Sometimes, in losing something, you gain far more, even when it is such an intimate loss as an arm or a leg. Or an eye. Like redwood forests that need the cleansing destruction of Wildfire to burn out strangling undergrowth in order to properly flourish, so might the human spirit need a similar destruction to grow.
It’s funny, sometimes, how synchronicity works. Irony too, for that matter. There are some things you should know about me first. I was born nearly 2 and a half months early. If I had been a boy, I probably wouldn’t have made it.
Flash forward several years. I’m eleven now, and polishing the wooden dining table at my grandparents house. In the background, a daytime talk show blares. I’m not really paying any attention to the TV. I’m focused on my task at the table, fascinated by the whorls in the chestnut-coloured wood.
Words slither into my mind anyway, as one particular topic snags my attention away. It is a segment about glaucoma. For a moment, I sit horrified, turned to stone. Losing my eyesight is my single greatest fear. I love to read, and play with colour. I love being able to see the beauty of nature. I assure myself such a thing could never happen to me.
Ah, but to still have the naive innocence of childhood. Flash forward again. It is September 1st, 1999. My mother’s birthday. The day my world came collapsing down around me, or so it felt at the time. I was going to be taking my mom out for a birthday dinner. It was supposed to be a fun night. Life, or Loki, had other plans.
Disaster had crept up on me slowly at first, a dark panther stalking its prey. It began as an annoyance, a shadow at the top of my vision that I brushed off as nothing more than my bangs falling in front of my eyes. I’d flick them back, and go on with my day, only to find myself irritated thirty or so minutes later, when it happened again.
The shadow spread over the next week, an insidious blot that became a fat, viscous blob of oily iridescence obscuring a third of my vision in that eye. Needless to say, that snagged my attention, and a call to the eye doctor was made for two days hence- my mom’s birthday. The office thought it might be a floater, a detached bit of vitreous jelly that just hangs out in the eye, occasionally passing the foveal region, where it becomes visible. For the most part, floaters are a benign annoyance. Nothing to be really concerned about. If only I had been so lucky.
The day arrived, and my mom went with me (dinner was to be just after). We went in, and my doc took a look. He then stuck his head out of the room and called another doctor in, a specialist visiting the clinic that day. Not a word was passed between them, save “I think you need to look at this patient.” In she came, and I suffered another examination. Why those lights have to be so bright is beyond me. It’s like trying to stare at the sun.
This new doc spent only a moment looking at my eye, before sitting back and asking the last thing I expected- “How early were you born?” How did she know? She hadn’t seen my file or gotten any information from my regular doctor.
Turns out, preemie babies were kept in pure oxygen incubators at the time I was born. I spent the first two weeks of my life in one of those contraptions. Doctors later realised this was a big no-no. Exposure to large quantities of pure oxygen can stunt retinal growth. As a result, I have a condition called lattice degeneration, which means that the retinas have thin patches all over. At the doc’s next words, that panther pounced, tearing at my guts with all the fierceness a phobia can give. “Don’t eat anything after midnight. You have emergency surgery in the morning.”
Surgery! I felt fine. Well, I’d felt fine until she uttered those fateful words, leaving me paralysed with fear. I’d known I had lacy retinas for some time. The regular eye doctor always checked them. He had previously told me that, as I got older, the retinas may detach earlier than ‘normal’. I don’t find the eye falling apart to be in any way normal, but it’s apparently common among the elderly. If you are sixty or over, watch out! It was anticipated I would encounter this issue as young as forty. It happened when I was twenty-one.
This was my first real surgery. Talk about coming face to face with one of your worst fears. I went in, shards of glass ripping my tummy apart. I was given a sedative during prep to calm me. I had almost dozed off, warm under my blankets, when I was assaulted by a drive-by Sharpie. I had no clue at the time, having never had a major surgery, that the area to be worked on is marked with a black marker. I now had a stylish X above my right eye, so the doctor would know which to work on.
As I lay drugged and baffled by artwork on my face, the nurse went over what the surgery was to entail with my mother and I. Most was similar to what the specialist had told me, but one glaring addition stood out. What on earth was a scleral buckle? Turns out, it’s a band that goes around the outside of the eye, turning it football-shaped, and forcing the retina to stay flat against the back wall.
That bit of news wore the sedative away real quick. I firmly declined this foreign object I hadn’t consented to beforehand. That decision, born of terror and made irrationally, changed the entire course of my life. In all likelihood, accepting the buckle would have preserved the eye, and its sight. Instead, I would go on to have seven more surgeries on my right eye, the last being to remove the eye itself and place a prosthesis. You see, in the end, I met my old nemesis Glaucoma, eye to eye. That’s a dull, nasty ache I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. It’s a molten pain, once felt, never forgotten, not even to this day. Missing eyes produce phantom pain as well, and in my case, it’s the glaucoma pain that surfaces ever so often. Lucky, lucky me. I ended up having a preventative surgery on my left eye, making a total of nine general anaesthesia surgeries in just three years. This time I happily accepted the scleral buckle, and the worsening of vision that comes along with it.
Opting out of the first buckle shunted me away from my chosen field of forensics. I simply couldn’t see well enough to process evidence any longer. This became quite clear during our mock cases. It was disheartening to miss evidence I could have seen before.
That choice stoked the fires of alchemic calcination for me. Depression and anger swiftly merged into a deep abiding bitterness that lasted nearly two years. When I shook it off, I was a changed person. I know, too, that I would not be where I am today, as I am now, had I not foregone the first buckle.
Thanks to that choice, I spent a wonderful decade teaching. I published a book on mythology. I am now a fiction author living in California, and working as an innkeeper. My publisher has accepted me for a long series of books. I hope to spend the next decade playing in the world of De Sikkari.
I attained both a Master’s degree and a doctorate. I’ve had my ups and downs. I am no longer safe to drive, and that’s irritating at times. Overall though, if I could go back and change that moment, I would pass on the opportunity. I like where I’ve ended up, who I’ve become. All thanks to the choice to turn down a buckle.