I'm going to write about what happened yesterday at the eye hospital when I had a cataract removed. Sometimes I have this irrational notion: anything I can write about, won't have been in vain.
(I'm not going to write about the aggravating experience I had on Monday, the day before the surgery, when I had to secure a form from my primary doctor IN PERSON but nobody had the form and I didn't have the form and the form had to be faxed because my primary doctor "DOESN'T DO EMAIL" and I waited and waited and everyone was terribly annoying and finally the form appeared. That entire ordeal was, absolutely, in vain, and I will resent it for the rest of my days.)
So Brian had to accompany me yesterday, due to sedation and blurriness, etc., and we arrived at 10:30 for my 10:45 appointment (hahaha, as if appointment "times" exist), and were admitted by a very sweet and efficient woman who gave us a beeper (exactly like at Panera) and validated our parking ticket and took my deductible payment and had me sign a bunch of permission/release forms. It was all moving so swiftly that I got my hopes up that we'd be in and out, maybe home with enough time for me to get one thing accomplished before the kids were done school. But we waited and waited. I'd been told that I had to fast for 12 hours, so I hadn't eaten anything since dinner the night before, and by noon, I was 100% grumpy--thirsty, mostly, but also murderously in need of caffeine. It was a little before 1:00pm when our buzzer buzzed, and we were directed to the second floor, where a man in a tie greeted us at the elevator door and introduced himself as a "patient care specialist."
So Mr. Patient Care Specialist Tie Man told me that he was there to make sure that I was comfortable and that my needs were met (aka, please don't sue us). I'm not the type of person to yell at someone about something that isn't their fault, but I really wanted to tell him that I was dehydrated and extremely agitated about having been made to wait for 2 hours only to be passed off to a person who wasn't a doctor. I mean, what kind of Patient Care Specialism is that? Fortunately Brian is a calmer sort of person than I am, and his presence was steadying during many moments throughout the day.
Mr. Patient Care Specialist Tie Man led me to a freezing room lined with beds, some of which had their curtains open, revealing elderly patients, some of which were closed. A wheelchair passed by us bearing a tiny old lady whose eye was all patched up. Like Vanna White, Mr. Patient Care showed off my tiny cubicle, actually pointing to the bed and saying "this will be your bed," and then unwrapping a plastic package containing the gown, socks, and cap. He told me that a nurse would be over shortly to take my vitals and begin the pre-op process, and told Brian that once surgery began, he'd be sent downstairs and updated about my progress via a screen in the waiting room.
We waited some more for the nurse to appear, and when she did, she was extremely disheveled and immediately starting discussing with another nurse, who, of the two of them, was going on break first. "I'm not too hungry right now," the other nurse said. "OK, then I guess I'll go," the disheveled nurse said. "But let me just get this done first." ("This," meaning me.) Honestly she looked like someone who could low-key open a can of corn with her teeth.
She was having problems with the computer, some of the keys were sticking, and she asked me if I'd gotten a phone call the night before, was I asked questions about my medical/surgical history. Yes, I'd gotten a phone call, but no, nobody had taken my history. Thus began the agonizing questions, dozens and dozens of them, and I could see, screen by screen, where we were and how many more we had to go. Every time I answered yes or no, the "enter" key stuck, and she'd have to move the mouse and enter it manually, and you'd think after six or twelve such attempts, she'd stop and just go for the mouse off the bat, but no, each time, she jammed on the key, muttering and sighing.
I could feel my catecholamines rising and I had such a dry bitterness in my mouth. I just wanted someone to stick a laser in my eyeball and let me go home.
Finally, the questions ended, and another nurse came over, and he looked just like Wilford Brimley, and honestly he was so sweet and kind, but at that point I was over it, over even sweetness and kindness. He asked me more questions, including whether or not--here he leaned in conspiratorially, as though in fear of the Lord's reaction, or my Husband's--if I still "had a cycle." I said no, thinking he was asking me if I had my period, currently. He looked a little surprised but recovered quickly and went back to filling out forms. He pulled the curtains and told me he was going to duck out so that I could change, and it was a relief, simply because it felt like we were finally going to get on with it. I was allowed to keep my pants on, but I took off my shirt and pulled on the gown, and there's nothing like an open-backed hospital gown to make you feel more vulnerable than you ever thought possible on a casual Tuesday. I pulled the socks over my own socks and got on the bed and we waited some more. At this point I felt like I was receding, past Brian, past the hospital, directly into a nebula of anxiety. Intellectually, I didn't feel afraid. But viscerally, I was starting to panic.
