Last time I posted I wrote about my eye. The one that had so many things wrong with it that finally the only thing left to do was to cut it out.
I guess most people will never have to make a call like that.
The alternatives were to not do anything, to try and kill the nerves from the eye, or to eviscerate it.
When I discussed the issue with my doc, I coolly summarized the points for and against all the alternatives, and told him that by my count, the only way to get a sure result is to cut the thing out.
Last Wednesday morning I checked in to the clinic. My wife was there with me, until around the time I was supposed to change into the hospital clothes.
The vaguely meat-colored loosely hanging shirt and pants seemed like a final insult: not only did you get struck with shit that you shouldn’t have to deal with in at least thirty years, but you won’t even get to wear underpants.
A nurse collected all sorts of tidbits about my health, the doctor who performed the anesthesia shuffled back and forth between me and a bunch of other patients. And then I was left alone for an hour, with nothing to do but “lie back and rest.”
Lie back and rest. That almost got a chuckle out of me. Throughout the last two months the pain was never worse than it was when I lay down. I guess I’ll take a pass on that, doc.
Finally, around 10:30, the nurse told me we’d be going to the OR. I got up, and she asked me if I could walk. I held back the first thing that came to my mind, which was to ask if she was perhaps daft. I’m half blind and in pain. I’m not a fucking cripple.
One floor down, and through a twisty corridor. Halfway across there was an intersection of hallways that was covered with plastic sheets, something or other was being renovated on the same floor. A door to the left from me opened, and two guys in construction worker suits and helmets walked in, trailing us for the next leg of the hallway. “This sure looks promising,” I thought. I imagined them walking behind me all the way to the OR.
My thoughts got interrupted when we took a sudden turn, opened a pair of doors to an OR with a team waiting. The nurse asked if they were Doc So-and-so’s. They nodded to affirm, and then proceeded to tell me how I should be on the operating table.
My pulse was a bit up, I kept my breathing in check, and inside I was as terrified as I had ever been. The nurses helped me lie down. A young female nurse shielded my good eye from the light when I managed to communicate that the pain got real bad when lying down, and the light made things worse. She told me her hand smells like ethanol, in an apologetic tone. I was grateful. I almost asked her to hold my hand. By that time I had the IV drip in my left hand. Semi-jokingly I told them I had considered writing “NOT THIS ONE” on my left eyelid. Suddenly it didn’t feel that funny any more.
A slight tingly feeling in the left hand. Anesthetics. Someone put a gas mask on my face, explained that it was oxygen. I breathed in, and spaced out.
Consciousness seeped back in. I heard someone talking to me, asking if I was awake. I coughed a response, and realized my throat was sore. I figured that was because of the breathing apparatuses. I tried to open my eye, and when it didn’t quite work out, I eased my hands close enough to pry the lids open with my fingers. Then, satisfied that I could still see, I let the eye close and sighed. “Oh goody, you took the right one.”
The fog of the anesthesia began clearing rather quickly. Another nurse told me she’d have to “grope” me for a while to remove the electrodes from my chest. “If only I could see you properly,” I quipped. She told me she was 45, had short hair, and generally indicated that I’d be disappointed.
The nurses got the bed rolling. Someone noted that the bed doesn’t move all that well with weight on it. I asked them if they were calling me fat, much to their horror. And my amusement.
Back at the room I started from. The anesthesia doc brought me water, made me drink through a straw. Next up, a mini-carton of juice, and again with the straw. I asked if coffee was an option, and while that was being arranged, I propped myself up. Drank the rest of the juice, and made a note of the fact that I really didn’t want to lie down.
Doc came back with the coffee. I drank it, eyed my surroundings. Took my laptop bag on the bed with me. Asked if I could have some salmiakki candy since I brought my own. Permission was duly granted. I munched down like nobody’s business.
Cue the nurses that would transport me to the ward where I’d sleep for the night. They wheeled me out to the corridor. I asked if I could smoke. Yes, I could. Could they get my jacket? And um, my lighter. From my pants pocket? I got the pants too. And onwards to the elevator.
On the seventh, top floor of the hospital, we got out of the elevator, and I got assigned a room. At first, they took me to the door of a children’s room, and looked around in confusion. Asked the nurses of that ward a couple of questions, and finally pushed my bed into an adult room with another patient in it.
I felt cheerful. The pain was gone, and apart from the itching, there was very little discomfort. I asked if I could plug in my laptop, then wired things up, and began IMing status updates every which way.
Later in the evening, Sari came to see me. Brought me a cup of latte from my favorite coffee shop. We talked a bit. After a while she got up and left for home. I was supposed to play Peggle. It took me hours before I got to that.
