I have my eyes checked every six months for a number of reasons, but primarily a plumbing-related glaucoma risk: the drainage angles away from my irises are too narrow, which could cause my ocular pressure to shoot up unexpectedly, in turn damaging my optic nerve. Which would be no bueno. To address the problem, a few years ago I had a procedure called an iridotomy in my left eye. The ophthalmologist lasers a pinprick hole in your iris, preventing ocular pressure from skyrocketing. It’s the same principle as the steam vent on a pressure cooker. The eye surgeon who performed my iridotomy, which is a simple five-minute, in-office procedure, told me the only side effect might be some glare, but that only occurs in fewer than 3% of cases. So no worries.
Except who gets glare? Moi, of course. Little firework-like flashes of white light erupted in the lower left corner of my field of vision, probably 20 times a day, at first. The great thing about glare is that because so much of our sight is determined by how our brains interpret incoming stimulus, my brain has been able to map around the iridotomy site so that I no longer notice any flairs, although the stimulus is still there. Over a period of probably eighteen months, my brain made adjustments for all the angles and conditions in which light hits the pinprick in my iris the wrong way. And now I almost never notice it. Only if I’m in a new situation that my brain hasn’t mapped before will I actually see the glare, when the sunlight hits a puddle at a particular angle and the light bounces up to my eye a certain way, for example. Then I’ll get a little flash. But the next time I’m exposed to a similar stimulus, I won’t “see” it, or at least, I won’t notice it as much. Isn’t that absolutely wild? I suppose this happens to us all the time, when we build up tolerance to an allergen, or as in my case, our brain comes up with neuromuscular work-arounds for an injury. I find this metaphorical dimension of perceiving—where the interpretation of what we see is as important as the physical act of vision—to be awesome in the fullest sense of the word: amazing, mysterious, cosmic, and embodied, all at once.
It’s on my mind because I saw my ophthalmologist this morning. Her name is Holly, too. We laugh that when you meet another Holly, you always know her relative age, because our name was in vogue in the 1950’s and 1960’s, but not since. Because I see her every year (I alternate between her and my glaucoma specialist), we have an easy familiarity with each other. She has two boys the same age as two of my kids. One of them is severely autistic and will always live at home with her and her husband. She loves this son dearly, ferociously even, and he is a burden. Usually we talk about him, but this morning, Holly was nursing a bad cold and had barely any voice. On Monday she had a fever and cancelled all her appointments, throwing her schedule into chaos and setting her back weeks. I hadn’t ever given much thought to the pressure on physicians never to miss work. Ironic, right?
My exam went fine, although there’s a new something on my something (an opaque spot in the trabecular meshwork? I think that’s what she said. I’ll read her notes later.) There always is, when you’re aging. We’ll keep watching it. In the meantime, she wants me to start using artificial tears, since the new condition is caused in part by dry eyes. Another irony: One of the emotional issues I have been pondering lately is my inability to cry. I can feel sadness, grief, pain. But it takes a WHOLE LOT of psychological stress or physical pain for my body to actually produce tears. I’m that well-defended.
One more funny sidebar about my vision this week is that on Monday, I drove over my month-old Warby Parker progressives, which had fallen out of my purse unnoticed onto our gravel driveway. What a pain in the arse, I thought. To replace them, I’d have to drive into Cambridge, find parking in Harvard Square, schlep to the store, wait in the line with all the millennials, and pay three hundred bucks. Yet it all went smoothly. I got a parking space on Mass Ave right outside the storefront. The showroom was deserted and three bearded sales associates in knit beanies descended on me to help. Thankfully, Warby Parker has a really generous warranty for the first year, replacing not just the lenses, but also the permanently flattened frames at no cost. Duncan, my sales rep, said they’d get the replacements to me in a week and also waved the expedited shipping fee, which was nice of him. Of course, I blanked on my upcoming eye exam when I did this, so when Holly updated my prescription this morning, I thought oy, now I have to spend the three hundred smackers again. I called Warby Parker to see if they’d already filled the re-order. I was in luck, they had not. So now I will have updated lenses, new frames and better sight. For free!
Again, the body’s metaphorical intelligence astonishes. It’s all in how you look at things.