Cataract Surgery: The Day of Reckoning

The time had come.  Like conjoined twins who share the same heart, on the day of separation surgery one of us would have to be sacrificed in order for the other to live a normal existence.  Since I’m the larger of the two, I got to make the decision as to who goes, who stays.  And because I’m writing this story, you already know which choice I made.

Yes, I’m still here.  My dear cataract, however, the one with whom I’d shared my life lo these many years, is no more.  Rest its weary, opaque soul.

It took maybe five minutes — enough time for one and one-half Christmas songs to be piped into the operating room — for the ophthalmologist to sound-wave my aged, cloudy, natural lens into a million pieces, vacuum it away like so many dust bunnies and cram in a clear, artificial lens in its stead.  It was almost a letdown, really, after the bizarre business of cataract removal pre-op.

And hoo boy, is it ever a business.  An assembly line, actually.  It started when the doctor’s assistant led me into a large room to join many other patients, all of them in progressively different stages of preparation.  I was instructed to put my personal belongings in one of the lockers lining the back wall, after which the assistant pinned the locker key onto my shirt as if I were a grade-schooler who can’t be trusted keeping track of her mittens.

She sat me down, slapped a name tag on my chest, and after confirming it was my left eye headed to surgery, took a black magic marker and drew an X above my left brow.  The cataract patient’s version of the scarlet letter.

X

Soon after, a nurse rolled her blood pressure machine over to me, wrapped my arm and once again, asked which eye was to be violated that day.

“The left one,” I answered reluctantly, knowing nothing good would come of it.  As I’d expected, out came her pen and with a dramatic whoosh whoosh, she slashed another X directly on top of my earlier branding.

Before I could ask whether they were using washable or indelible ink in those wretched pens, the surgeon walked up to introduce himself and shake my hand.  He asked (you guessed it) which eye he’d be massacring — wouldn’t you think it was fairly obvious by then? — and again, upon my reply, I was hit with yet one more X.  Tic Tac Toe, you win.

At this point, I had a little more time to take in what was happening around me.  The woman to my left (X marked the spot above her right eye) was offered a slurp of some sort of anti-anxiety liquid and turned it down.  Blasphemy!  When the offer was extended to me, I latched onto that elixir-filled dropper like a newborn suckling piglet to mama sow.  As I waited for the happy juice to carry me off to la la land, I observed the other patients who’d arrived ahead of me.

Each one was called individually into another room.  When they eventually reappeared, it was on the arm of one of the nurses — by necessity since whichever eye was underneath the dreaded triple X’s had been covered with a most frightful apparatus:  an orb slightly smaller than a racquetball positioned directly onto that eye by a strap wrapped around the patient’s head.

The nurse would then gently sit the patient down in one of two large lounge chairs, where they were hooked up to an EKG machine and yet another blood pressure monitor.

Ving & Bruce

All I could think about was Pulp Fiction — and the fact that I was yet to feel a damn thing from the supposed anti-anxiety drink they’d given me.  I started to seriously consider asking for a refill when…

“Jo?  Come with me, please.”

Oh no.

The mystery room was dimly lit, with a reclining exam chair in the center beside which sat a diminutive man with a metal tray stand at his side.  He lowered me into the chair and instructed me to stare at the photo on the ceiling (an idyllic country scene…as if that would be calming).  He started with small talk — “Do you go south for the winter?” — then instantly interrupted with a warning:  “This is going to pinch a little bit.”

He stuck a needle in the outer corner of my left eye.

And yes, it pinched.

“No,” I replied in a panic, every molecule of my being concentrating on the ceiling photo.  “We’re new here.”

“Where did you move from?”

“Austin.”

“Oh really!  What did you do there?”

“We were organic farmers.”

“Wow, my nephew is an organic farmer in Illinois!”

Yeah, buddy, that’s fascinating.  Now TAKE THAT FREAKING NEEDLE OUT OF MY EYE.

All right, I didn’t say that.  I wanted to, but I didn’t.  We continued with more inane chitchat until he abruptly pulled out the needle and just as abruptly ended the conversation.  He sat me upright, strapped on the torture ball and handed me over to the nurse to stumble out to one of the lounge chairs.

I have to admit, I enjoyed scaring the new patients in the waiting room.  Maybe the elixir was finally doing its thing.

After my cataract was ultimately obliterated and replaced I was sent on my way, a complimentary Pacific Cataract and Laser Institute gimme cap in hand.  By late that evening, I could see out of my left eye like I haven’t seen in years and years.  I was astounded and couldn’t stop telling John how clear everything looked, how vibrant the colors were.

