Detached retina surgery

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On this date 3 years ago I had surgery for the first time in my life for a detached retina. It was a surreal experience to wake up at 4 in the morning in the darkness of the woods at my campsite, and then suddenly be under the electric lights of a hospital. And I felt more than a bit of pressure. If the surgery failed, my eyeball would completely shrivel up in it’s socket (“dead eye”) and I’d have to wear a pirate-like eye patch for the rest of my life. So that would change things.

I marvelled at the whole concept of the surgery. It was mind-boggling to me that human beings could actually think this stuff up. There are basically two different kinds of detached retina surgery. The retina is kind of like a wallpaper stuck on the wall in the back of your eye. When it “detaches” it falls off the wall. When you see enlarged photos of your eye, it actually locks like crumpled up wallpaper lying on the floor of your eye.

The kind of surgery I had, they actually cut into your eye. And the surgeon goes in by hand, picks up the crumpled retina, puts it back on the wall, and then presses it onto the wall so it sticks like glue.

Unfortunately, shortly after the surgery, my retina fell off the wall again.

So the surgeon did the second kind of surgery, equally ingenius. The surgeon inserts this gas bubble into your eye. And the bubble presses against the retina to make it stick to the wall.

On the downside, as part of the recuperating process, you have to spend two weeks lying on your belly, face-down on a bed, for virtually 24 hours a day. You need to maintain this posture so that gravity forces the gas bubble upwards, pressing the retina against the wall. And after 2 weeks the retina is (hopefully) permanently pressed back on the wall.

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A room with a view.

But it’s a weird kind of a torture. Especially for a high-strung, fidgety type like me. Having to maintain this awkward, uncomfortable posture for 2 weeks straight (lying on your stomach, your face pressed into a pillow). And there’s this constant anxiety that if you make one wrong move, you’ll knock the retina off the wall and you’ll have to go through the whole surgery again.

But 3 years later, my retina is still attached to the wall. So knock, knock, knock.

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Detached retina surgery – 101. . . or . . . A site for sore eyes

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Entering the hospital at 5 in the morning.
Grumpy, groggy me.  Hanging in a funky motel room on McCarthur Blvd. in Oakland, recuperating from my eye surgery for a detached retina.  One of the most surreal experiences I’ve ever been through.  One moment I’m puttering along with my daily life.  The next I’m being strapped onto a gurney by total strangers and wheeled off to be prodded, poked, knocked unconscious and cut up. . . . Then, I’m lying on a bed in the middle of nowhere (technically, Oakland, California) in total darkness in some weird zombie stupor state.

That’s life, I guess.  You never know what cards life will deal you next.

Of course the first thing they do to prepare you for the surgery is, they make you strip off your clothes and put on one of those goofy hospital gowns with your butt hanging out.  Then you got to put on this ridiculous plastic shower cap kind of hat, and plastic booties.  It’s like they’re publicly humiliating you to get you in the mood for the whole thing.

The nurse who prepared me for the surgery was this black woman with a thick Jamaican accent.  I could barely understand what she was saying.  So I’m just sort of mindlessly answering her questions:  “Yeah, yeah, yeah.”   And hoping she’s not slipping something in there like, “And would you also like to have your left testacle removed while we’re operating?”  “Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

Then the nurse is asking me about my drug and alcohol history.  So I explain about the ocean of cheap malt liquor I’ve consumed over the years.  All all the cigarettes and drugs and etc.  Then she goes over this long check list of potential health problems:   “Have you ever had asthma?  Allergies?  High blood pressure?  Diabetes?  Etc, etc.?”  And my answer  is “No” to every one (except for “Depression,” naturally).  And she’s kind of dumb-founded because my good health makes no sense in terms of my, um, lifestyle.  “I haven’t been in a hospital in 40 years,” I admittedly, sheepishly.  “Are you an athlete?” she said.  That made me feel nice.  That was a nice moment.  The only one I would have.
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Then they wheeled me into the operating room and this guy starts pumping the anesthesia into me.  For some reason it was important to me to try and notice the process of when I go under.  So I’m concentrating real hard while I’m taking deep breaths.  But it was like I blinked my eye, and then it was 2 hours later as I emerge from the fog, and the operation is already over . . .  My one big regret was that I wanted to take a selfie of me on the operating table . . .  I really am kind of nut

