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.
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.
Last night I spent the night crashing at my campsite in the hills for the first time in a month. I had spent the previous month living in a little hotel room in Oakland, recovering from detached retina eye surgery. I could’ve stayed at the hotel for another month if I had wanted to. But I couldn’t wait to get out of there. Couldn’t wait to get back on the streets. And it felt great to be back.
Some people might think it odd that I’d prefer to be “homeless” than the creature-comforts of a roof over my head. What can I say? I’m an odd person. The blue jays have been swooping down all morning, scarfing up the bread I tossed out. And right now this young deer — this beautiful fawn — is staring at me quizzically from behind a tree, about 15 yards away from me. You don’t get those kind of kicks living in a little hotel room in Oakland.
Saw Blondie the feral cat last night for the first time in a month. She did something last night that she’d never done before in all these years. She actually called out to me and woke me up while I was sleeping. She didn’t so much as “meow.” It was more like this cooing sound, like a loud purring sound: “PPP-DDDTTT!!” Which translated into English as: “Wake up and FEED me!!” Then she hovered over me as I took out the cat food. That was kind of unprecedented for Blondie, too. She’s usually incredibly timid. So I knew she was really hungry to be so bold.
About 20 minutes later, after polishing off all the food, Blondie made that loud, cooing sound again. Sort of her way of saying: “Thanks and good night.” And then she disappeared off into the woods.
Now it’s morning and this goddam wild turkey just showed up. Damn buzzards. I can’t STAND those turkeys. I’ve hated those goony-birds ever since that time when I stepped into a big pile of turkey shit while walking around barefoot. Plus, they’ll eat up all the cat food. “BEAT IT!!” I shouted, throwing a couple of big branches in it’s direction. . .
Shit. I was actually in a good mood for a couple of minutes there . . .
* * *
My second night back at my campsite. Funny scene last night. I stupidly brought up a bunch of greasy leftover french fries and hamburgers to my campsite. Even worse, the zipper on my backpack completely broke. So there was no way to hide the scent of the food. Not surprisingly, I was soon surrounded by a pack of growling raccoons, circling around me on the verge of a feeding frenzy.
But you should have seen Moo Cat. Standing tall and brave while she was perched on top of my chest. Growling right back at those raccoons and giving them this fierce-looking stare-down. What a tough cat she is! The Defiant One!! Course if I hadn’t been there to give her back-up, she would’ve been running up that hill so fast it wouldn’t be funny. Ha ha.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. . .
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.