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eye surgeries, the body, and theology

March is a rather nostalgic month for me regarding my eye. In 1981, I had emergency surgery to remove a rapidly growing cataract which was threatening my vision. The doctor had no idea what the outcome would be, and my mother was terrified that I would experience complications and lose the vision because of the surgery. Mostly, she was afraid that I would resent her for putting me through the surgery.

I don't know if I understood the risks of surgery--I'm sure that she tried to discuss them with me in a manner appropriate for an eight-year-old. I remember being in pain and afraid, sitting in the hospital with my eye patched for several days after surgery, before the doctor could manage to get a look at me. The ordeal was quite traumatic. It was traumatic because I felt that I was at his mercy. He called the shots, deciding when the tape would be pulled and eventually when and for how long he would look at me. When he tried to pry my eye open, I could feel his fingernails through his glove, digging into my eyebrow as he desperately pulled at my upper lid while I held it tightly shut. It was traumatic because when the patch was removed and my eye was open, light flooded in and was very painful physically--and during the first three days the source of this light was the bright artificial light from his retinoscope. I had not lost my vision. In fact, I had regained more than the doctor could ever have anticipated.

The doctor could not examine me adequately and therefore could not release me from the hospital. On the fourth day, he decided that sedating me would enable him to get a look. There was just one problem: I would not be sedated, even by enough medication to sedate someone weighing 200 pounds.

I insisted that he check his light at the door, open the curtains, and leave me to my own devices.

My plan worked, and I was rewarded with a nice view of my poor, old tattered stuffed cat, "Kitty Soft." My announcement of my victory should have been triumphant; but I had not yet learned how to dry up after crying over getting the mucus out of my eye for the first time. "I see my kitty," I sniffled.

The doctor put his light away. Mom obliged my request to tour the floor; and I went home the next morning. For three days, I had felt weepy and afraid. I had even told Mom that I had not wanted to have the surgery. Upoon arriving back at the room, I said, "It all makes sense now." I must have finally understood the reason why she had felt it so important to take the risk.

As a child, comprehending what blindness really means is very difficult. My vision had decreased gradually; and since I was a braille reader, I did not use it for many practical things. But the flood of new sights forced me to confront the implications and understand the truth: the way that I had seen before was not all there was to life. I could not have known without taking a risk, making the effort to change my life. I could not have known without enduring the pain of getting that patch off and opening my eye. In fact, I could not have known without the period of darkness.

Since that day, I have had four additional surgeries in order to preserve or restore my sight. The most recent two have been in March of 2001 and February of 2005. My attitude going into surgery is always a bit different. Over the years, I have worked through all kinds of feelings about blindness and my desire to see. Sometimes it has been a burning desire. Sometimes I have wished only that my condition would stabilize for good or for worse. Repeated cycles of loss and restoration can be grueling, in part because losing something again and again and grieving it over and over can just plain be an unnecessary pain and in part because choosing not to go through the restorative procedures can feel like a betrayal or neglect of myself. I have chosen instead to learn to accept the cycles of loss with grace. I learn to appreciate every moment of sight that I have and to live with the knowledge that I may not always have it. In fact, I will likely lose it someday; but as a good steward of my body, I must give it the opportunities it deserves. To do otherwise would trigger massive waves of negative emotion inside me which communicate that something is amiss.

I often feel guilt about the fact that my medical needs and my choice to go through restorative procedures requires my family to take time away from work. Things would be easier for them if I simply chose blindness. The sight restored to me is not sufficient to enable me to do things in ways that place less burden on them. Why not simply choose blindness, use the alternative techniques I know so well and make life easier for them?

Writing this sends me into a difficult emotional space. The fact is that it does offer some benefit to me, and my mother recognized that benefit 26 years ago. There is something in the body that cries for life and health--not a pretend life or health but a true life and health. It cries to be cared for, nurtured, to do what it was made to do. If my eye can see, it wants to be empowered to see as well as it can. To neglect to care for it is to abuse it, to do violence to it. In a body of persons, if I neglected one person, cast them aside in order to make things convenient for the others in the "body" or community, I would be considered insensitive and cruel. Why should I treat my physical body differently? I owe it respect as long as it has the opportunity to function. For the first time, I understand that my attitude about my body and my theology are intertwined.

Would I want my sight if I could have it completely restored? Yes, I would--if I did not have to put other body systems at risk for it. That means no brain surgery to implant electrodes that process images from cameras mounted on glasses. Would I be first in line? Probably not. I'm comfortable admitting that I would like to have my sight. I'm also comfortable admitting that right now I don't have it and that I need to be content to live in the moment and enjoy life.

For the most part, I am content and I do enjoy most of life. I enjoy the general whole of life even if I don't enjoy every fine detail. Everyone has bad days now and then. Some are much worse than others. I am appreciating our 75-degree days right now precisely because they aren't 0-degree days. If I had no 0-degree days, I probably wouldn't appreciate the sheer wonder of a 75-degree day--and people who have heard the phone posts on my blog know about my reaction to a 75-degree day with sun! I don't want every day to be a 0-degree day, and in fact I'm glad that we only have a handful of them each year; but I think they give character to my life. The same holds true for my bad disability days. They add a bit of spice to my life and help me to enjoy the wondrous days as victories instead of just taking them for granted. I have learned not to be afraid of admitting that I'm having a bad day, and I've learned that people often love to share the fun when I'm spreading around the joy on a good day. (Those who don't are either in need of a dose of empathy, or they are Scrooges who need some fun whether they like it or not. Wisdom is stopping long enough to figure out the difference.)

I don't know why I needed to write this all out. It's just what has been percolating this week, and I needed to do something to commemorate my surgery month. I guess that's why I did it...


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Mar. 16th, 2007 07:09 pm (UTC)
Sara, I always really enjoy you're insightful entries (forgive the pun).

Your likening your body to a community really makes a whole lot of sense. I'm totally blind and have been since about 15 months. I'm glad that I don't remember going through the 4 eye surgeries that I endured as a baby. I also feel guilty that my parents suffered the loss of my sight for me, because it's something I don't remember having in the first place. Since entering college I guess I went through a bit of a grieving period around this time last year. This short grieving period (if that's what it really was) was concurrent with my accepting of disability as part of my identity.

I've always said that I have nothing to lose, and that I'd be willing to be a guinea pig in studies if any treatments were developed to get around retinal detachment (they're getting closer and closer every year it seems). I've realized however that that's not entirely true: I have quite a bit to lose. I have my intelligence, my hearing (which I rely on more than anything else in traveling, socializing, etc) and a lot of other things that I certainly wouldn't trade for vision. I'm in a different spot than you considering I've never had vision to miss. I've attempted to cultivate an understanding of people like us in differing situations. We all make the best with what we have. I've often thought that people should stop trying to be super heroes about the whole being disabled things. So often people end up unhappyhappy because they don't allow themselves the natural human inclination for a little self-pity, a little wishful thinking, some dreaming, and alot of hoping and optomism. I often wonder if I'd have experienced vision and then lost it if my life would be richer in some way or if I'd treasure life any more or any less. Part of me is thankful that I really don't know what I might be missing out on. I count my blessings and count the ways in which I experience life more flly. We all have our ways I imagine to deal.

I wonder how I'd feel about my vision/eyes if I remembered painful surgeries and scarey hospital stays as a child.

I'm glad that if anything, you're experiences have taught you not to take anything for granted. I'm not sure that's ever a terrible thing. Take care, and thanks for sharing.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )


Sarah Blake LaRose
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