Monday, May 16, 2010
It is, admittedly, a stretch to compare my condition with blindness. I’m not blind. These are simply aging eyes. They have served me well for many years. But my visual world has made steady, unwelcome progress toward dimming; blurring. Tuesday last week, in just fifteen minutes, my ophthalmologist did an extraordinary thing.
For Dr. Kahn, it was certainly something less that extraordinary. You might even call it ordinary, just another day in the life of the young physician. They had us all lined up that fateful morning over at the outpatient Surgicenter. Efficiencies matter, health costs being what they are. So by noon, he performed seventeen lens replacements, including mine. All before lunch. (He’s done as many as thirty in one day; the total count is well into the thousands. And he’s a young guy.)
The equipment is state of the art. The anesthesiologist was on hand. A crew of nurses and medical assistants got me ready. I stepped on the scale. As always, knowing that my shoes and wallet and keys and belt and jeans and shirt all add to the already inflated number that will be noted in my file, I asked if it would be permissible for me to remove my clothing first. They didn’t even laugh. My guess is that I’m not the only clever patient they see during any given day. Come to think of it, they’re probably fresh off the mandatory harassment-in-the-work-place course. Perhaps my feeble attempt at humor made it to the file, too, right along with my weight.
I requested the appointment because I suspected cataracts. My vision, particularly in my left eye, deteriorated noticeably. In bright light, just at the center of the frame, there was an awful blur. I couldn’t follow the golf ball. Airplanes disappeared in the sky. I would often ask Carolyn to read the big green freeway signs; and if I was alone, it was pure guesswork. “You’re really making me nervous,” she would say. I’d wave it off like the man I am.
My G.P. gave me the go-ahead to see Dr. Kahn. He shined that bright light directly into my eyeball as he peered through the scope. “Yep, that’s a beauty,” he said out loud. A cataract. (I was relieved. It could have been something more ominous, like macular degeneration, burned out retina or some other frightful thing.) “Let’s book it.”
And as a part of the routine, he checked my right eye, too. “Uh huh. We’ve got another one,” he said as though he caught a second fish. And in a manner of speaking, I suppose he did.
I checked in as scheduled on Tuesday. Behind the curtain, I removed my clothes as instructed (no comments, no more jokes) from the waist up and then covered myself with one of those open-back gowns, paper and paper cap with elastic band. They laid me down on a gurney, my head resting nicely on a pillow. They checked all my vitals, attached an I.V. A pleasant assistant applied a “numbing gel” directly on my left eye after she put an “X” with a marker over my left eyebrow. (They don’t want the doctor to get confused.) I think that’s about the time the drugs kicked in. I was wonderfully relaxed (like you’ve had a couple drinks, the anesthesiologist explained) and before I knew it, that bright light was in my eye again. I was conscious; I could hear the doc and his assistants chattering away. They spoke of the brownies in the lounge (“Awesome!“) and their weekend exploits. I recall nothing that had anything remotely to do with the task at hand; my eye or my state of mind. They just worked and chatted and joked.
I won’t attempt to describe in any real detail what I saw; it was surreal; like three little white marbles spinning and turning; a dreamy coping fantasy, I’m sure. Dr. Kahn pulled out the old natural lens covered with a cloudy, wavy, gummy cataract. Then he inserted a clear, shiny new acrylic one with built in, customized correction. He fixed it in place. And then they were done. They installed a patch on my eye, gave me instructions for eye-drops, and sent me home.
The next morning, I wrote the following entry for my mom and my kids:
This morning, at 7:45 AM in Dr. Kahn’s office, Kaiser Yorba Linda, the patch came off.
This is the stuff of high drama, suitable enough for a movie scene with full orchestration swelling on the sound track; a moment of revelation with biblical overtones. The definition of miracle will be strained here. The question begs to be asked – is it pure science or is there some supernatural work at play? The fact that Dr. Kahn did seventeen of these procedures that same morning will underscore the routine nature of the event. But none of this (the science or the abundance of cases) diminishes the sense of elation, jubilation, or sheer wonder at the reappearance of bright, saturated color; brilliant detail and high clarity. I have lived so long with the cloudy brown tint and wavy distortion that the new view is nothing less than stunning. And it just goes on; like rediscovering what I thought was familiar and mundane… But today, an ordinary day in my hometown is, well, astonishing.
So it is a morning filled with gratitude: for Carolyn’s hard work for an employer who provides first rate medical care for her and her spouse (me); for the doctor and his staff who replaced my clouded up natural lens with a shiny clear new acrylic one; for the Creator of the human eye who also built into it extraordinary healing properties; and for my friends and family who covered me up with prayers and love.
“Once I was blind now I can see!”
And every day since that rediscovery continues. My world is not predictably familiar. It is filled with color and detail and clarity and wonder.
I can read signs. See airplanes. Wonder at gardens in bloom, trees swaying in breeze. Soon, I’ll check the golf ball in flight.
The right eye will be rebuilt on June 29. Imagine the possibilities.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp, 2010