Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The eyes have it

In the past six weeks, I've taken my dad to the Dean McGee Eye Institute more times than I can count with both fingers and toes. Two days after our daughter's wedding, Papi developed an infection in the retina of his eye that threatened not only his ability to see, but also the eye itself. I don't know how scared he was, but that first visit, when it was just he and I--and we found ourselves instantly surrounded by five or six medical experts giving each other and me instructions, I was both numb and terrified. How was I to translate to Spanish everything that I heard the doctors saying? Then I looked over and Papi, who had been reclined back for an injection, and realized that he had fallen asleep. Right there in the midst of all the chatting and instructions flying like bullets from one side of the small room to the other, he fell asleep. The retina expert, realizing I was no longer translating his orders, stopped, looked up, and tried to grin, "Let him sleep. He probably finally relaxed."  

[photo from Dean McGee website]

Like the ying to that fateful day’s yang, today’s visit was marked by smiles, handshakes and even a high five. Not only has Papi been able to recover from the infection, his ability to see out of the right eye is remarkably better. At the end of what was surely a long day for the medical staff, his eye exam this afternoon had everyone grinning. And Papi was having a great time showing off the fact that the big E on the wall was only the beginning of what he could see. What a difference six weeks have made!

I have now experienced it several times in my life, but I still find it hard to describe, to name. That moment that everything changes. That second when the phone rings. Or the instant that the car smashes. Or the minute that the doctor comes in with the news that it's cancer. Or the split second that you hear the words that you were dreading: yes, she's gone. As cliché as it sounds, in the blink of an eye, everything truly does change. 

One moment I was sharing a cup of coffee with two good friends laughing over wedding events of the weekend—and an hour later I was speeding north on I-35 like a police car without lights, with orders from the local doctor to get him to the Eye Institute as soon as humanly possible.

The irony is that these type of changes frequently – read: always – demand from us the longest time to recover, to heal, to mourn, to get better. 

When the retina expert was shaking my dad’s hand today he said to him, “You’ve been patient. It’s not often that patients have the patience to heal.” No translation necessary, thank you.