I lost a contact lens last week. That sent me to the eye doctor for an exam, because it’s been three years (I guess…) since the last prescription.
That doesn’t mean I have not been to an eye doctor since. Every couple years I go to the ophthalmologist for an eye dilation and to get a thorough check of eye health. Way back in 1980 I had a retinal detachment that could have ruined vision in my left eye. That condition was caught by an optometrist in little old Decorah, Iowa. He was doing an eye exam for a glasses prescription and went “Whoa…”
I said, “What whoa?”
“Um…er…nothing. Let me check something.”
I pressed him on the issue. “I’m not getting out of this chair until you tell me what’s wrong.”
He was reticent to tell me. “I’m not qualified to make this diagnosis,” he told me.
But I insisted. He finally admitted, “I think I see a retinal detachment. But I think you should go to the Gunderson Eye Clinic in LaCrosse to get it checked out.”
So that week I drove some eighty miles up to LaCrosse and sure enough, they said having surgery was necessary to fix the torn retina. “Laser surgery would be the best option.” they told me.
And I said, “What, whoaaaa?”
I had not heard of laser surgery on the eye before. But I came back two weeks later and they put goo in my eye and hooked me up to a machine the size of a Volkswagon. This was the laser machine. Austin Powers would have loved it had it been attached to the back of a shark.
I sat there for a moment with my eyeball fixed to the gooey prod and naturally, began to hyperventilate like mad. Then I fainted, and slumped over in my chair. But not before throwing my arms around the hips of the attending nurse. Yes, I really did that.
She coaxed me back into consciousness and then deftly removed my hands from the back of her ass like she’d done it one hundred times before. Then she sat me firmly in the chair and said, “Okay, that’s enough. Now, breathe. Normal.”
So I breathed like I was running a race. Deep and smooth. Then I sat real still as the laser machine was used to aim beams of light at the tear in the bottom of my retina. They coterized it. Burnt a ring around the tear in that tissue and saved my eyesight. Otherwise the fluid behind lining of my eye would have pushed down and caused a greater tear. That would have made me blind in one eye.
So I’ve never taken my vision for granted. Yet we all get busy and forget how long it was since we last got our eyes checked, or our teeth cleaned, or our hearts monitored.
So the recent eye checkup went well enough. No major health problems in the eye. They used a machine to take a picture of the inside of my eye. That image showed the floaters that came about a couple years ago when the interior lining of my eyes decided to hang little sacks of a viscous fluid down like a sack of spider eggs. During that process, I saw flashes of light just like they warn about when you’re experiencing a true retinal detachment. That freaks you out a little bit. It sure freaked me out. Took me back forty years to an earlier scare…
But then it all stabilized and the floaters became another part of my life and the aging process just like the hair in my ears and the lines of my face. Even when the effects of age take place right before your eyes, the recognition of its consequences tend to arrive in revelations. You look in the mirror one day and notice that the skin above your eyelids is now drooping. Or you see your own picture on Facebook and wonder whose face that is? And you realize it’s your face. You’re aging.
Taking it in
We take in all these changes through our eyes. And yet how much do we really process? I look back on that incident of the retinal detachment that I had at the age of 21… and what a shock it was to realize the possible mortality of my own vision.
The eye doctors didn’t speculate too much on what could have caused such a detachment. One suggested that my career in running steeplechase in track. The jarring might have caused it? But really, I’d played years of basketball as well, and been hit in the eye by a recoiling branch while birding. So it wasn’t likely the result of trauma at all. It may well have been the result of a rapidly changing eye structure that led to astigmatism. Call it eye tectonics. My retina pulled away because my damn eye was being yanked from its own moorings.
In other words, one of the early signs of aging. The eyes have it. Everything in our body has it. We just don’t notice the effects of aging when we’re still so young.
But think about it. From the moment you pop out of a vagina the aging process begins. Life is a pre-existing condition. We age through time, but we also age through the impact and torsion of life itself. Traumatic events. Stress. Frustration. Doubt. Fear. Expectations. Success. All these things have an effect on our conscious and unconscious selves. The purity of the moment is made from the absence of time.
Only when we’re doing something we love like running or riding or swimming do we sort of stand outside the aging process. In those moments, we essentially exist outside the realm of time where physical aging takes place. It may hurt more to run or ride or swim as we grow older. But that’s not really true. We hurt ourselves aplenty in our competitive endeavors while still young. So it’s all relative how fast we’re going when the pain and difficulty begins and ends. The important fact is that the world still looks the same. So much of this happens in the realm of the mind.
We can bear witness to this alternate reality through many senses. But when it comes to our ability to see life through this love of doing, the eyes have it over all other senses.
Go out and appreciate your eyes today. And if these don’t work for you, give a new listen to the world. Any sense of the body can serve as your eyes. You just have to let it be.