A young female nurse came over and asked me again, quietly, if I "had a cycle." "What do you mean?" I blurted out. The low-talk felt fucking absurd; I mean, I was half-naked in a gown in a hospital, can we please just clearly state questions without the weird italics of shame? "Are you asking if I have my period right now? No I do not." "I'm sorry," she said. "I meant, do you still get your period?" I quickly understood that the vast majority of female cataract patients are well past the menopausal age, and it turns out, at my age, a urine sample was needed. "I haven't had anything to drink for a long time," I mumbled, trying to hold my gown together in the back while I shuffled to the bathroom. I gave her the cup and climbed back on the bed. Wilford Brimley put a bunch of drops in my left eye, the last of which, as he said, "had some pepper." Another nurse came in, along with the anesthesiologist, and they asked me some questions, and commented on how unusual it was to see such a young cataract patient--I heard this no fewer than eight times throughout the day--and the nurse got the IV ready and bound up my forearm with rubber and I clenched my fist and prayed to the vein-gods for easy entry.
She couldn't get the needle right, so I had to listen to her apologize while grinding it around, and she kept saying "oh, oh, see, I think it blew, it's all puffed up," and showing it to the anesthesiologist, and grinding down some more, and at that point, the physical pain sort of released the frustration and anxiety of the entire day, my deep-down fears of being blind, my being made to wait, the fear of litigation dressed up as cordialness, the stupid buzzer, my Sassy White Southern Woman Eye Doctor, the broken enter key, the stinging drops, all of it. I was cold and shaky and when the tears came, I couldn't make them stop. The nurse finally pulled out the needle and tried again on a different part of my hand and had success, and she kept asking me if I was okay but I couldn't really talk for fear of doing that awful shriek-cry thing. The anesthesiologist took pity on me and told me he was going to get me something "in the valium family" to settle me down--he'd also, a few minutes earlier, done a big "Lortab for post-op" sell, which I thought was a bit much--and by then I just didn't have it in me to protest. I don't like the way painkillers make me feel in the aftermath, but I also don't like hyperventilating minutes before surgery, so I said fine and in a matter of moments, drip drip drip, I was calm. They brought me a blanket warm from the dryer and put the cap over my hair and told me I was ready, and showed Brian where to go, and from then on, things moved very quickly.
I was wheeled into the OR. My eye doctor was in go-mode, and she patched up my eye with what felt like a few layers of gauze, which confused me, because how then could she even get to it? But I was also like whatevs, at that point. I felt warm all through my body, and eminently calm, and I could hear nurses talking--about what I can't recall--and once in a while my doctor told me I'd feel a this or a that, or would redirect my attention to the light, which appeared in perforation behind the gauze. In between, I saw so many colors, like a cross between Fantasia and an infrared weather map. It was beautiful and trippy and I had this acute sense that the worst was over, which flooded me with gratitude. I think the entire thing lasted six minutes, after which I was taken to a recovery area and given juice and crackers. So many ways a hospital can make a person feel regressed! The drugs made me oddly not hungry, but the juice tasted heavenly. I was happy to see Brian again although my mouth felt gluey and I didn't have much to say. I told him to take a picture.
We were late, at that point, for the kids, but Brian had called to ask that they be sent to after school care. A nurse shined a light in my eyes, asked me to read some letters, gave me some drops, and handed me a packet with all the post-op instructions: no contact lens, no rubbing, no water directly in it, two types of drops per day, a patch to be taped on every night for a week, no exercise for a week. Plus those giant sunglasses.
Brian drove me home before getting the kids. I washed my hands and ate a cold drumstick while standing up at the sink before collapsing into bed. As the drugs wore off I felt weird and bleak. Simone seemed sort of scared of me. Beatrice, who read a lot about Helen Keller this year, called herself my "Annie Sullivan" and wouldn't leave my side. I ate potato chips and a popsicle and a hard boiled egg and tried to drink a lot of water. I folded laundry, bringing each small sock or pair of underwear way up close to my face so that I could see what it was and whom it belonged to. I felt nervous about what was ahead--how would I drive, do work, read? Everything was blurry, and it's amazing how quickly you can plummet to the lowest existential depths when one of your senses goes MIA.
Today is so much better. With my right lens in, I can manage. With my right lens in and my left eye patched, I can comfortably (enough) work on the computer and read. Next week I'll see my other eye doctor (the one who deals primarily with contact lens wearers) to see where my vision has "landed," and there will be more follow-ups until my left eye fully heals and I can safely put a lens on it. My left eye is far from "normal," but the hope is that we've taken it from its legally blind status of roughly -15 to a -5 or -6, which is a big improvement. My right eye will need surgery in the next year or so, but I'm not worrying about that today or tomorrow.
Sometimes I think it's a good exercise to just get very still and to say, as a prayer or just as a matter of self-inventory: I'm alive. I can breathe. I can walk. I can hear. I can eat. Today I said: I'm alive. I can see.