I was eager to try out my new eye the next morning in the daylight.  Know what I saw?  Dust.  Lots of it.  The place looked like a haunted house.

Next, I made the mistake of looking closely into the bathroom mirror.  I had no idea I have so much gray hair.  Honestly, I was stunned.  Why hadn’t anyone told me?  I mean, John occasionally teased me about it but, you know, I thought he was just being silly.  Turns out, it was the truth.

I wonder if there’s an institute somewhere that puts cataracts back in.

Cataract Surgery: Part I

The optometrist didn’t bother to ask my permission.  As soon as he finished the exam, he went straight to the front desk and told his receptionist to make me an appointment with the cataract surgery center.

It would have been difficult for me to argue with him, even if he’d given me the chance.  After being unable to read line after increasingly larger line of letters shown to me by the optician — who had trouble stifling her gasps as she neared what she knew would be the final, humongous O filling the entire screen — it was pretty apparent the time had come to be separated from my longtime cloudy companion, my congenital cataract that had been slowly robbing the vision from my left eye since I was in my early 40’s.

eyeball

It was a miracle I’d been able to get my drivers license renewed last year.  Only by the grace of Port Townsend’s DMV clerk was I able to squeak by, despite my admission that I couldn’t read a single thing on the left side of the vision test screen.  I don’t know if she was feeling generous that day or merely too bored and disinterested to bother but whatever the case, I was grateful beyond words to be granted permission to drive half-blind on the streets of Washington state.

I doubt the vehicular travelers crossing my path would have been quite so tickled, had they known.  Pedestrians and bicyclists even less so.  Yet in my defense, at my pre-surgery ophthalmological consultation, the doctor explained that because my right eye has been so busy doing the heavy lifting these past 15 years or so, my overall vision really wasn’t that horrendous.

Granted, he mentioned this not to ease my mind about any potential peril I’d been inflicting upon all who traversed the roads alongside me.  I hadn’t confessed to the doctor my poor performance at the DMV.   He was simply warning me that once my cataract was gone, my resultant vision improvement might not feel so dramatic as it does to those folks who have cataracts removed from both eyes.  Still, I chose to take it as affirmation of my decision — and that of my dear DMV clerk — to continue driving.

Come to think of it, though, the ophthalmologist obviously didn’t give one hoot about endangering myself or surrounding drivers, considering he sent me on my way that late afternoon (more like early evening) with fully dilated eyes and no one to chauffeur me home.  In the dark.  From Silverdale to Port Townsend, a nearly 45 mile trek.

After the front desk ladies cheerily handed me the packaged strip of black plastic that looks more like a roll of camera film than a substitute for honest-to-goodness sunglasses, I walked out to the car, took my place in the driver’s seat…and began to panic.  Already the traffic had built up to a frenzy — Silverdale is nothing but a maze of strip malls squeezed between zigging and zagging thoroughfares (my friend has aptly nicknamed the town Silverhell) and to make matters worse, I was in that godforsaken place at the height of Christmas shopping season.

I’d gotten so turned around trying to find the surgery center in the first place, I had no clue how to get back to the highway.  Add to that a thousand glaring headlights.  I slipped the black film under my glasses, hit the “Home” button on my GPS and waited for Nuvi (John’s and my terribly clever name for our Garmin “nuvi” model GPS) to coo her directives at me.

As soon as I pulled into the street, I yanked off that black film.  It’s bad enough to have blurred vision in a sea of headlamps — even worse when the background to all the bobbing, weaving lights is pitch blackness.  Without the piece of film obscuring what little focus I still had, I could at least make out the stripes in the road.  Blurry stripes, indeed, but stripes all the same.

It was a long, teeth-clenching drive back to Port Townsend.  Only a small fraction of the journey is divided highway; primarily the roads are two-laned, meaning a continuous line of oncoming traffic, each car’s lights boring straight into my enormous pupils, made it feel as if I were staring directly at the sun.

headlights

So I concentrated instead on those white road stripes (and held my breath at every intersection where the stripes disappeared) until finally — finally — Nuvi guided me through the entrance to our neighborhood.  When I turned at the stop sign on our street, Nuvi instructed, “Drive point three miles to Home, on left.”

Lovelier words have never been spoken.

To be continued….

