I woke at my usual time and sat up. Something was wrong. I blinked, covered each eye to check the other. I’d lost sight in my left eye. A black veil had been drawn, leaving only a small halo of light at the periphery, like the sun setting in the fog.
After a minute of panic, my rational side took over to try and make sense of it. From what I knew, cataracts impede night vision and cause halos but slowly over time. Macular degeneration also is not this sudden. Maybe it’s not macular but miraculous degeneration, I joked to ease my anxiety. Like Saul on the road to Damascus and God with a plan in his pocket, I imagined traveling and turning the world upside down, starting a snakes-can’t-hurt-me cult, and setting off a gender war about what women are allowed to do just because somebody misunderstood something I wrote.
I made my way to the kitchen and reached for a water glass, knocking it over. My depth perception was off. Of course. I sat and did a Google search of my condition, leaning in with my right eye to read. Jumping off the screen were the words “retinal detachment.” That seemed to check all the boxes. Then I read, “Solutions: Seek care immediately. Surgery…” I didn’t read the rest.
I had Diane drop me off at ER, and within minutes they confirmed my suspicions of a retinal detachment. Surgery was scheduled in two days. While I waited, I studied up on the procedure—“vitrectomy.” It didn’t look pretty. Probes inserted through the sclera? Remove vitreous jelly? Inject gas bubble? Lasers? All under “local anesthetic.” Oh, that's comforting, thanks. You mean I won't be totally out for this? Not a fan of sticking sharp objects into my eye. It goes against everything we’re taught.
The doctor couldn’t guarantee surgery would be 100% effective. Do they ever? So what if it didn’t work? One of my greatest pleasures in life is exploring creation in all its details and diversity. And how would my reading and writing be affected? My little brother was born blind in one eye and has lived a full, happy life. I might have to talk to him. And people have lived completely blind and developed their other senses in amazing ways to be their “eyes.” So there's hope?
I studied the literature and diagrams of the human eye until a tranquil awe settled on me over the spectacular array of moving parts working together to allow for sight. The entrance of light through the lens, through the vitreous gel, to the intricate network of specialized cells and rods that make up the retina and receive images (all upside down, mind you) down the optic nerve to the brain, where the images are all turned upright. It was stunning how this complex tiny organ had held together at all over the years!
If there was ever evidence where the theory of original design flies in the face of evolution, the eyes have it. No way in my mine could this marvelously designed organ simply be a product of chance even given millions of years. There had to be a master intelligence, a God, who had designed and created it.
Being wheeled into surgery on a gurney, I asked the attendant if she was ever struck by the design of the eye like I was. “It’s amazing, isn’t it?” she said wheeling me briskly into the operating room and leaving me there. I was just one in a long line of others having eye surgery that day. I was greeted by bright lights and several gowned and masked aliens. I saw a set of the promised sharp objects on a tray and what looked like night vision goggles. I didn’t see the laser gun anywhere.
Twenty minutes of eye-poking and many painful laser beams later, I was done and was whisked back out. I listened vaguely to perfunctory post-op instructions, like how to sleep and how to take the eye drops they prescribed.
It would take a few weeks before I could find out how much of my eyesight would return. The pain left after a couple of days, the gas bubble the doctor had injected into my eye disappeared after a week, and the fog began to lift. After three weeks, objects appeared clearer but a little distorted, wavy, like a funhouse mirror at the carnival.
Walking back home from my two-week checkup, I felt grateful. My sight was improving a lttle. I no longer saw people like trees walking. I noticed in a way I hadn't before the uniqueness of each person passing by. One person walked with short staccato steps, another with long out-toed strides with his lips in a permanent pucker. Some swung their arms, some walked stiffly, some were alone, others in pairs, talking animatedly about things they’d seen in the store. And all the eyes, they were beautiful, varying in color from dark to green to light blue, mostly dark, and in shapes from narrow to large, from deep-set to bug-eyed.
I’ve obviously had eyes on my mind. I thought about how the word itself, “eye,” resembled eyes—each “e” was an eye, complete with an eyelid, resting on either side of the nose, the “y.”
There’s a literary technique called “defamiliarization,” where a writer makes ordinary things seem different, causing the reader to see things in a new, fresh way, as if seeing them for what they truly are, which is why it is said that writers help us see. I think that’s what my retinal detachment did for me—helped me see the world anew.
Today, three weeks after my eye surgery, while I wait to see how my eyesight will evolve, I feel a bit like I'm seeing the world for the first time, like a child. Jesus said the eye is the “lamp of the body” and “if our eyes are healthy, our whole body will be full of light.” I want to perceive the world as it truly is and for my body to be full of light. But maybe I first needed to become blind.