate to come back and check on me, but I cannot fathom it. Maybe if he were on his own, but not with baby girl. Not when she’s been up from such an early hour, and is already a mess. What if she started crying again? That would be loud and unbearable, so no, no they cannot come back. You’ll have to ring my husband and tell him not to come back, I say to another nurse.
The nurses are hopeless about telling me who they are when they enter the room, let alone explaining why they’re there. There seems to be a lot of students, and they yank me this way and that with no regard for my body language. They should ask first, I think with increasing frustration every time one of them touches me without permission. I feel so fragile and broken being pulled so they can drip something into the cannula on my wrist. It’s scary, horrible, and a whole heap of other words I can’t articulate.
If I sleep, maybe the pain will go away, I reason. Although how reasonable this idea is, I don’t know. But it’s all I’ve got. Sleep on your side, but with your upper body elevated, the doctors had instructed. The side that hadn’t been operated on of course. I try, but all I manage is a semi-consciousness of dreams. I dream that my surgeons create a special resin to attach retinas. I dream all sorts of crazy fears and thoughts. There are goblins and monsters as well as characters from the audio book I’ve been reading. And to think I’d been worried about leaving my baby girl for the night.
Thank God the hospital had been over-cautious in their attendance to me, ensuring I stayed overnight for observation rather than just sending me home like they would with any other patient. I laughed when they said it, as their reasoning was that I didn’t have another eye. So what, I thought? How else did they think I did this? Wouldn’t I be more comfortable in my own environment? I thought so. If anything, being somewhere else made me a little anxious. But as it turns out, they were right.
There’s no way I’d cope with our bundle of joy in my arms tonight, I think at one point as I wrestle with the pain. The doctors said if I were scared or in pain, or something didn’t feel right, to give them a call. But what does that mean? I have no idea what to expect. In the naive, rose scented cloister of my mind the procedure would happen in the morning, and by the afternoon I would be back on the horse. Only this time a horse that could see.
Surely if it were normally a day procedure the recovery wasn’t that bad, I’d reasoned. But this was bad. This was so bad I insist the nurse contacts my retinal specialist to get him back and measure the pressure in my eyes. I feel bad about it given I’m supposed to see him tomorrow. The alternative scenario turning in my head is if I don’t call him, and I could have, and something goes really, really wrong, then there’s no coming back from that. So I simply have to get over myself, my shyness and my low self-esteem, and call him. Because this matters. This really, really matters. Nothing has ever mattered so much.
We’d all put a lot into this surgery, and I owed it to myself to triple check if I wasn’t comfortable. Nobody gets to come back from this, I think as I ring my hands Macbeth style. I feel guilty I’m creating more work, but my God, what if something is wrong? I can’t let the story be that I was too timid to act, and that’s the reason I can’t see. No, no, no, we’ve all fought too hard for this miracle. So come hell or high water, my surgeon will be here one way or another. Clearly, the nurses aren’t anything to worry about. So why am I so concerned about asking them?
The problem is, I’m so used to getting people to like me in order to get my needs met that I don’t know how to manipulate them when it’s obvious they’re not invested in this the way I am. But still I have to fight with myself so that I will speak up.
So I wait. I listen, and I wait. Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up, I murmur as I wait for the medico’s to do my bidding. Which part of this don’t you understand? Time is not on my side. I cannot afford to screw this up, and if your complacency ruins this for me, heaven help you, because there’s no telling what I’ll do.
God, why was my life so much about other people? I continue to sit quietly listening for any sign that the nurse in question has actioned my request. I have to remind myself that by this time tomorrow I’ll be home with my darling husband and my baby girl. By this time tomorrow this will all be over. By this time tomorrow I should be feeling better. It’s only a matter of hours, and in a lifetime of seeing, that’s nothing.
Eventually I ask a nurse to take me for a walk, because in yet another flash of genius I decide that maybe the pain lives in my room, and if I get out, then it won’t be there. But I don’t realise it will come with me, and every step turns out to be agony. Too bad the nurse misunderstands my logic and takes it as a good sign that I want to walk, and must be feeling better. I only know this because I over hear him telling someone else. Yeah, way to ask dude, I think.