In a Tent

A moment of weakness, that’s the only way to explain it.  Despite my heretofore utter, adamant (dare I say pig-headed?) refusal to participate in any way in the so-called recreational activity of camping — tent camping, no less — I caved to peer pressure.  I agreed to accompany John and two of our friends to a campsite in the woods and spend three nights, however insane the thought, in a tent.

Did I mention I was drinking wine at the time?  I was, and in a quantity sufficient, apparently, to throw me just enough off-kilter to almost convince myself it was a good idea.  I mean, I enjoy the outdoors.  Hiking is a lovely way to spend a crisp Pacific Northwest day.  Thing is, though, after the hike is finished I’m ready for civilization again.  A hot shower.  A restaurant.  A real bed in a real building with real walls.

You know, the opposite of this.

setting up the tents

When setting out for a three-day camping trip, not only are you forced to carry along your own shelter (and I use that word generously, considering the only things between you and the elements are a few sheets of stitched canvas and a zipper) but good heavens, it takes damn near as many days to pack everything else four people need — including what appeared to me to be a good half cord of logs to build fires (for warmth, of all the ridiculous things) — as it does to camp for that same amount of time.

camping stuff

Had we planned the exact trip — hiking, sightseeing and all — yet tweaked it just a little to include three nights in, say, a charming B&B, we would have instead packed:

suitcase

And we needn’t even discuss bathroom issues…but of course I will.

I give our camping friends the utmost credit for securing us a mighty nice site — or as nice as a site sans private bath can be — in that there was a perfectly respectable public restroom facility within reasonable walking distance.  In the daytime.  In the dark of night, however, it would have proven far too tricky a trek a la flashlight when half-asleep.

Thus, once (or twice, or thrice) per night when a certain business required attending, either John or I would shake the other awake and whisper the need to unzip the door and venture out into the blackness to find a tree at a (barely) polite enough distance from our friends’ tent.

As every woman in the universe knows, this is much easier for a man.  Much.  Granted, I’m a squatter from way back, beginning in the early ‘80s when we were building our second home on a couple acres hidden discreetly in the woods and minus the luxury of a portable facility.  Yet as accomplished as I became at answering nature’s call in full view of Mother Nature herself, my expertise is limited to the daylight hours.  With the cover of night comes the very real worry about the consequence of bad aim, namely — and specifically when sleeping outdoors — crawling back into the tent slightly, ahem, soggy.

I’m pleased to report, in spite of my fears, that never happened over the course of our three-day camping adventure.  At least not that I was aware of at the time.  Or would be willing to admit afterwards.

Fortunately for all of us — especially my three camping companions who would have otherwise been subjected to relentless whining — there were no serious mishaps of any kind during the trip.  The weather gods smiled upon us, granting us three clear, sunny days, and the one night we were awoken by sounds of something padding around our campsite, it turned out to be neither bear nor Sasquatch.  (As far as we know, anyway.  None of us unzipped our tents to find out).

And on the very last afternoon, while our friends chose to stay at the campsite to relax and nap, John and I headed into town — to civilization — for a little souvenir shopping and a visit to a waterfront adult beverage establishment to whet our whistles and reminisce.  We were in the charming village of Eastsound, after all, on Orcas Island.  The very spot where, just over two years ago, we decided quite off-the-cuff to sell our farm and move up here.  It’s a special place for us.

So all’s well that ends well, right?  Yes indeed.  Still, when next summer rolls around and we’re again partaking in a bit of the grape with our camping aficionado friends, should the topic of repeating this trip come up, I intend to take a drastic measure to ensure I keep my wits about me:

I’m switching to coffee.  Black.

The Massaaaahhhge

I love a massage.  I love everything about it.  The aroma of scented oils in the dimly lit massage room, the gentle new age-y music, the way the therapist speaks in hushed tones.  Even the padded face hole in the massage table pleases me.  If I could afford it, I’d have a regular spa appointment once a week.  Maybe more.

spa-md

And it wouldn’t matter what other treatments the spa offered — defoliating scrubs, body wraps, facials — I’m interested only in massage.  Twice John has given me a spa day as a birthday gift, and both times I eschewed any treatment that didn’t involve being rubbed.

Although I did make a fairly critical mistake on my first visit.  I signed up for the warm mud massage — it had the word “massage” in it, after all — and while the initial hands-on portion was sublime, once the therapist smeared on the mud and left the room for a while, all I could think about was how much time was being wasted; time that could have otherwise been filled with a whole lot more rubbing and a whole lot less lying there sweating.

