Thursday, September 02, 2004

Temporary Impotence

So I have (had?) this condition called strabismus for, like, ever now. It's commonly known as "walleye" or "cross eyes," and it's when both of the eyes don't focus on the same thing at the same time. This can cause some confusion for the brain, as two different sensory inputs are being received at the same time. In my case, it seems like it involves two muscles in my left eye, which worked too hard and keep yanking my eye up and out when my dominant right eye found an image to look at.

I've noticed that I had this condition for over a decade now. When I graduated from high school, I noticed that my eyes in my graduation photo weren't both looking at the same place. The condition apparently also manifests itself in the subconscious tendency to tilt the head to compensate for the eye maladjustment. I notice that I'm doing that now as I type this.

I've consulted with one or two eye doctors about this before, and was basically told that there's nothing really one can do about it. Although an inconvenience, I certainly wasn't blind. But the truth was, it also could give me headaches, and it gave me some substantial problems with depth perception, such as when I looked at a pair of telephone wires overhead -- I couldn't tell how far away they were, or even if there really were two of them or just one. It also made renewing my driver's license a bitch, since the eye test involves looking at a screen which wasn't ideal to a guy whose eyes were at odds with each other. (The examiner literally looked at me like, "you can't see that at all? The letters are there.")

In a most astonishing coincidence, my colleague Cynthia turns out to have also had this same condition. And to my utter surprise, she managed to find a doctor who actually could fix the problem. I let her be the guinea pig, then went to see him myself.

The surgery involves the doctor going into the eyes (I'm not exactly sure how) and weakening the hyperactive muscles behind the left eye. There was also the possibility of some overcompensation in the right eye, so another muscle would have to be adjusted in the right eye as well. As you can imagine, this occurs under general anesthesia.

Sure enough, after Cynthia's surgery, she could still see, and her eyes were definitely more pointed in the same direction. That's what we're looking for. She told me there was nothing to be worried about, that there's some distress or discomfort on the first few days, but then afterwards everything would be okay.

I went in for the surgery yesterday.

Cynthia understated the discomfort.

For some really stupid reason, I thought that I'd be able to walk out of the hospital that afternoon, sleep for a little bit, deal with a bit of discomfort, and deal with my day. Unfortunately, this was not the case. My eyes were effectively welded shut with the pain of micro-stitches in the eye, and a thin layer of ointment. This meant that every time I tried to open my eye, all I could see was a dull haze. There would be no hobbling around on my own in my cramped, messy apartment. Someone would really have to sit with me.

Thankfully, Tracy was able to spend some time with me, helping me feed myself and placing things in good positions so I could find them again. But for a few hours there, I really felt completely impotent. There was nothing I could do on my own. I couldn't see. Walking around involved substantial use of the hands. Even using the bathroom became an endeavor, as I not only had to find the toilet but then try my damnedest not to miss. (Eventually, someone smarter than I advised me to just sit down already.)

But the panic attack really started to hit me when I realized that I would be completely unable to feed myself if I got hungry and Tracy wasn't around. How would I be able to find something in the fridge? How would I prepare it? Suddenly, even something as mundane as a peanut butter sandwich, or a frozen pizza, or even a friggin' frozen tv dinner, would become a tremendous effort, involving lots of navigation that I would have taken for granted on any other occasion.

I think not being able to care for myself has quickly become my greatest phobia in life.

Tracy had to leave (she was tired and needed to get home), and I begged my other friend Elizabeth to come by and spend the night, just so I wouldn't be alone if I broke out in another panic attack. Thankfully, Elizabeth did, and thankfully, I did not have another attack. I slept through the night. When I awoke, at 6.47 a.m., I thought to myself, "What time is it?" and, somewhat reflexively, looked at the alarm clock lying next to me (which is how I found out it was 6.47 a.m.). It was then that I suddenly realized... I could see. There was minimal pain. There was no nausea. And though slightly uncomfortable, my eyes could open. There was nothing more than little pain one might get if there was a little too much gunk in it from the night before.

Today, I am, surprisingly, doing very well. I have my glasses on to see, but otherwise, it's okay. I'm not sure the strabismus is completely fixed, but my doctor tells me it takes a little while to get used to it, and it might realign itself gradually. But at least I can see. And function. And take care of myself. And for this, I am very, very thankful.

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