Thursday, February 15, 2007

With these eyes -- jcarolek

When I was born, it was with eyes severely crossed that I first viewed my world. There was little question I was going to need help or never have reasonable vision. As luck would have it, the leading authority at the time for my condition was resident at the hospital in which I was born. Dr. Marshall Parks performed my first surgery when I was eight months old. Both eyes were affected and so surgery was performed on both.

I recall all my childhood, when I would look in the hall closet, amongst the band-aids and aces bandages, cotton balls, gauze and the likes, were two odd looking navy blue fabric “things” with ties on either side, and something akin to Popsicle sticks encased in the cloth. When asked, my mother explained that these were the splints I was required to wear for that time immediately after my eye surgery. They were tied around my little arms ensuring I could not bend my elbows, thereby further ensuring I could not pull my patches off, etc. Why she kept them in that closet all those years, is beyond me, because I could see no other “alternative use for such devices.”

The surgery to straighten my eyes and the glasses I began wearing at ten months were designed to have me glasses-free by ten years old. Well, apparently, nobody told my eyes this and, still in glasses with one lazy eye at twelve years old, my mother took me to the eye doctor in England. This guy was a local and chosen either by word of mouth or randomly…not clear on that. His recommendation was that I have surgery on my “lazy” eye to further correct that eye and help me achieve binocular vision. (with a lazy eye, the brain cuts off the signal from one eye, so as to achieve a single image, rather than the double vision produced when both signals are trying to be accepted. The person therefore, has no depth perception, as vision from both eyes, binocular vision, is required to have depth perception.)

Well, Mom let this UK doc know in no uncertain terms that he would FIRST have to get it approved by our US doc. When Dr. Harte asked the name of my US doc, Mom told him, and he started to laugh. It turns out that in 1970 there were seven leading experts of in this area. Dr. Parks and Dr. Harte were two of them. So, I had the surgery, at age 12 ½ and recall the whole experience vividly.

The results of the surgery? Well, I have permanent sutures in my right eye (as opposed to the soluble ones used in the US by Dr. Parks), and most of the time my right eye does not “wander” any longer, but neither does it work in conjunction with my stronger left eye. So, I remain a monocular person, seeing everything in only two dimensions.

One day, when I was 21, I was at work when I was struck by an excruciating pain in my “good” eye. The vision was going in and out and I was scared. My boss told me to go to see the company doctor, which I did. The company doc looked at my eye and, in the tone of a parent, accused me, “You’ve been RUBBING that eye!” OK, so sue me! He was right, I had been rubbing it, because I had allergies and they made my eyes itch!

So, he took a closer look and declared I had a cyst on the eye and needed to see an ophthalmologist immediately. I called Dr. Parks, but he was in Australia so that was out. I had to select a new doctor and fast. I did and was told to come to his office in two hours.

Upon my arrival, the receptionist asked to look at my eye. I showed her and she gave me paperwork to complete (pretty hard to do when the vision keeps going in and out on your only good eye.) As I completed the paperwork, the phone rang. It was the doctor. The receptionist conveyed to him that the cyst was indeed on the eye and not the eyelid. In just a few more minutes, Dr. Gonzalez made his entrance, still clad in his hospital scrubs.

His examination of my eye revealed a cyst too large for him to feel comfortable removing in the office, so I was immediately admitted to the hospital for surgery the next day. The concern I was informed, was twofold. The cyst was pressing on the optic nerve, disturbing my sight, and the cyst was fluid filled, and should it burst (like from rubbing my eyes) it would contaminate and infect the whole eye.

My surgery the following day went well, though it took three times as long as the doctor had anticipated. Still, the cyst was removed and the eye stitched to ensure rapid healing and reconstruction of the shape of the eye. (cysts are like icebergs…what the doctor could see on the top was the smallest part.)

When I went for my follow-up visit, just after being discharged from the hospital two days later, the doctor told me he believed that cyst had been growing there for 7-8 years!

And so it was that my vision in my only “seeing” eye was recovered just short of real trouble. As part of my recovery, I was not allowed to read ANYTHING for six weeks. I challenge ANYONE with seeing eyes to successfully adhere to that one. I mean, street signs, advertisements, you name it, we are constantly reading.

I can honestly say, I have never taken my vision for granted. At 48 years old, I am thrilled my vision is correctable to 20/25 in my good eye (20/50 in the bad one). I marvel every day at the fact that I can see as well as I do and have NEVER disliked wearing glasses. They are as much a part of me as my eyes themselves.

My friend’s son will be undergoing surgery soon for a condition related to the one which made me cross-eyed. His eyes wander out, rather than in. This was referred to as “wall-eyed” when was young, though I think it has a nicer sounding Latin name. My friend is worried about her six year old son – worried that the surgery will ‘hurt.” As told her, even at twenty one when I had my most recent eye surgery, I do not recall the pain being overwhelming. I have encouraged her to prepare him with love, letting him know that he is in good hands and that the surgery will help him see better for the rest of his life.

I always feel I am operating on borrowed time with these eyes, and I use them as much as I can. I try to make what I am viewing, something worth viewing and remembering. For I have always been certain I will spend the latter part of my life without the luxury of vision. When that happens, I most assuredly want to have memories of things worth remembering.

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