Brief Encounter, when I rubbed my right eye -- and the whole stage dimmed about 75%. I did it again and realized that my left eye had a huge floating fuzzy spot in the center of my line of vision.
By the dramatic end of the show, I was emotionally drained, but only partly because of the ill-fated lovers onstage.
As I've aged, I've often debated whether losing hearing or eyesight would be worse -- and decided I'd rather lose hearing -- partly because I'm already on that path. I started missing parts of conversation and turning up the volume on the TV (and finally resorting to subtitles).
But I didn't count on also dealing with the vision thing, at least not at this age. My dad and his mother both had cataract surgery -- in their seventies. My mom's grandmother had glaucoma and her mom had macular degeneration. But -- in their seventies. I am old, but not there yet. Right?
Of course, recently I had the typical middle-aged struggles with menus in dimly lit restaurants, or the tiny font on a cell phone. (And, yes, Playbills in Broadway theaters). I broke down and bought reading glasses, but usually forget to bring them anywhere.
But through a full Friday at work, it didn't. If I closed my right eye, I couldn't see what I was typing on the computer.
So Saturday morning I put out feelers for opthamologists, and then remembered that at a high school reunion, the women had all swooned for a classmate who now was doing lasik surgery and providing eyewear to developing nations. I emailed him, he sent me his cell number, and I described my symptoms. He told me he's not comfortable diagnosing over the phone, and that I should make an appointment for first thing Monday morning, but thought it sounded like I had Central Serous Retinopathy, which usually clears up on its own in 6-10 weeks.
The condition didn't improve over the weekend, so by the time I rode my bike to his office Monday morning, I was looking at the autumn leaves in Central Park, wondering if this was the last time I'd see them in 3-D. I actually stopped my bike at The Pond, where I used to go for lunches when I worked at Rolling Stone in the 80's, and took this picture with my phone:
He started doing more and more tests and pictures of my eyes, and I started to feel like I was in Gaslight. He spoke in hushed tones with a colleague, and then told me I needed to see a retinologist -- RIGHT AWAY. I was immediately thinking I had a brain tumor. But no, he said it looked like Retinal Vein Occlusion, a build up of blood behind my eye, not draining, interfering with the workings of my retina.
He explained it has causes like high blood pressure or diabetes and has a much more uncertain return to normalcy. And he was particularly concerned because he saw a sign of it around the fringes of my right eye too.
As you might imagine, by the time I took the subway down to the retinologist, my blood pressure couldn't have been higher. I met with an intake assistant who asked about family history, and then a technician, who took pictures of my retina with a bright flash that would have blinded anyone, and who then put a needle in my arm to put a dye in so it would go behind my eye (which took only seven seconds) to get a better read on what she saw. I was told it would turn my urine flourescent yellow. Fun!
The retinologist looked at my eyes and told me many facts. At the time I hung on every word, but now can't quote them back. She said I should see my GP "Right away, today."
What she wanted was for him to check my blood -- for diabetes, BP, and other things -- all of which were tested back in May and were fine, and if anything I have been healthier since then, cutting out Diet Coke from my diet, etc.
She also told me that trying to help my recovery, there were two injections she could give me, one of which is an off-label use of a drug made for macular degeneration, which costs $50 a dose, and a new one just approved by the FDA for my condition, which costs like $2000 a dose, which meant it would take a few days to get my health insurer to approve it.
After we discussed the pros and cons, I said let's just do the cheaper one now and get going on the cure, instead of me having to wait three days (in order to give the drug company extra cash).
Then came the actual injection. When I was in college, I fell in love with Kubrick's film A Clockwork Orange. I went to see it every time it showed at the local revival house. One Halloween some friends and I even dressed up like "Droogs." I was not affected by the ultraviolence perpetrated against women, the elderly, etc.
But I always got squeamish during the scene near the end when Alex is being "cured" of his ultraviolence by having his eyes propped open, and moistened with drops, to force him to watch movie scenes.
It felt like a poke or a pinch. And then it was over.
After making the requisite followup appointments and having her call my GP, I went across the street and got some low-dose aspirin (to thin my blood, just in case), and some eye drop antibiotics. I had some pizza. Then went up to my doctor.
He looked listened and took blood and blood pressure; by the time I left, and he told me I probably didnt have the diabetes or hypertension-related version. Voila! My blood pressure had calmed down to 130/80.
That night, I went out to another Broadway show -- Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. I don't know if I found the bloody part as funny as I might have a few days earlier, but I was happy for the distraction.
In the meantime, when I remember to, I am savoring sights with an intensity bordering on the immobilized protagonist in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.
For now, the hearing aid can wait.