In July of 1980 I visited the Gunderson Clinic in LaCrosse, Wisconsin to have laser surgery performed on the torn retina in my right eye. A local optometrist had spotted the problem during a routine eye appointment. He’d been going through the motions when suddenly he stopped and said, “Whoa.”
I said “What Whoa?” Literally. Said that.
He said, “Oh, nothing.”
But I pressed him to tell me what he’d seen. And that led to being sent to an opthalmologist who prescribed a cauterization of the tear in the lower part of my retina. They hooked me to a machine the size of a Volkswagen and put a suction device directly on my eye. I hyperventilated and fell out of the chair. I wish I could say the suction coming off my eye made a large “POIT” noise like those old Mad Magazine cartoons used to show, but the truth is…I fainted.
The nurse jammed me back in the chair and we got the surgery going. “Breathe,” she told me. And I did.
The surgery was July 22 and I was told not to run for a week or so. Up until that point I’d been averaging 45-50 miles a week in a post-collegiate training regimen that was fitful and desperate because I’d been working as an Admission counselor driving all over the state of Illinois recruiting students for my alma mater.
Come July that was done. And in the weeks after my surgery I ran not a step. Just slow walking and lots of rest. When released from that relative bondage, I shot right back up to 49 miles the following week and then traveled north to Minneapolis to spend a weekend visiting friends and catching up with my college girlfriend.
But that first night in the Twin Cities I stayed at the apartment complex of a friend and parked my Plymouth Arrow hatchback out in the lot next to some railroad tracks. I was moving out of my apartment after my Admissions job and planned to stay a couple weeks with my girlfriend before moving back to Chicago. In my trusting youth I left all my personal belongings in that car overnight. Upon stepping out in the morning light, I saw the remains of my possessions scattered all over the parking lot. It looked like the whole thing had exploded.
Everything of value had been taken out of the car. Stolen by thieves who sorted through it like a band of raccoons sifting through a garbage can for food. I made the list of things lost in my running journal. “Ripped off. I’m lost. I need Jennifer. Camera and accessories. Binocs and fishing reel and rod. Brown suit. Tape deck and speakers. Clothes. Portfolio. Shorter running jacket. God teaching me simplicity? I’m weak for now.”
Yes, losing all that stuff really hurt me. In particular I’d lost the Olympus OM-1 camera that my parents had given me for graduation. The other painful loss was the deerskin art portfolio that my girlfriend’s parents had given me for a grad present as well. She never forgave me for losing that portfolio.
As for God teaching me simplicity, that was one lesson well-learned. I ultimately shed the girlfriend along with the Admissions job that I’d taken somewhat out of desperation coming out of college. It involved driving 1500 miles a week but I’d made it happen month after month and met the quota of 70 enrolled students that was mapped out for me at the start of the job.
Those three or four weeks were a harsh immersion in learning what’s important in life. From having surgery to save my eyesight to losing treasured possessions, it all just about gutted me. But soon enough the ordeal was over and I realized that survival is mostly about perception. You can get through some awful stuff if you keep your head intact. The running helped, of course. It saves us through times of trial. If we’re lucky.