I got acquainted with my roommate during the evening. I got the impression he was suffering from a burnout. When the night nurse came with our painkillers, he told the nurse that the whole deal scared him. The nurse didn’t understand — the operation’s done. What’s there to worry about? You’re OK, and if you take care of the eye, everything will be fine.
Right. Your body is built so that it’s possible for your retina to disconnect from the back of your eye, the doctors are fixing it up with a small bubble of gas, you need to maintain an upright position for the next few weeks… but don’t worry! Your eye may suddenly explode into a bright fireworks of pain with no advance warning, and anchor you to your home for weeks on end. But since it’s operated already, don’t worry!
During the night, I kept talking to the roommate. He told me a bit about himself. He clearly needed someone to talk to. I think I may have talked too much for him to get to say what he was going to — or maybe not. After a while, the night-nurse walked past our door, heard us talk and came to chastise us for not sleeping. I wanted to snap. Neither of us felt like sleeping. We weren’t bothering anyone. If it was going to mean that I’d be tired in the morning, I should think it’s my fucking call to make. But I kept my mouth shut, and went to sleep. Tried to, anyway.
Next morning I had barely eaten my breakfast when the nurses came to wheel me back down to the ward where I’d get my final instructions and be released. I packed my stuff, shook the hand of my roommate whose name I never asked, wished him well and went off.
Down in the first floor things were a bit hectic. I got out of the meat-suit and back to my own underwear, comfy jeans and shirt. And then I had to wait. And wait some more. A doctor came to tell me I’d have to take a pain killer — we’d clean the would now, and it would be uncomfortable. I got a tablet that dissolved in the water. Another doctor stayed there to stir the tablet for me. The nurses and doctors zipped back and forth, never staying in one place for long. I felt impatient.
After a while, I’d downed the glass, and the doctor finally prepared for the cleaning. Every two minutes somebody would interrupt, the doctor would apologize, and I felt like screaming. Get on with it already, I want this shit OVER with. They unwrapped the bandages around my head and began tearing off the tape that held the swab of cloth to my face. And finally, it was time to remove the cloth that had been between the eyelids for the last twelve hours. Can you imagine a piece of cloth stuck to your eye? Almost, but not quite dried up, so you can tear it off, and it doesn’t exactly hurt… but it’s the most intensely uncomfortable feelings you can imagine.
The cleaning process turned out to be simple: take a 20ml syringe, fill it with saline or tap water, and slowly let it flush behind the eyelids.
The doc let droplets of saline fall to my eye socket, and suddenly the reality of my situation struck me. What had just been done to me. What sort of call I had been forced to make. And what I would have to do for who knows how long to keep from getting an infection. I sobbed a bit. I managed to make it look like it was the discomfort. They placed another swab on top of the eye, taped it to my cheek and forehead, and gave me a stack of paper with instructions, schedules, recipes and whatnot. I nodded numbly at regular intervals to keep things going. Someone kept interrupting, and my release kept being delayed.
Finally, they called me a cab. I was about to light a cigarette, and I felt like I was in the breaking point. The cab arrived sooner than I expected, so I put the cigarette back in the box, got in the cab and told him the address of the pharmacy near our home. Sitting in the cab somehow pushed the emotions back. I didn’t want to share them with the driver.
The cab driver drove close to the pharmacy. The meter said 29.80. And then he continued right past the door. Maybe because he wanted an even 30 on the bill. Who knows.
I bought the antibiotics and pain killers, and went home. When Sari came from work, we argued a bit — I was sensitive to everything. And then I broke down completely. For a while, I couldn’t do anything except cry. And while I cried, I kept fearing it would be bad for the wound. My eyelids were swollen, my hair was greasy, and moving my eyes hurt. Everything felt like shit.
It’s surprising, how quickly you heal, really. In every sense of the word. The next day I was still very emotional. I cried even more. And then something happened in the evening — the swelling went down a bit. The pain eased off a bit. And for the next two days, things looked a bit less terrible every hour.
Can you imagine looking at your swollen eyelids, thinking about how nothing in life is fair? And two days later, opening the eyelids, revealing something that looks not quite like a horror movie prop, but close. And being happy about it?
Today is the first day in well over two months that I could enjoy a cold beer. It suddenly struck me that there’s no reason I couldn’t have one. I don’t need the pain killers any longer. And even though the risk of infection will keep me from some places for a while still, even though it will be a month before I get the prosthesis, it looks like I’ve got my world back.
I’m taking a peek from my cave, and it looks like sunshine. It’s beautiful. And it no longer hurts my eyes.