Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The eyes have it

Stop the presses.
I've made a breakthrough regarding the chronic condition called Male Pattern Blindness that affects virtually every man once he gets married. You know, it's the malady that makes most men unable to see what they're supposed to see when they're supposed to see it, whether it’s a stray piece of laundry, an item on a refrigerator shelf or, especially, a note outlining suggested activities and/or chores for the day.
Now, before you nominate me for the Nobel Prize in Medicine, you should understand this: I didn't come up with a cure.
I've got something better.
An excuse.
It all started one day back in August when we were walking on the beach. A sudden burst of wind blew sand into my right eye. As I attempted to wipe and blink it away, I noticed something strange about the left one.
I couldn't see squat.
The vision in my left eye was blurred, with a big smudge-like area right in the middle that made it hard to see much of anything.
"Hmmm," I thought, and promptly ignored it, figuring I just had some gunk (scientific term) in my eye that would go away.
But it didn't. And it started to hurt, too, which really got my attention, especially when an irritating gritty feeling evolved into a lancing pain that brought real meaning to the expression "a sharp stick in the eye.
Hmmm, indeed.
To make a really long story a little bit shorter, I worked my way through a pair of doctors over the next few weeks. The first, a general ophthalmologist, muddled about treating me for a mysterious infection that required both twice-a-week visits and eye drops that cost an astonishing $175 for a teeny-tiny bottle. Doctor #1 finally gave up and handed me over to doctor #2, a cornea specialist, who cut right to the chase.
"You got Fuchs'"
Fuchs' Dystrophy is a rare, mostly genetic disorder that occurs when cells that normally help pump excess fluid from the cornea begin to die off. As more and more cells are lost, fluid begins to build up in the cornea, causing swelling and cloudiness. As the disease gets worse, small blisters may form, which can eventually break, causing severe eye pain. Fuchs' dystrophy can also cause the shape of the cornea to change, which results in further vision problems.
In short, it's real blurry, and it hurts, too. Actually, I've got Fuchs' in both eyes. The left one has the advanced, bumpy, blistery stage of the disease, and they tell me my "good" eye is not all that far behind.
"So, what do we do about it?" I asked, thinking an extended course of $175 eye drops would probably do the trick.
"A cornea transplant," he said.
Is that all?
On the advice of the doctor, we did some research and discovered that cornea transplants have become a fairly run-of-the-mill thing for those well-trained in the delicate art of peeling and replacing the parts of the eye. We even made up a little joke regarding the nature of the transplant donor.
Me: Maybe you should donate your cornea.
She: Why would I want to do that?
Me: Then I'd finally be able to see things your way.
Given the "do it or go blind" nature of the decision, it was a no-brainer to choose to go ahead with the transplant for the first eye.
In fact, we gave it a try last Friday. A donor cornea was FedEx'd in from an L.A. eye bank and I was doped up, draped and ready to go. The norm for this kind of surgery is what I like to call "the la-la land cocktail," a combination of local anesthetic and heavy sedation that makes you feel like wrestling bears, sky diving without a parachute, or going over Niagara Falls in a barrel are all within the bounds of reasonable activity, not to mention a little carving on one's eyeball.
A few minutes after being rolled into the operating room, I was happily dreaming my own little dreams when my doctor's voice cut through the clutter and burst my drug-induced bubble.
"I don't like the looks of this," he said.
Those aren't words you want to hear from a doctor with a scalpel in his hand and your eye in his sights.
I dragged myself a few more light years towards consciousness in order to inquire as to the situation.
Happily, it wasn't me that was the problem, but the donor cornea, which wasn't up to my doc's exacting standards.
"I gave it the family test," he said. "I wouldn't put it into my brother, so I'm not putting it into you."
A good thing.
So we're going to try it all over again on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.
Recovery consists of 24 hours staring at the ceiling, followed by a few days of light duty and Ray Charles sunglasses. Advanced transplant methods mean I might be able to measure improvement in weeks instead of months, at which time we'll start talking about doing the other eye one of these days.
I suppose I could think of other ways to spend the Thanksgiving weekend. The good news is that I'll miss Black Friday entirely. The bad news is that I'll have to curtail my own personal eat-fest at midnight on Thanksgiving to prepare for surgery in the morning.
But all in all, I know I'm lucky. Because unlike Macular Degeneration and some other progressive eye diseases, this one has a cure, with a high rate of success. And I know that thanks to a good doctor, a generous donor and modern medicine, I'm going to have something to be truly thankful for.
Here's looking at you.

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