I do have one very strict rule when it comes to receiving a massage:  other than the intermittent whispered instruction to roll over or to ask if the amount of pressure she’s using is adequate, the therapist must remain mute.  I’m not patient with chitchat during massage time.  I don’t need to know where the therapist grew up or what her children are studying in school.  Likewise, I feel no desire to report my life story to her.  I’m on that table for one reason and one reason alone, and that’s all I want to think about.  Massage me.  From head to toe.

Oh hang on, I almost forgot.  There is indeed one massage spot I’d prefer the therapist skip over.  Two spots, actually:  my ears.  When she starts kneading my ears it makes me feel silly.  I have no qualms about other extremities — each toe and finger thanks the therapist for the individual attention — but when she grabs for an ear, all I can think about is…big floppy ears.  And I have small ears, strangely enough, the right one even freakishly tiny.  Still, when someone touches them during a massage it’s like I’m Minnie Mouse.  Or Dumbo.

No matter.  Putting up with over-handled ears in order to be massaged everywhere else is a sacrifice I’ll make without qualms.  So when a friend offered me one of her pre-paid massage appointments, I jumped at the chance.  She had to give up the appointment because of a spinal problem that will likely require surgery, and I did suffer a pang of guilt for accepting her gift under such a circumstance.  Yet the feeling only lasted a second or two.  In my world, you see, the prospect of a free massage trumps all else.  I’m not proud of it but hey, I can live with it.

Especially when someone’s rubbing me.

Heatwave

Phew, thank goodness. Clouds. Finally.

cloud

We thought it might never cool down again. Oppressive, atypical heat was the topic of the day, every day, for at least a week. A week! Each day started out okay, with everyone hoping against hope the early morning fog would stick around but man, come afternoon it was the same old story.

sun

Sunshine and nothing but searing hot sunshine, blaring down relentlessly upon the tortured, panting souls below.

A friend of mine expressed it best when he signed off an email with: “Can you believe this weather? Great if you want to stay inside with the blinds shut but sucks if you want to do anything outside!!!”

Oof, I’ll say. Nonetheless, John and I scheduled an afternoon pickleball match with another couple and between each game, our two opponents dashed to the nearest shady spot to down copious amounts of water and gasp, over and over, “It’s so hot. It’s so hot.”

thermometerOut of curiosity, once we got home I checked online to see what the high temperature had been that day and wow, no wonder they were suffering so.

We’d just spent an hour-and-a-half outside, in the very hottest part of the afternoon, while the mercury soared to an unthinkable 76 degrees Fahrenheit. I know, I know. I’m stunned not one of us had keeled over from heatstroke. It was like the bowels of hell out there….

You’ve got to love people in Northwestern Washington, you really do. They’re kind of hilarious when it comes to heat. Or their perception of it, anyway. Back in Texas, 76 degrees is a nice, cool autumn day.

Thing is, after living up here well over a year now, I know we’re slowly morphing into Northwestern Washingtonians ourselves. We were perspiring, too, no doubt about it. And after the match, I found myself thinking about the jar of ice cold homemade pickles my friend Terri had surreptitiously slipped inside my car during a prior pickleball game.

pickles

At that time, when temperatures peaked at a much more reasonable mid-60s, the pickles themselves were the appreciated gift. On the 76-degree day, however, a jar full of frozen squid tentacles would have made me just as happy as refrigerator pickles. Either one would have been equally cooling pressed against a sweaty brow.

Yet, as written on the label, a jar of pickleball pickles seems a whole lot more appropriate than a jar of pickleball squid. We weren’t playing squidball, after all.

That gives me an idea though:  changing the name of the sport might influence Terri’s choice of future surprise gifts. Like maybe rarebottleofwineball, or freshmainelobsterball. And I sure wouldn’t argue with newwardrobeball or myownpersonalchefball. Heck, tenfreefullbodymassagegiftcertificateball sounds pretty good too.

Oh wait, I’ve got it. Next time we play, we’re calling it goldbarball. I don’t see how that would be a problem. Terri’s a good pal, always willing to share with a friend.

Still, on those sweltering 76-degree days, I wonder if it’d be too much to ask her to chill it first?

By Order of the Court

There aren’t many things that strike fear in the hearts of men (and women) quite like being served with a jury summons. Sure, a police car’s flashing blue lights in your rearview mirror is worse; a tsunami warning siren is worse. But still. The sight of that little jury card is enough to make even the bravest soul’s hair stand on end.

