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I Can See!

I was eight when I got my first pair of glasses, after an observant teacher mentioned to my mom that I was constantly squinting as I tried to see the chalkboard. In those days, I was too young to be concerned about vanity, so having to wear the cat-eye shaped spectacles didn’t hurt my ego one bit, until the inevitable playground teasing began. Like so many other myopic kids, I got the dreaded ”four eyes” label while still in elementary school. And I suppose it was some time in the 5th grade that I began my love/hate relationship with wearing them. Being able to see was great, but it came at a cost.

During those formative years, I spent lazy summer afternoons at the municipal pool where my friends and I would meet to practice what we had learned at morning swimming lessons. I can remember passing through the changing room and slipping my belongings, including my glasses, into the rented locker before pinning the key to my swimsuit. As I emerged into the bright Louisiana sun, I would try to adjust my eyes, scanning the scene for my buddies. Most often, it was a blur, the sound of high-pitched laughter heightened in the absence of clear sight. I would wait for a familiar voice to call out to me or a sympathetic pal to come and take me by the hand to where the group had gathered. But that feeling of being left out, being less than everybody else, stayed with me.

By the time I entered high school, I was determined to wear contact lens, even if it was the hard type, that were miserably uncomfortable. And I refused to even own a pair of glasses, since my prescription was so bad that they resembled Coke bottles. Appearance is everything when you are 16 years old, but I think that continued to hold true as I got older and my vision further declined. "Men don't make passes at girls who wear glasses," was sometimes quoted in the fashion magazines. (Thank you, Dorothy Parker, for causing girls like me to have a complex.) Perhaps, I was forced to become likeable in other ways as a result. Who knows?

I think of the many things I have missed because of my poor eyesight, watching my babies being born among the most significant. Viewing life like Mr. Magoo (remember him?) has been incredibly frustrating through the decades. And yes, often frightening. At nine, I had my diseased, malformed appendix removed. (It might still be in a specimen jar at LSU Medical School; it was that “interesting.”) As they wheeled me, alone and afraid, into the operating room, my distress was heightened by the inability to see my surroundings, to visually process what was about to happen to me. I still remember how that felt. But I have also repeated the experience through the years with knee arthroscopy and gall bladder removal. Most recently, the round of cancer-related surgeries and procedures have taken me back to that anxious place of optical uncertainty. It never gets easy.

Over the past three years, I have had a substantial number of chemotherapy treatments and not without residual side effects. The poison which attacks the cancer cells, also damages the good ones. And the accompanying steroids causes cataracts. So my sight got even worse as I experienced contact lens issues, altered colors, hazy vision, and chronic dry eye. It was time to see a specialist.

But every cloud has a silver lining, and this has been mine. No joke.

Five days ago, I arrived for surgery on my right eye to have a special lens implanted to replace the cloudy one. The intake nurse went over my medical history. Trust me: I look pretty sick on paper, which I worried might give them pause before proceeding, but she seemed unfazed by it all. I had passed the gatekeeper and was given entrance into the inner sanctum.

The procedure itself was relatively quick and certainly painless, albeit a bit unnerving. There was bright light, followed by a rainbow of colors, which felt like a journey to some far-off nebula. When my surgeon announced that he had removed the diseased lens from my eye, I realized that I had been rendered partially blind. That part was frightening. I whispered a prayer as he inserted the new upgraded replacement, breathing a sign of relief when it was all over.

My ophthalmologist, who is brilliant, but also professional and reserved, was not prepared for my outburst as they wheeled me into recovery. My loud voice reverberated through the quiet surgical suite, “I can see. My God, I can see,” I said with all of the enthusiasm I could muster following an IV of relaxation drugs. The staff chuckled, and he blushed as he arranged for my discharge post haste.

Other than having to adhere to a crazy regiment of eye drops and forcing myself to sleep on my back, the whole thing has been easy peasy. Yesterday, I had my follow up visit, which included an eye test. Much to my surprise, I could read past the big E on the chart. In fact, I breezed through line after line of random letters. “Congratulations, “ my optometrist (who is adorable, by the way) announced, “you have 20/20 vision in your right eye.”

I cried tears of pure joy. This is a miracle, a life changing one, and I am incredibly grateful. So grateful. I look forward to having the other eye, which is still pretty bad, done in two weeks. And yes, I think of the many firsts that are to come, simple things like reading the clock in the middle of the night or seeing my reflection when I put on makeup. Pollen season will soon be upon us here in Georgia. This year, I won't be struggling to keep my contacts lens clean. From now on, I will be able to clearly view the world. I look forward to that, even if it is from a chemo chair. Woo hoo!


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