Hell no! Step, jolt, sting, spike, pressure, step, jolt, ouch! Why isn’t the pain going? It’s as if it attached itself to me like a parasite worming its way deep down inside my eye socket through my head and down into my tummy. Oh God, I’m going to vomit, I think as the nurse helps me back into bed. Who moved my bed, I wonder? Because surely it isn’t facing the right way. Now where’s the bathroom?
I nearly cry when my evening meal is silently delivered not thirty seconds after my return to the safety of my scratchy sounding uncomfortable bed. Use your words people, I shout inwardly as whomever it is delivering these things pads out without acknowledgement.
When the nurse comes in a few minutes later and I explain I cannot feed myself, he doesn’t understand. He just tips my cutlery onto the tray and tells me where things are. Even that he doesn’t get right, as he uses his right instead of mine, and then walks out as though I haven’t spoken at all. Did I actually speak? I reluctantly run my hands over my tray and pray to God I don’t knock anything over. Because if I spill a drink, I’m definitely going to cry. And I’m not sure I’m allowed to cry. What if my eye falls out?
I manage to find a cup of soup, which is no small feat given the limitations of my current state of mind, and I’m hugging it to my chin when the nurse returns, horrified that I’m not using a spoon. But before I can say anything, he takes the dish from me and hands me a spoon, as if that’s supposed to help. I can’t do it, I explain again. I can’t coordinate myself.
Oh, I’ll go toast you a sandwich, he says, again not actually listening to what I’m saying, but at least he said something I suppose. This dinner isn’t very good anyway, he says striding out the door. I wasn’t minding it, I think as I listen to him go down the hallway. The salt was sort of helping.
By the time he brings me a sandwich I can only take a bight, as the nausea has set back in, and the idea of food is again repulsive. Not to mention the thought of chewing is too much to contemplate. I would’ve been happy with the salty soup, I think again, wondering where it might actually be, but knowing I don’t have the current capacity to find it.
Good God, when will this ever end? More pain relief, the nurse asks, or rather insists? Nope, I would rather deal with it, I reply. The anti-nausea medication doesn’t work. Back and forth our conversation goes like a tennis match. I’m surprised at how hard I have to advocate not to have any more pain relief. Seriously?
I’m not sure my body can handle it. Everything tastes toxic and disgusting as it is. And what if I vomit again? My eye will surely fall out. Surely I’ve already done some irreversible damage, I think as I try not to appear exacerbated. Be nice. I just have to be nice! But I hate being nice, I think as the nurse leaves my room. I wonder if they treat everyone this way, or is it just me?
When my retinal surgeon finally arrives a few hours later, I wonder what I’ve taken him from. I’m feeling extra guilty because in the last twenty minutes or so the pain has begun to subside. But the pressure and scratchiness behind my eye has not.
The bright blur when he gently peels my patch off blows my mind and every expectation I had out of the water. Who put that there, I wonder as I sit my chin on the heavily papered platform and lean my forehead against the metal support bar of his slit-lamp.
Just look straight ahead, he says, and I manage a laugh. Yeah right! But I realise when he says it, it’s almost to himself rather than to me. We both know that isn’t going to happen, but there’s something comforting about the remark. It’s reassuring knowing he knows my eye better than anyone, and would immediately know if there was something wrong.
Pressure is down, he says matter of factly after checking it with the tonometer. If the pain increases, get them to call me, otherwise I’ll see you tomorrow. And just like that, we’re done.
I’m just snuggling down under my blanket when my husband rings to say goodnight, and the familiarity of his voice is so soothing to my soul. I miss him, but I do not. But I do. No I don’t, but can’t he talk to me without talking to me? I barely sleep that night.
The Morning After
By the time the nurses were swapping shifts again, I’m wondering what is expected of me. Will someone come and get me? Am I supposed to be dressed? What about my discharge papers?
Again, someone enters and puts down my breakfast tray without a word. The only reason I know what’s on the tray is because my husband ordered it the day before. I chose a plane croissant as it was the easiest thing on the menu. A one handed meal. No messing with little butter wrappers or jam jars. Just something simple that would probably taste like cardboard.
I ‘d been off coffee and carbs for weeks in a detox pilgrimage for my special day. I’d since decided my husband would make me cappuccino when I got home as a reward for being so brave. Because yes, yes I was brave. This was brave. After all, I’d protected my eye from falling out for an entire night. I am a warrior! Oh, thank God, the pain has subsided, I think as I’m hustled to the doctor’s office down the hall.