Especially when the card reads — usually in Big Bold Letters — SECOND NOTICE, followed by threats of dire circumstances dare you ignore the summons this time. Never mind you hadn’t received a first notice. (Is there ever a first notice?) A descendent of Vito Corleone is on his way to your house right this second with those plastic handcuffs that look like enormous trash bag twist-ties, ready to whisk you away to a secret underground world where all the other jury duty truants who came before you have since morphed into lawless Mole People and chaos reigns.

zombie-md

Or something along those lines.

It’s a testament to the power of that index-card sized notice that even when I realized the one I’d just pulled from our mailbox was addressed to John, my heart still leapt to my throat. Like a gag reflex. Upon examining it more closely, however, I was able to relax. As it turned out, the summons was for jury duty in Travis County, Texas.

We moved from Texas over a year ago, a fact reflected, oddly enough, on the jury summons itself. It hadn’t been mailed to our former home in Texas and consequently forwarded to our new residence here. Oh no. This card was addressed quite correctly to the house number and street where we live now, here in Jefferson County, Washington.

Already it’s creepy the Travis County Courthouse not only has access to our new address, but has automatically changed that address in its records without any type of notification from us. But I know, I know. All sorts of information about everyone everywhere, living or dead, is floating around in the ether ready for the grabbing. Yet wouldn’t you think, knowing this kind of thing happens systematically, that the powers-that-be at the courthouse could have somebody take at least a cursory glance at the jury summons cards before they stick them in the mailbag?

Apparently not. So instead, those of us who have legitimate reason not to serve on a jury in the Travis County Court’s jurisdiction are given the options of (1) calling the courthouse; or (2) going to the website listed on the card. Ever tried calling the courthouse associated with a busy, increasingly populated metropolitan area? Yeah, so have I. Which is why, when I got back to my house, I went immediately online on John’s behalf.

Like most things internet-related, the jury selection page on the site wasn’t at all on point. It was only after answering question after question — then reiterating my answers in reply to interrogatives like “Are you sure this is really, truly your current address?” and then “Are you absolutely sure?” — that John was finally dismissed of that particular civic duty.

Crazy as it sounds, in my fantasy world I’d hoped for a separate website page for those of us who were mistakenly contacted — or maybe a button with the instruction “If no longer residing in Travis County, click here.” Why I thought for one second it could be that simple, I can’t say for sure. It was nutty on my part. Hey, so sue me.

Or wait, no. Please don’t. Because if you do, and if the trial’s jurisdiction is Travis County, Texas, there’s no doubt in my mind the summons to appear — the SECOND NOTICE summons to appear — will wind up here, properly addressed, in my Jefferson County, Washington mailbox.

The Limelight

After months (two) of rehearsals, the big night was finally upon us. Show time. I gathered up my props,

drill and hard hat

shimmied into my costume

shirt

and made a beeline for the clubhouse.

We were the first scheduled performers in the Cape George Revue, the opening act. Although I’d heard whispers about the Drill Team being kind of overdone — this is year five for the Revue and each one has begun with a Drill Team routine — someone else likened it to carrying the Olympic torch. Because as it is with the ever anticipated ceremonial torch, no one is surprised about the Drill Team. Everyone knows we’ll march out at the beginning of the show; everyone knows we’ll have electric drills with shiny twirlies.

And you know what? Traditions are important. Essential, really, as far as giving people a sense of well being. There are enough surprises in life, many of them frightening and unwelcome. The Drill Team provides the Revue’s audience members a service, when you get right down to it. Something to depend on, like sticking a piece of bread in the toaster knowing you’ll ultimately end up with toast. We were to be the audience’s toast.

At least that’s what I kept telling myself during the months (two) of rehearsals.

We silently queued up in the darkened kitchen, my position being third in line for the march into the ballroom, third from the right in the back row on stage. At seven o’clock sharp the ballroom lights dimmed, the emcee announced us, the drumming began.

If you’d like to see for yourself, click here.

The Rockettes, we ain’t. Still, that’s not stopping us from participating in the upcoming Rhody Parade, part of an annual celebration of the multi-hued Rhododendrons seen all around town this time of year. Although we won’t be performing our now [in]famous dance number, we will be marching the one-mile parade route — left, right, left, right, left — while simultaneously lifting our drills up, then out, then up, then out again. We rehearse once more tomorrow night.

They’re predicting a 40% chance of rain parade day. Probably there’s about a 50% chance the Drill Team will stay in step the entire mile. If we beat either of those odds? I predict a 100% chance of jubilant celebration.