My friend Mary was waiting for me in the lobby.  So she wheeled me out of the hospital and into a taxi cab which took me to my motel room in Oakand.  When I first signed into the motel the clerk handed me a card and a metal cylinder object with a bunch of buttons on it.  “Where’s my key?” I asked.   “The card is your key,” said the clerk.  The cylinder object turned out to be the remote control for the TV.  After about 15 minutes of diligent trial-and-error,  I actually figured out how to turn the TV on.  The last time I had a television set was in 1991 where there was this big knob on the TV to turn the channels on, and I had a bent clothes-hanger for an antennae.  So I’m completely out of touch with the modern world.

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I spent the first two days in my motel room with the lights out, lying on my bed in a zombie stupor.  Slept 20 hours a day, drifting in and out of sleeping and waking states and this weird, in-between state where it’s all like a waking dream.  Every now and then I’d make a groaning sound.   “AAAAHHHHH!”  Just to remind myself that I was still alive.   Just my luck, my next-door neighbor is one of those guys who has people knocking at his door at all hours of the day and night.  And at 3 in the morning there would be regular loud thumpings and furniture crashing and heated, screaming arguments between him and his girlfriend.  So at least I had some live entertainment to aid me in my recuperative phase.  And,  on the positive side, if I felt the need for some crack cocaine to assist me in my recovery, I probably wouldn’t have to go very far.
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On the third day I crawled out of my motel room to get some food and check out the neighborhood.  I have a big, bulky bandage on my left eye, so people do a double-take when they see me, like I’m a prisoner-of war casualty, or like they just passed the Elephant Man or something.   There’s a 99 cent store on the corner where all the items are, oddly, $2.99.  I guess it’s a whole new concept in 99 cents stores.  This is a happ’nin’ neighborhood!

It’s funny (ha ha).  When I was younger I thought I was invulnerable.  Like I was made out of steel . . . But now that I’m pushing 60 I realize how fragile the human body really is.  We’re all walking on thin ice.

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The detached retina eye surgery itself was nothing short of miraculous and mind-boggling.  The surgeon actually goes in there with scissors and cuts the white part of the eye away from the pupil.  Then they peel the white part back so they can get at the retina in the back of the eye.  The retina is like wallpaper on a wall.  When the retina detaches, it’s like the wallpaper has fallen off the wall.  It’s sitting there in a pile at the bottom of your eye.  So the surgeon actually goes in there and picks the retina back up and sticks it back to the wall. Pretty amazing. . .
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I actually watched about 10 seconds of the surgery on a Youtube video.  But once the surgeon started snipping away at the eyeball with the scissors I immediately turned it off and said to myself:  “HOLY SHIT!  I’m sure glad I didn’t watch this BEFORE my surgery.”

Sometimes its better NOT to know what you’re in store for.

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Ace Backwords gets a normal job

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I spent my 19th and 20th years as a homeless person living on an offramp and scrounging around in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco.  I suppose I would describe myself as extremely psychologically damaged back then.  I had recently gone through a series of traumatic experiences — any one of which would have been enough to throw a normal person off-course.  But when you get hit with three of them in a row you end up spinning like a top.

I managed to keep my act together by imposing this weird act of will on my psyche.  I suppose you could call it a classic case of “denial.”  Instead of dealing with my psychological trauma, I erected this mental wall to completely block it out.  For example, instead of looking at myself as a mortally-wounded person who had been relegated to Skid Row, I looked at myself as sort of a Jack Kerouac-type bohemian who had purposely chosen a life of adventure on the quaint and colorful streets of San Francisco (there’s a lot to be said for “denial” and inventing one’s own reality when you don’t have the strength to actually deal with your shit).

I always had this belief in myself, that I was somehow destined for greatness and that I had these great gifts as an artistic visionary.  It was a belief mostly born out of desperation and wishful thinking.  I mean, considering the situation I was in, I sure hoped to God I did have some special kind of talents.  Otherwise I was in big, big trouble.   But it was sometimes hard to maintain this outlook considering I got virtually zero confirmation from the world at large.

