Dr. Barloon reminded me today that I’ve been coming to see him for nearly 10 years. Less than a year after moving to Seattle, I began to experience a creeping loss of vision in my left eye, like a fuzzy field of old fashioned television snow—the kind that used to come on at 3 am in the days when there were actually periods without programming.
It was terrifying, impossible to describe, but I realized that I couldn’t see my own hand when I held it out at my left side. There was no pain, and I had suffered no head injury; what was happening was inexplicable.
Then, it wasn’t. I had a detached retina.
Surgery quickly followed in the evening of my diagnosis, as my macula—the part of the eye that’s responsible for fine vision—was still half attached and possible to save. If there was any chance of doing so, time was of the essence. So, I laid back in a hospital bed in Northgate, feeling my heart thud hard, fast, and thick in my chest until a nurse injected my IV drip with something I still remember as Liquid Happiness.
Shortly after, I went to sleep and woke up with a piece of silicone called a scleral buckle holding my eye together and a bubble of gas inside it to hold the tear closed. I laid on my side for a week to let the gas bubble press against the tear. It was clear and colorless, and looking through it inside my eye was novel enough to distract me for the week that it existed, getting smaller and smaller each day until, one day, it was gone.
My check-ups went by every few months, then it was a year in between appointments. In the summer of 2009, as I whistled my way into the elevated exam seat devil-may-care, I heard Dr. Barloon say the thing that I had once dreaded and eventually dismissed. With a light strapped to his head like a spelunker, he held a powerful magnifier to my right eye—my “good” eye—and said, “You have a large tear in your retina.”
This time, the tear occurred in the upper right portion of my eye, meaning that the loss of vision was happening somewhere in line with my nose. Without knowing it, I had been walking around with television snow at the periphery of my vision again.
The good news was that Dr. Barloon caught it before my retina detached. Within minutes, he had me in the laser room where I felt that familiar pounding of my heart. I wondered if it was unhealthy to have it pound that hard.
The room was dark. I leaned into a cold, white machine and look straight ahead inside it as Dr. Barloon looked into the other side, clicking a button to deliver the laser in a cauterizing circle around the tear.
Every time he clicked, a felt a small zap of pain inside my eye, which was being held open. I had to keep looking straight ahead. At this moment, I thought back to yoga classes with Denise and how she taught us to breath through physical effort, so I reduced everything in my body to breathing. It was unusually silent as he worked; all of my normal joke-cracking banter had stopped back in the exam room.
Breathing in and out between the alien-green flashes of light that pierced my right eye, I didn’t realize that a teardrop slipped out of my left eye until Dr. Barloon reached up to brush it from my cheek and ask softly, “How ya doin’, kiddo? You okay?” I assured him that I was, that he should keep going.
Soon, I found myself in the waiting room alone, recovering from the green flashes whose afterimages left shocking shades of fuchsia behind. My right eye was sore without actually hurting, and tears continued to stream out of it; my vision was present and not all at the same time.
It took an hour for the fuchsia ghosts to dissipate enough so that I could drive home.
After that, we were back to monthly visits, then every three months. I saw Dr. Barloon just before I went to Civita to make sure that his laser work still held, holding a shallow breath as he peered inside my eyes with the powerful lens. His confidence in its integrity allowed me to shove off in August without fear, putting my full attention towards my own view into a new world.
As I walked into the exam room today, pupils dilated like big saucers of ink, I held my breath again and felt my heart pound that familiar pound. Being the last patient of the day meant that we were able to talk a longer than usual; naturally, the topic was Civita and my experience there. He smiled and said a little dreamily how experiences like that are worth hanging onto as long as they’d last.
Looking back at the last nine years since that first detachment, and the past twelve months specifically—I received my fellowship on February 5, 2010—it’s refreshing to see with more experienced eyes, clearer eyes, how my life in Seattle has lead up to this moment. At 26, my net was cast so widely with little focus or vision for what I wanted to capture. It’s not that this is unique amongst 20-somethings, but for me, it came with innumerable frustrations and an seemingly insurmountable task of figuring out who I was, what I was good at, and what I really wanted—out of life, career, marriage, family.
Clarity was nowhere to be found until I lost my old sense of looking at things.
As I stood up from that familiar chair to leave with a clean bill of health today, Dr. Barloon shook my hand and touched the side of my cheek, smiling to say how good it was to see me—and to keep him informed about my next adventure, as he was sure there would be one.
When I looked in the mirror at home, watching my face come into focus as the dilation drops wore off, I felt the thud leave my chest. It is indeed a good thing to finally be able to see myself—and the path ahead—much more clearly. And, like Dr. Barloon, I believe that there will be much more than one great adventure in store.