Seeing more clearly

Seeing more clearly | Mary Lee Writes
The day I first put on glasses, I was astounded to find that trees had leaves, that flowers were many different designs, and that faces had wrinkles and were not all a lovely blur. I looked at myself in the mirror and thought how ugly – nose weird shape; eyes set too far back; chin pointed; hair too curly – all the thoughts that an eleven year-old wearing glasses for the first time would feel and think.

My teacher had discovered that I could not read the blackboard, a problem I had hidden until a vision test. She sent a note home telling my parents I must have my eyes checked. They were horrified, as they had perfect sight and this was not what was supposed to happen to their daughter. My mother didn’t want me to wear glasses and commented that I would become dependent on them. My grandfather asked if I couldn’t take off “those damn glasses.”

This week my cousin Ruth and I were visiting about the attitude of people and how it has changed. Glasses are now an accessory and young people are not referred to as having four eyes. Ruth also said that generation quoted something I had forgotten, “boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.” Was that my mother’s worry?

I insisted on wearing my glasses at my wedding. Contact lens had not been perfected by that time and were large and uncomfortable. John supported me against my mother’s objections, and I purchased a pair of silver framed “cat eyes,” not the most flattering selection.

I recall John going with me to the ophthalmologist I saw in Memphis. His examination room was a long area with a chart at the end. A young resident came in and took my glasses, then asked me to read the chart. I told him I couldn’t see the chart. He became angry and told me not to be smart with him. I was near tears and John intervened, asking him to please give me my glasses, and I would try to read the chart.

I was frustrated choosing frames, as I couldn’t see what they looked like on my face. When the technician would become impatient, John would disappear and come back with a Coke. He knew that when I became frustrated, the tears would start. Later, I wore contacts most of the time, and they helped as my vision was clearer.

During a vacation at the beach I lost my glasses to a wave, as I was wearing them to watch our children. I always traveled with a spare pair and sometimes two. Swimming was never much fun as I couldn’t recognize those around me.

Who is that?

When I played golf, I wondered how my friends recognized someone across the course, and I would be asking, “Who is that?” It was a puzzle to me that my partners went straight to their ball, and I often needed help in locating mine.

We attended a Methodist Church in Memphis for a time while our children were in school there. After church one day, I turned to John and asked who had just greeted me with a handshake. He replied that it was the minister. The pulpit was too far away for me to recognize him. Of course, we were back-row sitters!

In my forties, my pressure in my eyes became high, and I began using drops to control it. Glaucoma was not mentioned as a diagnosis.

Several years later, my vision kept getting worse, and the doctor told me he didn’t know why I was slowly going blind. Hearing that, I switched doctors and at the first visit was told that I had cataracts and that I needed surgery immediately. I breezed through both surgeries and loved my new life. I went to an ASU basketball game and found out how you could identify the players – their names were on their shirts! I bought good-looking sunglasses and enjoyed the freedom of having good eyesight. I could read and see at a distance, so I needed no glasses.

Several months later, I had a huge floater in my left eye. I immediately saw the opthalmologist, fearing a detached retina. The doctor reassured me that it was normal. The next day it was blocking my vision, so I returned to the doctor, who was not concerned. The next day, a Saturday, I was showing houses and realized I was seeing double. I went in the first of the week to be checked, and my doctor was out of the office so I was seen by another. He yelled at me for not coming in and told me I had probably jeopardized my sight, that I would be flat on my back for six weeks, that I should have known better. It was all my fault. I dissolved in tears, but there was no Coke handy as I was alone.

The next morning John drove me to Memphis to the retina specialist. I was given a few tests and then was taken into a waiting/recovery room. I was in surgery four hours and no one ever briefed him. He was frantic. After that time, he was told I was in recovery and that my heart skipped a little and I should check that out, although no report on the surgery was given. When I awakened, I was sitting in a wheelchair and fully dressed. An impatient nurse told me they needed to close recovery, and I should get out of there. I was sent to a nearby motel, so “drunk” that I was staggering. John left me in our room to go to the drugstore to pick up pain medicine and drops. While he was gone, I had a phone call from the nurse asking if I was all right. I told her I was, and she asked if my throat hurt from the tube used during surgery. I told her it was sore, and she told me to take a lozenge and hung up.

Better care

My appointment the next morning was with the founder of the clinic. I waited one hour on the examining table, hearing him outside the door on the phone. When he appeared, he told me he had been on the phone with Jack Nicklaus. Needless to say, we were not impressed.

I never could find out which surgeon operated on me. Every bill had a different name. No one answered my question, it was like a dark secret. I went back once more during the next six weeks, then began seeing a surgeon who came from the clinic to the office in Jonesboro. Obviously, I never got my sight back, although I could see a little until the destructive effects of glaucoma took its toll. Lamp posts looked like swizzle sticks and all was a blur. Back to glasses!

I changed clinics, and since then Dr. Russ Harral has taken care of me. He is so careful, watching my pressure and treating my dry eye syndrome. I was having corneal abrasions on a regular basis when I first saw him, and I haven’t had another under his care. I have been a regular visitor at his office, and until recently, by adding drops and trying new ones, my pressure has stayed fairly stable.

About six weeks ago, I saw him and my pressure was higher. He tried an additional drop and told me to come back the next week. When I saw him that Thursday, he said it was time to consider surgery, and, before I left the office, I had an appointment in Little Rock on Monday. The glaucoma surgeon told me I should have the surgery within the next two weeks and was able to schedule it the next day. Mary Kathryn was a wonderful source of support, and I stayed with her in Little Rock for a week. It was a frightening twenty-four hours while the good eye was patched, and I had to rely on the little light from the damaged eye.

I have been fortunate as I have a wonderful ophthalmologist in Dr. Harral, and he referred me to a very fine surgeon. I am healing slowly, hoping to regain what sight I had going into surgery, and I am already driving and reading.

I saw the surgeon yesterday and was caught off guard. He told me I must have the same surgery in the left eye within the next several months. He said just imagine if that eye had also been patched and how I would have managed. He said the little light is worth salvaging. I am not looking forward to going through the surgery again, but I will do it as soon as he thinks the other eye is completely healed.

The gift of sight

I am telling this story because I am fortunate. Driving is what gives me independence, and I am grateful that both doctors are okay with that. The other is my love of reading. For about two weeks after surgery, I was using a magnifying glass to make out a word. An iPad with its adjustable script is important to me, because of my love of the written word. I panic if I don’t have a book by my side and between the iPad and the iPhone 6+, I have access to my library at any time. I keep a book downloaded to Audible and am working on listening as a source of pleasure.

This is not written to be a “poor me” story. I had never known the true gift of sight until after the cataract surgeries, and all of a sudden I knew what had been missing. I think about the blind and am awed by the stories I read about how they manage. I am such a fortunate person to have sight, and I appreciate each day as a gift. It was not until yesterday, with the news of facing another surgery, that I began deal with the fact that I truly could lose my sight. If that happens, I will be sad, although I hope that I will remember to be thankful for all the years with very minor problems.

One last comment – be patient with the nearsighted friend who might be a little short with you as you complain about having to wear reading glasses. And don’t be too proud to wear your glasses. Years ago, John and I were invited to a dinner party. I asked one of the men about his wife, and he told me quite frankly that she was too vain to wear her glasses. She had an eye infection and couldn’t use contacts for a few days, refusing to let anyone see her. Such false pride is not for me. Life is too entertaining and challenging to miss a single minute.