So, after a couple years on the skids my stony facade began to crack.  It is a weird existence on Skid Row.  It is like you are living in this netherworld, this twilight zone of lost souls, derelicts and predators.  The people seem more like ghouls and ghosts.  Faceless non-entities drifting pointlessly through their lives, mostly just waiting to die and fade off into oblivion.  So it was a wake-up call to realize that I had become one of them.

So  — and this would be a recurring pattern throughout my life — I made a concerted (and even heroic) effort to marshall my resources and Get My Shit Together (as we used to say back in the day).  I cut my hair and my beard, threw away my rags and bought some new clothes, and rented out a little apartment in a quiet part of Berkeley.  And I got a job as a minimum-wage file clerk at a local hospital.  I had seen enough of the wild and weird side of life.  So now I wanted to see if I could adjust to a more normal life.

I worked in the collections department.  And I was the only guy in an office full of women.  Which was an interesting experience.  My experience relating to women at this point was fairly nil.  So I figured this was an excellent opportunity to study them and maybe figure out how they operate (good luck with that, huh?).  I quickly learned that the things the women most liked to talk about was 1.) what they were going to eat for dinner, and 2.) making fun of their husbands.  Not a one of them wanted to talk about sports, I don’t know what was wrong with those dames.

Anyways, as a file clerk, one of my tasks was that periodically one of the women would ask me to pull one of the files.  I’d open up this huge drawer filled with thousands of people who owed the hospital money.  I’d hand the file to the woman who than called the person on the phone and angrily harangued the person.  “YOU HAD BETTER TAKE CARE OF  . . .  ETC. ETC.!!!!!”  They kind of had to put the fear of God in the person on the other end of the line, otherwise the deadbeat would never get around to paying anything.  Then she’d hang up the phone and go back to merrily talking about her dinner plans and her husband’s underwear or whatever.  It was a slightly jarring juxtaposition.  Like seeing mild-mannered Bruce Banner transformed into the raging Hulk and then back again.

The other thing that struck me about the job was how much it reminded me of high school.  I realized that this was basically what my high school had been training me to do.  It was sort of the same fluorescent lighting, and you sit at your desk and do mindless paperwork. And, like with high school, I relentlessly watched the clock.  One of the most longed-for moments was when it struck 12 o’clock and I could go on my lunch break.  I’d walk down the street to this Chinese restaurant and I’d order Mongolian beef and I’d drink a couple cups of tea, which I’d drink with my little pinky pointing out.  I was doing my best to try and mimic a normal, cultured  human being.

But I mostly felt like an alien from outer space who was trying to disguise himself and walk among the human beings.  After several years of dealing with the raving, screaming lunatics of the Tenderloin with puke drooling down their beards and etc., it was strange to be among these normal, quiet humans in this sort of highly-stylized social setting.  It was like going from wild slam-dancing in the punk rock pits to an exacting  French tango dance in tuxedos.

Mostly it was the sheer monotony and the soul-less mindlessness of the work that wore me down.  I suppose if you could find meaning relating to all the other people on the workforce, you could manufacture that soulful aspect in other ways.  But I was an introverted, painfully-shy loner.   So the job was not only boring but awkward.

I never felt I was “above” this kind of labor.  Just incapable of doing it.  I’ve always sort of despised the hipsters who sort of look down at people working at normal jobs.  I greatly admire anybody that can get up every day and go to work. I find them even heroic.  And I’ve come to despise the sneering TV comedians with their put-down jokes about people who work at McDonald’s.  Or even worse, the more-Politically-Correct-than-thou crowd who mock anyone who works for those evil “multi-national corporations.”  I still bristle when I remember those jive-ass hipsters, the Dead Kennedys, mocking me as a “good Nazi”  because on my bike messenger job I delivered packages to Bank of America and Bechtel (the big nuclear power company).

At any rate, I managed to last two months at the file clerk job before I quit.  And then I was back in what would become a familiar and recurring position over the years, namely:  Now What The Fuck Do I DO?

 

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