I have glaucoma.
Glaucoma is an elevated pressure of your intraocular fluid, the jelly like stuff that's inside your eyeball. When this pressure increases, the jelly presses against the inside of the eyeball (a closed round sac, with a few pressure-relief valves), and the eyeball gets rigid like an overinflated tire. It presses against the retina in the back of the eyeball, and if the pressure is too high, the blood vessels that feed the retina can't pass enough blood to your vision cells, and they die. You go blind.
My right eye's vision was slowly deteriorating, to the point that I could barely see out of it. Vision is quite blurry, but I could still play racquetball, so I thought it was okay. Guythink said, you've still got another eye, so no sweat. You'll get a vision test eventually. I kept living.
Tuesday morning, I woke up, and then my left eye was real blurry too. I shook my head, thinking it was just me being sleepy. Didn't help. Washed face in cold water. That didn't help either. I sat down and wrote my racquetball partner:
My vision has changed today. It is markedly worse than it was yesterday. I need to go see a doctor soon about this. It makes reading and responding to emails difficult, and it makes work exceedingly difficult.
We had a fight the night before, and we were still a bit tender toward one another. I tell you this because I wrote that bit about the vision by way of explaining that I wasn't able to reply to some emails as I normally could - that the reason for the slow replies wasn't about her, it was about these stupid old eyes. I was angling for a bit of time before we talked again. You have to understand - she's Irish. She always wins.
She's been having severe migraines and had health issues of her own: broken vertebrae, a crummy immune system since she had Lyme's disease, which completely fucked up her immune system (that's a technical term). Did I mention a few heart attacks? Those too. She's no stranger to pain. The girl is allergic to a lot of anaesthesias, so she had an ACL done on her knee without anesthesia. Is that insane or what? She's nuts. My kinda woman.
She got the email at 7 or 8 in the morning. By mid morning, she arranged her schedule to get my sorry ass down to Washington's best eye doctors. This woman does not mess around. In between my stuff, she gets a CAT scan to see what's wrong with her head. It's just logistics, she says. I'm good with logistics. Good with logistics? Yeah, she's good with logistics like Einstein was good with physics.
We get to the Big Important Eye Doctors in mid afternoon. The place is in Friendship Heights on Connecticut Ave, a Washington DC power place. My sphincter is tightening. Oy vey. This is going to cost a shitload of money. (That's a technical accounting term.) The office has a huge waiting room, She fills out my first-time patient paperwork, because I can't really see the print too well. Then she swings into action with the insurance. An hour later, nothing's resolved. We're frustrated and we don't know what to do. Go with what my insurance provider says, and wait a week? Or stay here and pay out of pocket for the treatment?
I'm on the phone with my insurance provider and they won't see me until a week or so from today. The advice nurse doesn't see my eye problem as being that much of an emergency.
Ann's Irish temper would normally boil over like the radiator fluid of my car's high compression engine. Normally, she'd have snatched the phone away from my hand and begun telling the nurse, 'Look, here's the situation, and here's what we're going to do,' in her best icy cold boardroom voice. She has reduced better men to quivering blobs of jelly. This is just fun for her. 'Here's what we're going to do, so you'd better get a piece of paper and get a pen - not a pencil, a pen, because you're going to be taking lots of notes and I'm only saying these things once - and then when I hang up the phone, you're going to do them, and then you're going to call me back, and then you're going to tell me what I want to hear, which is you took care of all these things and you're going to get him in to see a doctor today, not tomorrow, but today - no I don't care how late it is, you make this happen, because he can barely see, and yes it is an emergency, and I'm putting you on notice that if you don't get him in to see someone competent.../
That's what she'd normally do. But she's got twenty things she's juggling, and she gets very tight and focussed and she's constantly thinking Solution? What's the solution? and How do we get to it? She gets very quiet and focuses like a laser beam, like a zen master in an ER.
