The morning after we lost Dorothy, I woke up in the ICU terrified and alone. The memories of the day before tore through me like a natural disaster. My eyes flew open and that’s when things became even more terrifying. I couldn’t see. I reached for my glasses to remedy the blurriness I was facing, but it didn’t work. The world was a swirling, terrifying mess that perfectly mirrored my disaster of a heart.
I frantically groped for the call button on my bed and paged my nurse. She came in immediately and came over. I couldn’t tell if she was the nurse from the day before or a new nurse altogether as she leaned over to ask how I was doing. “I can’t see.” I whispered. “Would you like me to turn on the light?” she asked. “No,” I said a little louder, “I can’t see anything. I can’t even see your face.” She immediately called for a doctor to come in and see me. As she was making her call, my hands traveled up to my face and I touched my closed eyelids. My eyes were so swollen that there was no longer a recess under my brow bone. My eyes were bulging past my brows and they were so tender to the touch. I dropped my hands back to the bed and wept. While the doctor came in and explained that they would make me an appointment with ophthalmology once I was out of the ICU, I just wept. After all that I had been through, I was already dreading facing the world, but how could I face it without my eyesight?
Two days later, discharged from the ICU, and as a recovering patient, I was wheeled away to an ophthalmology appointment. At that point, I was so weak and shaken by my ordeal that I could only describe my demeanor as listless. I sat slumped in a wheelchair, trying to keep my catheter bag hidden from sight, as a very chatty orderly asked me too many questions that I didn’t answer. My glasses lay useless in a case on my lap as colors and blurry shapes streamed past. I felt nauseous. I closed my eyes and didn’t open them again until I felt the wheelchair stop.
The orderly left without saying goodbye. (I guess he finally picked up on the fact that I didn’t feel like talking.) From what I could tell I was in an exam room. The ophthalmology assistant helped me into an exam chair and began her assessments. Her first test was a black card with a white dot in the middle. She asked me to focus on the dot and I managed to do so. She then asked me whether I saw straight lines in the background or were they wavy. I burst into tears. I saw no lines at all. “It’s okay. Let’s try another one.” She administered several more tests and, even with my limited ophthalmology experience, I knew I failed every single one.
At some point she left and the doctor came in to see me. She started off by noting that I seemed tired. Was the baby not letting me get any sleep? The brows above my hopeless eyes furrowed in confusion and then it hit me. This was going to be the first time I would have to tell someone what happened. “My baby died.” was all I could manage to say before my body became wracked with sobs. I felt arms envelop me and the doctors voice apologizing over and over. To this day, I can’t remember if she was apologizing for my loss or for not reading my chart better, but I guess that’s a minor detail.
They administered more tests and then it was time to hear the results. I remember feeling so incredibly vulnerable as I sat there unshowered in that faded hospital gown, my catheter bag hidden under my blanket and my body so weak that I could barely sit up. I sat there waiting to hear whether or not I would ever see the world I remembered. The doctor shared a lot of information with me that I couldn’t focus on because I was just waiting for the answer to my question. She told me that my retinas had detached most likely due to my extensive hypertensive episode and possibly because of a cortisol surge. “Will I get better?” I finally asked. She hesitated, “I think so, but we’ll have to wait and see.” I remember thinking that it seemed like a bad time for puns, but I let it slide. It was time to see if things got better.
Things did get better. My vision slowly returned and on the surface everything seemed to be back to normal. Inside, there have been some minor complications but they have remained minimal, which is incredible considering the trauma my eyes endured. I’ve had several follow ups with that same doctor and she has referred me to a neuro-ophthalmologist who I met with for the first time today. He took an even closer look at my eyes (I now forgive my doctor for her bad pun, it’s hard to avoid in the ophthalmology world) and let me know that my eyes are in good shape. I have suffered lasting optical nerve damage, but it is not serious at this point. I will continue to see the neuro-ophthalmologist annually to make sure things don’t progress. Even though it’s not a totally clean bill of health, I’ll take it. It’s the best possible outcome I could hope for at this point.
Why did I share this? Because it’s all a part of my story. Because it’s what happened. It’s what happened to ME. So much of my sharing is devoted to telling the story of our family, that I sometimes neglect or avoid talking about what has happened to me. It’s hard for me to talk about how on the day we lost Dorothy, I almost went with her. It’s painful for me to admit the trauma my body has endured and the complications that I may face in the future. So, I will try harder to share. I will continue to look back towards the past to tell all of our story. When I see my future, I see my whole truth being told.
And most importantly, I see.