As I sit quietly, I contemplate how much better I feel in comparison to last night when I sat in this same chair patiently waiting for him to arrive. The day before was one of the best days of my life, even with the pain factor. But holy hell, it hurt.
I’d barely been able to open my eyes the evening before when he asked, so we did our best with what we had. But now I don’t want to open them. The light is too much. My brain is already overworked and the day hasn’t even begun. They are sticky and groggy, and it physically hurts to push my eyelids up. It’s as if my eye muscles have contracted and I cannot stretch them out. Everything feels so thready and fragile. I worry if I push they will snap.
I listen to the world around me. I know my doctor is coming down the stairs before he sees me. Those footsteps of his are purposeful. They are not the footsteps of a man who has time to waste. He’s on a mission.
Hi Doc, I call, knowing it’ll surprise him. How did you know it was me, he asks with a tone that’s exactly as I predicted? I giggle in response, because messing with him is so much fun. I knew he wanted to know if I could see him. His brain tried to reconcile the ginormous disconnect between what he knew to be true, and his unconscious interpretation of my greeting.
I heard you coming, I confess after a pause. He laughs, leading me into the room. Again we go through the same ritual as the night before, him looking for changes, and my hoping against hope everything is as it should be. I still don’t trust the intraocular pressure behind my eyes, and I make him double check it. Wow, I gasp at the yellow light, which now hurts my eyes as we switch machines. Where did that come from?
That’s definitely brighter than yesterday, I add, as he continues to examine me. Excellent, he responds, admiring his handiwork. But you know recovery will be slow, right? Of course, I say, knowing anything would be better than nothing. And judging by my visual progress over the last twelve hours, this was going to be awesome.
One person’s one percent is another person’s ten, I say as I lean back and he switches everything off. This pleases him, as the reality was, the percentage of vision I was likely to get back was extremely low. But given I had never operated on anything more than a single digit percentage, immediately it made the results contextually much higher.
As I ready to leave, I suddenly look up and notice his black jacket and white shirt. The words fly out of my mouth like the most natural things in the world: Oh, I can see you’re wearing a black jacket and a white shirt. Although by see, what I really mean is there’s a black block of colour flanking a white block of colour, so of course that has to be a suit jacket and shirt.
But does his shirt have buttons, I wonder? I mean of course it would, but can I see them, or is my imagination and assumptions just filling in the blanks where my sight should be? For days I ponder it. Did I see it or did I imagine it? Why would I imagine it? Why would I see it?
Okay, you’re free to go, but call me if anything changes. No matter how small, don’t doubt it, just call, he says before signing my discharge papers. I promised, and we part ways.
When I walk back into my room, I am shocked. Who put that yellow curtain there? What is my bed doing on that side of the room? I didn’t leave it there. I’m sure it was somewhere else. And those chairs? Oh God, those chairs. Ooh look, the bathroom must be behind that door.
I made the nurses turn the lights off pretty much the moment my family left the previous day. Cool, calm, and quiet was what I’d needed. But now they were back on. Or were they? Again, I will never know. The question was, could I see all these items, or was I making it up based on memory and what I know to be found in a hospital room?
Can someone call my husband please, I ask the head nurse when she enters holding my discharge papers? I couldn’t wait to see him. It was the longest time I’d ever been apart from my daughter, and my husband’s first night alone with her.
My heart leaps with joy when they come in. But what the heck is with those pants? Baby girl is wearing the bright orange jeans my sister-in-law gave her for her birthday. I never knew they were that bright. When we’d opened the gift a few months before and everybody had exclaimed at their colour, I hadn’t understood. I felt left out, and part of me didn’t believe them, because surely if they were that bright I would’ve seen them. How could I not see them? How could I feel so far away in a room full of my loved ones in such close proximity? This left out feeling was a sensation that was so familiar to me that I barely registered it on my scale of isolation.
But now, these were ridiculously bright and I want to cry out of happiness and confusion at them. I don’t understand they belong to my baby, but I do understand. My daughter is familiar to me the way I am to myself. I would recognise her anywhere. Even as a beautiful, wiggly squiggly, bright orange pair of pants, which don’t really look like pants at all, but look like stripes and rectangles which dwell beyond the private realm of my imagination, my memory, and my mind.