I'm still on the phone, in mid-sentence with the advice nurse, when I look up at Ann and she gives me this look. She's made a decision. I know this look. It is the look of guys in a football huddle who know they're losing and they look at each other as if to say, Let's suck it up, guys, we can't lose this one. It's the locked-and-loaded and ready for war look. She mouths the words, I've still got the appointment here with Dr. Many Degrees, do you want it? And the look says, let's do it. I hang up the phone with my insurance provider and think, fuck it, she's busted her ass to get me here. It helps that she looks like Sigourney Weaver.
The symmetry is broken when she tells the clerks in the waiting toom that yes, we'll take the appointment. Finally, a decision's been made. Now we can move on with our lives.
I get ushered back to a doctor's office. Ann starts walking away, but I ask her to accompany me. "You want me to join you?" she asks. "Would you?" I'm pleading with her. She walks down with me. I sit on the patient table with the crinkly white paper. She sits in one of the doctors' chairs.
A nurse comes in. The nurse does a few eye charts. Results: bad. They're so bad Ann laughs at me guessing the letters. The letters are so big that there are only three letters per line. I can't even guess. The nurse does the glaucoma test. She does it again. I could swear that this demure Asian-American woman whispers, "Oh shit." Then she leaves and Ann and I are alone with our thoughts. The office is very quiet.
The eye doctor comes in. He's handsome, polite, very low key, very in charge in a nice non-aggressive way. He acknowledges Sigourney in the corner of the room. Ann smiles and says thanks for seeing us on such short notice, and that her doctor was Old Jewish Name Physician who heads the practice, and that he was ever so helpful in setting this up for her.
He does the doctor first-glance at me: Middle aged, graying, could lose a few pounds, good cheek and lips color, good color in hands, not in evident pain. He looks at the notes the nurse made, and redoes the glaucoma test a few times.
He says, "You've got glaucoma. A rather severe case of it, although you're not in any pain, and your retina still looks good and intact. But, for example, whereas the normal pressure is about 10-20, and a normal patient has pressure in the mid thirties, your right eyeball has a pressure of 49. It's one of the highest I've ever seen. And you're about ten years too young for it."
Ann shoots me another look. She hates that I haven't seen a doctor in years. This has been a bone of contention. The look says, "See? I told you so." It also suggests that I'm going to have to go see doctors again.
I hate doctors. They always tell me bad news. Why can't they just slap me on the back and say, "Good god, man, I wish I had your good health. You're good for another three or four decades. Keep eating that steak and smoking those cigars. They seem to work for you."
But she's all ruffles and smoothness. "So, what can you do for him? Is it treatable with drugs or operable? Or do we just shoot him now and bury him in the back yard?"
He's as charming and smooth as she is. He has a nice sonorous voice. He has a well cut suit, and he's sitting there tanned and handsome. You trust this man.
He seemed to like that I'm not a mama's boy and didn't come in for a corneal scratch or some chicken shit thing like that. He seemed to be amused at my guythink, that I totally ignored warning signs from the right eye, since I still had a spare eye, and could keep doing what I was doing. Nothing to get alarmed about, yet. I wasn't dead, was I? As much as his inner doctor wants to scold me, he's a guy too, and he's probably the same way as me, on some level.
No, he says, we don't need to shoot him just yet. First we start with eye drops: Alphagan (brimonidine tartrate, 0.1%), Cosopt, and Pred Forte (predinosolone acetate, 1%). One to two drops in each eye, once in the morning and once in the evening. You do this a few days. Come and see me again on Friday afternoon. If you respond to eye drops, you'll stay on them. If we need to do something else, we're run tests and determine the best cause of action.
He looks at Sigourney, then he looks at me. He sees her smile. He sees the way I smile back.
He's going to help me keep my vision. I want to keep my eyes on this girl.
Thanks to Mike Doyle, whose willingness to listen helped
maintain a sense of calm when I was decidedly not calm. Thank you, doyle. You are a mensch.