“I’m so sorry, Liz,” Sheryl said.
“Thanks, Sheryl.” My friend Sheryl had stopped by during naptime a couple of days after the appointment. We talked on my teal couch in the basement, surrounded by bookshelves, with cups of hot tea in our hands.
“Who is your specialist, if you don’t mind me asking?” she said.
“Colorado Retina Associates,” I said.
“That’s who Carl saw – did I ever tell you he had an eye issue?” she said.
“What? No – what happened?” I said.
“Well, we’d been married a year or so when he noticed some distortion on the edges of his vision. His parents have an eye doctor friend in the Springs, so they suggested we give him a call – we did and he wanted to see us ASAP, so we drove down on a Friday, and he told us that Carl’s retina was detaching from the back of his eye, and he needed surgery immediately. He set up an appointment for us at Colorado Retina Associates early on Monday, and by Tuesday, he was in surgery. It was too late by then for them to use lasers to reattach it, so they had to put a bubble in his vitreous – the jelly in the eye – to hold the retina in place, and Carl had to lie face down on a friend’s massage table for two weeks while the retina healed. If he’d laid on his back at all during that time, the bubble would have moved, and they would have needed to re-do the surgery,” she said.
“Wow, Sheryl, that sounds…” I said.
“It was tough,” she said.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Was it painful?” I said.
“They put him under for the surgery, but the 24-hours after surgery was hard – I ended up calling the surgeon to ask for more meds for Carl because he kept vomiting from the pain. He couldn’t be left alone, so my mom came over so I could run to Walgreens to fill his prescription. He needed help for everything, all the time,” she said.
“How did you do it?” I said. “I mean, could you even sleep?”
“We had a lot of help from family,” she said, shrugging. “But yeah, it was tough.”
“So, what’s it been like since then?” I said, not sure if I wanted to hear the answer, but unable to stop gawking at the car wreck anyway.
She nodded and said, “It’s been okay.” Then she took a sip of tea and continued: “After the surgery, he had appointments every month or two to monitor his eyes, and they needed to laser his other eye because the retina was detaching there as well. But that time they caught it earlier, so we didn’t need to do the bubble surgery and recovery again.
“Thank goodness,” I said. “I can’t imagine doing that once – let alone twice.”
She nodded, and continued: “He also developed cataracts in his right eye because of the first surgery, and they needed to be removed. After all that, the appointments moved to every six months, then once a year, and now every two years to check on his eyes.”
“And his eye sight is totally fine now?” I said.
“Well,” she said, tilting her head to the side, “He gets headaches from using a computer all day, and of course he has a desk job, so that doesn’t help anything, and he can’t mountain bike anymore because it’s too rough on his eyes – which was a bummer for him, because he really loved to mountain bike. And sometimes he’ll get dizzy out of the blue. But he can see just fine. Everything healed up well.” She shrugged and raised her mug to her lips.
I took a deep breath, and stared into my tea in the silence, watching the steam rise in the silence.
“Not that you’ll have to experience any of that,” she said. And then she frowned: “I hope I didn’t scare you by sharing that with you,” she said.
“No, not at all, I’m fine,” I lied.
“What you have sounds different,” she said.
“Yeah, probably…” I said.
“So, I doubt that Carl’s story even applies to you,” she said.
“Right,” I said, nodding, trying to convince myself. “So,” I said, wanting to change the subject, “you liked his doctors?”
“Yep, they were great. Just be sure to bring a list of questions with you – cause they’re surgeons, you know? They aren’t going to wait around to make sure you have all the answers you need.”
I frowned, remembering my experiences as a doula with women in labor, and how their Obstetricians bluntly communicated what was needed, without always taking their patient’s needs or desires into account. I made a mental note: bring a notebook, a pen, and a list of questions.
I thought, if I were going to Christian sleep-away camp instead of a doctor appointment, my list would include a Bible and a smile. I grinned to myself remembering all the youth group trips I’d attended where a smile had been added to the packing list - maybe I should add it to my doctor’s office list.
“I’ll do that,” I said, nodding. I looked at Sheryl. “Thanks,” I said, and I meant it. I sipped my tea; the future loomed like the dark grey cloud in my vision.
This post is part of my “Through A Mirror Dimly” series about a health issue I’ve been experiencing. I started telling this story during the season of Lent as a way to make sense of the ways that my own suffering teaches me about the suffering of Jesus Christ.
I also invite you to engage with your own suffering through this series: how does your personal pain illuminate the suffering of Jesus for you? And what can your pain teach you about the life of faith?
I’d love to hear your thoughts – comment away!