Give Me Eyes to See in the Darkness
My eye doctor was the happiest person I knew. As in unusually excited about his profession and life. So I wasn’t surprised when he proudly told me he had new technology he wanted to use. Retinal imaging provides never seen pictures of the back of the eye which aid in early detection of glaucoma or cataracts. I tried to be as excited as he was, but couldn’t imagine how this was relevant to me, whose most notable eye concern was an easily corrected astigmatism. These were things I wouldn’t have to be concerned with for years to come. But he assured me, establishing a baseline was important for the future. I agreed to be his first patient to use the technology he was so excited about.
With the outer space images on the screen in front of us, he nervously cleared his throat and began to map out a part of me that I’d never seen before. His happy go lucky demeanor drained from the room as he asked, “Do you see those white specks?” I couldn’t deny there were tiny freckles of white next to each of the planet-like pictures. He apprehensively told me he didn’t want to alarm me, but they brought him tremendous concern. PSA: Whenever anyone says they don’t want to alarm you, it’s highly likely you are going to be alarmed. He told me the scans showed a collection of drusin or lesions on the layers of my retina. If they spread to the macula, blindness is imminent. But you know, enjoy your weekend.
I was referred to a retina specialist who, after taking a paparazzi-like number of pictures of my eyes, told me I likely have what is called familial drusin. This means the white specs are a family trait. My mother likely had them, but since she is deceased, there’s no way to know for sure.
The doctors can’t be certain my drusin is the familial (non-concerning kind). People who go blind through macular degeneration have a similar pattern of drusin on their retinas too. The difference is, theirs has spread to their macula. Every year I have the retinal imaging photos taken to see if the drusin has spread, and every year I hold my breath when the doctor compares the images to the ones taken the year before. We’ve moved out of state so I don’t have Dr. Chipper anymore. I have Dr. Let’s Not Take Any Chances, and she’s much less reassuring when she reads the results.
“No changes,” she’ll say.
And for further reassurance, I’ll ask, “So everything looks good and I don’t need to take any supplements or eat kale surprise or…”
“No,” she interrupts, “There’s nothing to be done until it gets to your macula and you can’t see anymore.”
“But that’s not a given, right, I mean this is probably just the way my eyes have always been.”
“Probably,” she says as nonchalantly as if she’s reading the lunch menu.
Blindness terrifies me. The thought of something on the other side of my face looming eerily brings me to my knees. To borrow a phrase from the optical world, it has also brought me great clarity. I don’t take my eyesight for granted anymore, and more importantly, I don’t view the blind community or people with any chronic illness the same way anymore.
I get it now. Chronically ill people were once just like me. Click To Tweet Their appointments were routine. Boring, even. Until something invisible to them was discovered by a doctor. And then everything changed for them and no appointment ever felt routine again.
My heart of empathy has grown three sizes. I sit in the dark room every year waiting to hear the doctor’s assessment and I feel like I’ve swallowed a rock. I’m terrified of what changes may have come and what my future might hold. Yet this is what the chronically ill face at all of their appointments. The air hangs heavily over them as they wait to hear what’s going on in their invisible parts. They wait to hear if the antibodies did their job, if their body is rejecting the treatment, if their CA 125 numbers have increased, or a myriad of mysteries within.
I wish no one ever had to hear devastating news at appointments and we could all be issued a guarantee of good health. Even though it’s sobering to know our health isn’t guaranteed, it is a gift to be able to appreciate each day with new perspective. If the ability to enjoy the moments and extend a heart of understanding to others is what is uncovered in the invisible parts of me, I’ll willingly sit in the exam room, rock in my throat and all.
Melinda Mattson will follow any sign that leads to the promise of vintage décor and repurposed treasures. As a wife and mom to two cherished daughters, her home is filled with equal measures of sugar and spice. She loves kindness and Jesus and is glad they’re meant to come as a package deal. She aims to embrace both with equal fervor. Melinda blogs at www.melindamattson.com.